Vinyl Record Review

The Downings – Take One (1996)

1969 was such an eventful year for America and the world.  During those 12 months in time, we were heavily involved in the Vietnam War, there was plenty of social unrest across the country, we had Woodstock and peace signs, the first man landed on the moon, Hurricane Camille roared ashore on the Gulf Coast…and a group called the Downings were formed; in light of the all things going on in America and the world, this may seem like a minute event, but the formation of the Downings was monumental within gospel music circles.  Though the Downings were only around for about 8 years, they made their presence known and their influence is still felt today.

After the Downings was formed in early 1969, the first thing they did was head for the studio to record their very first album.  For their first album, they released a perfectly titled album with the perfect cover shot to match.  I love the title “Take One” (as this would be the first take of many wonderful songs to come!) and the black and white cover shot of them in the studio, gathered around a single microphone, was a stroke of genius.  The group released an outstanding introductory album that offered a fresh take to some tried and true classics.  Being a new group and unsigned with a record company at the time, the Downings didn’t have a deep well to pull from for new songs, so the album is filled with mostly current popular songs along with some classics thrown in, but each song is given a nice refresh with the Downings’ unique sound.

There are no production credits given on the back cover, so unsure who produced the album (I am assuming Paul was the producer), who played or where it was recorded.   As previously mentioned, this first album was an independent release and was released through Paul Downing Enterprises, as they had not signed with a record company yet.  The album had an excellent quality to it and was definitely not a sub-par release.  Not long after the release of this album, the Downings would sign with Heartwarming Records, a subsidiary of the Benson Company, and the company would re-release the album with a different cover shot.  Personally, I much prefer the original shot over the orange one that Heartwarming used.  But I digress…

The recording begins with the lilting feel of the classic, “You Sho’ Do Need Him Now”.  An enjoyable quartet spiritual, Paul does a phenomenal job laying down the bass on this song.  There are some really nice piano licks throughout the song as well, and it leads perfectly into another classic tune, “Daddy Sang Bass”, which also features Paul.  This song was recorded by tons of groups and artists in the country and gospel music genres, and it was a hugely popular song at this time.  The Downings do a super job making the song their own, by singing “Papa Sang Bass”, rather than by the title, “Daddy Sang Bass”, and it’s one of my personal favorite songs from this recording.

The tempo slows down for the tender Gaither classic, “Going Home”, which has Paul and Ann delivering their respective verses flawlessly.  In fact, the Downings version of the song did briefly chart in the Singing News Top 20 in early/mid 1970, and it’s an excellent inclusion for this introductory album.

One of my personal favorites from this album, “Do Right and Come Smiling Through”, which features Ann, picks the tempo back up as the Downings do a great job rendering this fun, classic convention-style song, which leads perfectly into yet, another classic, “Jesus is Coming Soon”, which features Greg Gordon on the second verse.  This song was recorded and sung ad nauseum by literally everybody during this time period, but the Downings do great job with their version of the song, and it became a concert favorite for the group.

Side 1 closes out with the Gaither penned, “Why Should I Worry or Fret”.  For many years, this was the only song I was familiar with by the Downings, and it’s such a delightful tune and one of my favorite early Gaither tunes.  I’ve always loved the fanciful feel of the song as well as the piano work throughout the song.  Though it was recorded by numerous artists around this time including the Bill Gaither Trio, Statesmen, Weatherfords and others, the Downings’ rendition is my personal favorite.

Getting side 2 underway, Greg steps up to deliver an excellent performance on the hymn, “Farther Along” and it’s a highlight of the recording.  I love how they slow down the second verse, allowing Greg to thoughtfully deliver each line before the tempo kicks back up as the group rejoins him on the final chorus.  This song became Greg’s signature song during his brief stint with the Downings and it’s my favorite rendition of the song.  I’ve never been a huge fan of the song itself, but the Downings version made me like it!

With organ accents, Sue delivers an upbeat rendition of another classic tune, “Is My Lord Satisfied with Me”, a song Ann brought with her from her days with the Speers.  Originally, Ann was featured on the song with the Speers, and the tempo is slightly faster here than the Speers version was, but the Downings make the song their own and it’s a perfect inclusion for this first album.

Ann and Sue both deliver exceptional performances on their respective verses on another favorite Gaither tune, “I Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary”, before the album closes out with a couple of acoustically driven solo performances by Sue and Greg.  Sue does a fabulous job on the inspirational tune, “I’ll Follow the Sun” (a great song the Imperials recorded a year earlier in 1968), before Greg steps up to close out the recording singing “The Things That Matter”.  Both songs feature some nice guitar work and allow the two newcomers to shine vocally without any assistance from the group.  It was a smart move closing out the album highlighting the new faces, and voices, giving them both a moment to shine on a song all by themselves.

Overall, this album is a very upbeat recording featuring the bright, new sounds of the Downings.  In fact, this album is my favorite of the 3 albums this iteration of the group released during 1969.  Though this era of the group was very short lived, it is a favorite of many fans of the Downings.  The group was in its infancy and was trying to find their voice in the quartet dominated world of gospel music.  I do think they found that voice on this album, as it was truly a magical combination.  The album highlighted the vocal prowess of the group, and their youthful presentation was very different than most of the traditional sounds that was very prevalent within the genre at the time.  That was about to change though, as the Downings remained on the cusp of progression throughout their time on the road and they would blaze new trails during the 70’s that would set the stage for many other groups to follow.  Their time was coming…after all, this was just “Take One”!

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James Hales

James Hales, from Durham, North Carolina, has been a writer for since 2000. James is our featured reviewer and also contributes to monthly features periodically.
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