Vinyl Record Review

The Downings – This Is How It Is…Live (1971)

By this point in 1971, the Downings had been on the road for 2 years, and Heartwarming Records decided it was time to record a live album of the Downings.  Live albums were the “thing” back in those days, and with “This is How it is…Live”, the listener enjoys a very powerful concert of the Downings.  Unlike most live albums, there isn’t a lot of high, loud exciting tunes found here; but rather it’s more like spending an intimate evening with the Downings.  As each song rolls into the next one, you feel like you are sitting by a warm fireplace as Paul delicately and thoughtfully weaves the fabric of each song into the next one, and you feel as if they are sitting right in front of you sharing their stories and songs on a personal, one on one basis. 

Produced by Bob MacKenzie, the album was recorded live at the Masonic Temple in Muncie, Indiana during the summer of 1971.  You can definitely tell that this crowd is a Downings crowd, as each song is followed by enthusiastic applause.  While the concert features piano and bass, I do hear some drums and guitar in the background on several songs, but not sure if they were overdubbed or recorded live, and there is no credit given as to who the additional musicians were.  While the cover features a nice picture of the group singing around an upright piano, I always thought the picture and artwork made the front cover look extremely dark.  But otherwise, it’s a very cool shot of the Downings, seemingly singing on stage in a live concert.

After a very brief introduction by Carl Young (who was the concert promotor), the Downings kick things off with the Gordon Jensen penned, “Redemption Draweth Nigh”, which features Joy.  The song was a huge hit for the Orrells and Galileans, and it was being sung and recorded by tons of groups at the time, and the Downings do a great job here with their version of the song.  In fact, the Downings’ version of the song did briefly charted in the Singing News Top 40 in early 1972.  Before the applause has a chance to die down, Dony kicks off the intro for “Because He Loves Me”, and Ann does a beautiful job.  I absolutely love the simplicity of the song and it’s one of the highlights of the album for me.

Keeping things in slow mode, Joy delivers an emotionally driven performance on the classic, “I Find No Fault in Him”.  I love the dynamics of the song how it goes from soft and light and builds with intensity to a powerful crescendo and then ends ever so lightly, “…I find no fault in Him”; I love how they put emphasis on the “m” of “Him”.  Joy is thoroughly involved in the lyric, and the crowd obviously appreciated the song as an encore is immediately given. 

With Dony playing the piano in the background, Paul, very eloquently, does a tremendous job setting up the next song, “The End Was the Beginning”, which is a perfect follow-up to “I Find No Fault…”.  Here, the Downings do a fabulous job turning in a dramatic performance on Paul’s song.  I actually prefer this live performance over the studio version from their “This is the Day” album, as this live version perfectly delivers all the raw emotion the song holds and also allows Paul and the Downings to effectively perform the song and involve themselves in its powerful message.

As Paul continues to move the program along, he sets the stage for the Downings hit song, “I’ve Got Confidence”. The Downings joyously and triumphantly deliver an exciting performance that brings the crowd to their feet and demands an encore…and then another encore!  You can tell the Downings are “into” this song and are completely involved in the lyric and it’s a highlight of the album.  I also love the extra vocal support Dony provides, which just adds to the excitement and intensity of the performance; and with that, side one comes to a close.

The up-tempo, “One More Time” gets side two started with its happy beat before Paul takes a moment to introduce the Downings and very comically shares how he and Ann met, married, and started the Downings.  Lastly, Paul introduces Dony as he sets up the Simon/Garfunkel classic “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, and then turns it over to Dony to sing a slightly revamped version of the song, and he does a superb job with it before Wayne steps up to deliver a powerhouse performance on “The Blood Will Never Lose its Power” and it’s a highlight of the concert.  Of course, the crowd eats it up and before the group delivers an encore, Wayne testifies for a minute, and you can’t help but rejoice in the powerful message found in the song!

The excitement in the air is palpable at this point, and Paul almost goes into “preacher mode” before the group delivers an emotional performance on the Dottie Rambo classic, “If That Isn’t Love”.  As Ann takes the lead on the chorus, you can feel the deep and profound emotion in the song.  I love how they take a dramatic moment going into the second verse by starting it acapella before the intensity builds going into the final chorus; you really have to wonder how there could be a dry eye in that auditorium when they were done with the song.  One thing to note here, Ann was fighting laryngitis this night, but when they hit the stage to record this live album, it was obvious God intervened and gave her a healing touch, as she sang flawlessly.  There were no vocal overdubs done after the album was recorded, and what you hear on this album is what was done that night in Muncie, Indiana!

As Paul begins to bring things to a close, he shares the story of Jeremiah and the potter, before Ann beautifully sings “The Broken Vessel”, and with that, the album is over as the applause fades away to silence.  I always felt it was an unusual ending to a live album but given the journey this live performance takes you on, it does seem to be rather oddly appropriate.

Naturally, there are some songs I would have really loved to have heard live on this album including “City of Gold”, “Rolling, Riding, Rocking in the Sky” (I realize they were probably no longer staging this song any longer at this point, but I digress…), “Gettin’ Ready Today”, “This is the Day” and of course, “Sheltered in the Arms of God”.  The songs included on the album is pretty reflective of what the Downings were probably singing at this time, and they all seemed to work extremely well together to make one cohesive live album.   One thing I really love about this live performance is how each one of the Downings would encourage and cheer each other on as they sang.  There definitely is a spirit of comradery within the group, and it comes through loud and clear on this album.

The liner notes do a perfect job retelling the events of the evening and this became one of the Downings biggest selling albums.  I will admit, when I first heard this album back in the late 90s, I wasn’t impressed with it at all.  I thought the pace of the album was way too slow for a live recording, and I didn’t feel it was an exciting live album.  Remember, I grew up listening to the live albums by the Happy Goodmans, Inspirations, Kingsmen and Hinsons and this was a very different live recording from the types of live albums I was accustomed to.  Over time though, I grew to love this live album and I have come to really appreciate the unique kind of spiritual excitement it generated; as the Downings schooled me and truly showed me (as well as the rest of the gospel music world), “This is How It Is…Live!”.

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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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