Vinyl Record Review

The Downings – A Love Story: Love Beyond Compare (1973)

As mentioned last week, 1973 marked the dawning of a new era for the Downings.  When Allen Henson left the group, instead of hiring another male singer, the Downings opted to utilize Dony McGuire as their lead/tenor singer, along with him continuing to play piano.  Also, by the time they recorded this album, the Downings had added Fred Satterfield as their drummer, which helped give them a more robust sound in their concerts.  With their sound changing, the need for a drummer was more apparent as they tackled these more progressive styles.

On this record, the groups’ style and sound took a dramatic shift towards a very progressive and contemporary feel.  Dony also began taking a bigger role in the musical aspects of the Downings’ music, and within a few years, was at the helm producing their music and taking a much larger role in the creation and recording of their albums.  Those who may not be a fan of this updated style of the group may have blamed Dony for the change in the Downings’ style.  While I feel he definitely fanned the flame (along with the rest of the group who were obviously on board as well), I think a big reason was also their producer, Bob MacKenzie.  Bob was a forward-thinking, out of the box producer, and he was known for creatively pushing his artists to try new things, musically.  Indications from conversations I’ve had with other artists who worked with him, they say he was a brilliant mind and I definitely see and hear that when I listen to the music he produced during the early and mid-70’s.  With MacKenzie at the helm for this recording and horn arrangements being provided by Rick Powell, the Downings produced one of their most diverse albums at the time.  Filled with big arrangements and tunes ranging from straight ahead Southern Gospel, to blues, contemporary, praise and worship and maybe even a little 70’s funk, it’s really a great album and one of my personal favorites by the group.

The title song, “Love Beyond Compare” shows you right off the bat, that this is going to be a very different Downings album.  With its unique sounds, Ann delivers an excellent performance on the song before the tempo quickly picks up for the invigorating, “Praise the Lamb of God”, which features Joy on the chorus and both Dony and Paul on the verses.  Written by Richard Baxter and published by the Downings, the song is a fun tune that the Downings deliver with immense enthusiasm.

The tempo slows back down for the Andrae Crouch penned, “Oh, I Need Him”, which features a dynamic performance by Joy.  With its simple piano intro, the song builds with intensity during the verses and when they get to the chorus, it all hits with a mighty crescendo, “Oh I need Him, like I’ve needed someone before!”  The tympany and horns really make this song pop and it’s one of my all-time favorite Downing tunes and my favorite rendition of this Andrae Crouch classic.

Ann then steps up to sing the declaratory, “He’s More Than Just a Swearword”.  Featuring the steel guitar and a distinct country feel, it’s a highlight of the recording and one of my favorite renditions of this classic Neil Enloe penned tune.  I love the modulation going into the second verse, as they slow the tempo down before going into the final chorus.

One of my favorite tunes from this recording is the bluesy feel of “Before I Found the Lord”, written by Lanny Wolfe.  Featuring Dony, it’s one of those songs that starts off slow and picks up the pace as the song moves along.  It’s a fun tune that is accented by electric guitars and a lively brass section.  I love the intensity of the song and when it segues into the Gaither tune, “Happiness” (which was one of the Downings’ early hits), it’s just perfect.  It’s one of my favorite Dony features and is just a purely delightful tune and a great way to end this side.

Side two starts with one my all-time favorite Lanny Wolfe tunes, “Something in the Air”.  Starting off with a medium/slow tempo with power chords on the electric guitar, the tempo picks up midway through the song and with horns blazing, it becomes an exciting, celebratory tune filled with great anticipation of the Lord’s return.  As the song ends, the song takes on a Partridge Family feel as the Downings vocalize with “ahs”.  I absolutely adore the Downings version of the song and its unique arrangement, but my favorite rendition is the original version by the Lanny Wolfe Trio.  Both versions are unique and extraordinary!

Paul steps up and delivers an excellent performance on the Garland Craft penned, “One More Day”.  Previously recorded by the Oak Ridge Boys, the Downings deliver a powerful performance on the song before the tempo picks up for another Lanny Wolfe penned tune titled, “A Wonderful Feeling”.    Filled with guitars and nice horn accents, Joy does a great job churning out this fun, rollicking tune.

Paul returns to the mic again as he sings the triumphant song of healing, “Rise and Be Healed”.  Starting off with just piano accompaniment, the song continues to build with intensity as it moves along, and by the chorus the Downings are backed by a full band along with a robust horn section.  Written by Louis Bourgeois (who also wrote the title song for the album) and published through the Downings’ publishing company, this was an immensely popular song during the 70s and 80s, being recorded by numerous artists including the Blackwood Brothers, Happy Goodmans, Couriers and more recently, Ivan Parker.  The song has gone on to be sung in many church and healing services around the world, even to this very day!  The song also became Vestal Goodman’s testimony song after being healed from her heart problems in the mid-70s.  Simply put, the impact of this song was huge.  Paul and the Downings do a tremendous job interpreting this faith-filled lyric before the recording closes out with the stark message of “No Time for Jesus”, which features Joy.  Written by Jimmy Pearce and published by the Downings, the song has a dark feel to it, and given the bright and joyful feel of the album, it’s an unusual closing song, but a hard song to follow.  With the power chords and electric guitar solo at the end of the song, placing it as the final song on the album was a good choice.

As already stated, this was a very unique and diverse album for the Downings.  I am sure fans of the group were probably a bit shocked when they first heard this album, as you can’t come close to comparing it to anything else they’d done prior to it.  It’s almost like a completely new group had appeared on the scene!  It was an eclectic time for gospel music…for all music actually!  New and different sounds and styles were emerging, and it was infiltrating all genres, not just gospel.  In our genre, you had your more traditional groups like the Statesmen, Blackwood Brothers, etc.  Then you had groups like the Inspirations, Happy Goodmans and Hinsons who were breaking the traditional mold; but then you had groups like the Downings, Rambos, Lanny Wolfe Trio, Imperials and even the Speers (who were quite the traditionalists), who were really trying out new things and were being quite successful at it.  “Love Beyond Compare” was a great album and proved that the Downings could really do anything they wanted, musically.  They had already shown they could do traditional, then they did country and I believe that with this album, they found their new niche and they stuck with it for the duration of their time on the road.  In their final couple of years, I think they may have gone a bit too far, but that is a totally subjective opinion of mine.  But it is in my humble opinion, that this album started a really nice run for the group and for the next 2 to 3 years, they released some of their best and most exciting music of their career!

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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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