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VINYL RECORD REVIEW: The Kingsmen – The Judgement (1989)

After the release of “Anchors Aweigh” in 1988, the Kingsmen encountered a few personnel changes, their first in over 4 years.  First Ed Crawford departed shortly after the album was released, which I felt was a huge loss for the Kingsmen.  Ed was a major part of that big Kingsmen sound for the last 7 years, and truly gave the Kingsmen that rich sound that I dearly loved.  After Ed left, they went awhile without filling his position, utilizing Arthur and Foxie in the baritone spot.  Tim Surrett joined in February 1989 to primarily play bass guitar, freeing up Arthur to be a front-line vocalist, but shortly thereafter, Arthur decided to leave.  Shortly after he left the Kingsmen, he began traveling with Squire Parsons for a few years, but by 1995, he had joined the Kingdom Heirs, where he remained until 2022.  Arthur gave the Kingsmen such a unique dynamic to their sound and really added so much to their power singing.  Arthur could soar through the rafters and he and Garry blended exceptionally well together on that high harmony.  Though Tim was very content playing bass guitar, he had no real desire to be a front-line vocalist, but Arthur’s departure thrust Tim into the limelight.  Tim was accustomed to being a front-line vocalist though, as just prior to joining the Kingsmen, he sang with Squire Parsons & Redeemed for a couple of years, and prior to that, he sang in a group called the Carolinians for 3-4 years.  Also, Tim was already working at Hear Here Studios, playing the bass guitar on sessions and doing background vocals with a studio group called Assurance.  Tim was an extremely versatile singer, but also gave the Kingsmen a softer edge to their sound.  Along with singing and playing bass guitar, Tim also brought other skills to the Kingsmen that included arranging, producing, playing the guitar, etc., which would play a prominent part of the Kingsmen’s sound and stage performances in the forthcoming years.

By the time Tim joined and Arthur left, it was time for the Kingsmen to record again, and “The Judgement” would be their first recording with Tim.  With the changes the group had encountered during the previous months, it was a bit of a transitional recording.  Not only did the recording feature a new vocalist and a slightly different vocal sound, “The Judgement” would also be one of the first recordings where the Kingsmen would try new things musically.  While it was mostly the inclusion of one unique, yet powerful song, it very subtly started the Kingsmen down a path that was basically dictated by the changing musical landscape.  The Kingsmen wanted to continue to be relevant and current, so they felt this was a necessary step in the evolution of their sound.

Outside of the string and brass (which were recorded in Nashville), “The Judgement” was recorded completely in-house at Hear Here Studios in Asheville, NC.  Produced by Eldridge Fox and Jim Hamill, much like “Anchors Aweigh”, this recording pools a lot of resources within the Kingsmen with Anthony Burger handling music arrangements and Greg Fox assisting with engineering, along with Anthony, Tim and Gary all playing piano, bass and steel/dobro/harmonica respectively.  The band was also accompanied by David Johnson (guitars, fiddle and banjo) and Tony Creaseman (drums), which was a lighter crew than what was on their “Anchors Aweigh” album, which utilized 6 other studio musicians.  With most of the music being supplied by the Kingsmen band, “The Judgement” not only showcased the creative prowess of the Kingsmen band, but also created musical arrangements that could easily be duplicated on stage in a live setting.  Also, Steve Mauldin once again lends his expertise with string and horn arrangements on a few select songs.  Also, the vocal group, Assurance (which Tim Surrett was also still a part of) provides background vocals on a couple of songs.

The recording kicks off with one of the most unusual, and yet most powerful songs the Kingsmen ever recorded, the dramatic title song, “The Judgement”.  The song was written by a lady from West Virginia named Lois Gail, who also wrote one of my favorite songs by the Inspirations entitled, “It’s Still the Blood”.  In fact, it was when Gail recorded the song at Hear Here Studios for her solo recording, that the Kingsmen initially heard the song and knew they had to figure out a way to adapt it to the Kingsmen’s style in some way.  With its dark and foreboding feel, the song features an exceptional performance by Garry Sheppard, and despite it being such a different type of song for the Kingsmen, it did quite well for them, peaking at #8 in March 1990, and ironically, the song shot all the way to #1 in Cashbox for the same month!  Though the Kingsmen were not known for big production numbers, Steve Mauldin did an amazing job orchestrating this song and he was extremely happy with how the song came out.  Hamill was famous for saying he would never sing a song in a minor key, due to the fact that it denotes fear.  Despite that, this song was done in a minor key and Hamill was initially not interested in trying to stage the song, as Hamill did not want to use a split track to perform the song live; but how do you convey the song on stage with just a 4-piece band and no orchestra, and not use a soundtrack?  The Kingsmen figured out an arrangement and brilliantly staged the song with just Anthony playing the piano, as Garry sang the verses, and the rest of the band would kick in on the chorus.  This is one of the first songs where the Kingsmen were really stretched musically.  They’d done some different things in the past, mostly from a novelty perspective, but this was a real stretch for the Kingsmen, and they proved they were up for the task!  This song became a huge stage song for the Kingsmen and ended up being one of their most popular and most important songs in their entire repertoire.

Since “The Judgement” is such a heavy song, I’ve often wondered if the song would have been better placed as the final cut on the recording, as it’s such a hard song to follow-up with.  With that said, as a total contrast in style, featuring beautiful fiddle and steel guitar accents, newest Kingsmen member, Tim Surrett steps up to sing his only feature on this recording with the easy country feel of the slower tempo, “It Won’t Be Long”, which also has Hamill taking the lead on the chorus.  Written by Squire Parsons, this rustic and rather unassuming song has remained one of my personal favorites from this album.  Squire wouldn’t record this song himself until nearly 20 years later, on his 2008 recording, “He Hath Said”.

Picking up the tempo, we come to another Squire Parsons penned tune, “Take a Little Look”, which has some nice guitar and harmonica embellishments throughout.  Featuring some step out lines by Ray on the chorus, before Garry takes it up a notch on the final choruses, this little ditty is a highlight of the recording, before Garry takes the lead on another up-tempo song entitled, “I Can’t Take a Chance”, which he co-wrote with Dave Clark.

The Kingsmen band had won “Favorite Band” for the past 8 years, and this recording is the first mainline release that the Kingsmen band take center stage, as each man is featured on their respective instruments as they play the Hank Williams classic tune, “I Saw the Light”.  While the song features the whole band highlighting the piano, bass and drums, Gary Dillard is the star as he plays multiple instruments throughout the song including steel guitar, dobro, harmonica, and banjo.  In fact, during the 1989 Singing News Fan Awards, the band walked away with award #9!  Along with that win, Anthony took home the “Favorite Musician” award for the 10th consecutive year, and it would be the last time Anthony would win the award, as the Singing News re-named the award, “The Anthony Burger Award” for the next 10 years.  Anthony also released a new instrumental recording in 1989 titled, “Piano Classics II”, which featured outstanding renditions of such classic tunes like “People Need the Lord”, “Goodbye World, Goodbye”, “Higher Ground” and one of my personal favorites, “Easter Song”.

With the feel of a Patsy Cline tune, “Every Line in His Face”, features an outstanding performance by the boss man, Eldridge Fox.  Beautifully accented with strings and featuring background vocals by Assurance, the song was discovered when a local group recorded it at Hear Here Studios.  Foxie fell in love with the song and inquired with the trio about the song and discovered the trio had written it together.  Written by Debra Robbins, Danny Walls and Bobby Warren, Foxie published the song through Land of the Sky Publishing, and shortly thereafter the Kingsmen recorded it, and it’s one of my favorite Foxie features.

Ray steps up next as he is featured on the quartet classic, “Roll on Jordan”, which became a popular concert favorite for the Kingsmen.  Featuring a popping brass and woodwind section, expertly arranged by Steve Mauldin, it gives the song a fun, big band feel, and it was such a cool inclusion for this recording and is my absolute favorite rendition of this oft recorded quartet classic.

One of my all-time favorite Hamill features is the upbeat, “I’m Glad I’m Serving a God”, which was written by Squire Parsons.  This was the second single from this recording and surprisingly, it only charted for a few months, peaking at #20 in December 1990.  I always thought this was a great song that seemed to work really well live, so I never quite understood why it didn’t fare as well in the charts.

The bluegrass tinged, “Sail on Toward Home” features Ray on the second verse as well as some step out lines by Garry on the chorus.  Written by Doris H. Dunn from Bristol, Virginia, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver originally recorded the song a year prior on their “Hymn Time in the Country” recording.  This song was slightly different for the Kingsmen, but with the addition of Tim Surrett, who had a love for bluegrass, the Kingsmen began incorporating some bluegrass type songs on their recordings and in their concerts, and they always seemed to go over very well.

The convention feel of “When the Home Bells Ring” rounds out the recording.  Written by Jay Humphreys and published through Land of the Sky Publishing, the song has a distinct Goodman feel to it, and it worked very well for the Kingsmen and finished out the recording perfectly.

I was still in high school when “The Judgement” came out, and although I enjoyed this recording overall, I wouldn’t rank it as one of my all-time favorites.  While the album was very indicative of what you would hear in a Kingsmen concert, and the fact that there are several up-tempo songs on the recording, I didn’t feel it had the same energy and excitement that some of their previous studio albums did (such as “Anchors Aweigh”).  I will say though, that outside of the title song, this recording has a bit more of an authentic feel to it than “Anchors Aweigh” did.  Like I stated at the beginning, “The Judgement” was a transitional recording for the Kingsmen, and I think in some ways they were not only trying to find their footing with a new vocalist (Tim), but they were also testing the musical waters a bit, which we’ll start to see more and more of in the forthcoming years.

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James Hales

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