Have You Ever Heard Voices If So, Have You Ever Talked To Anyone About It? by Philip Mayaab
I think every musical genre has artists who are known for their voice as much as they are for the songs they sing. Most everyone would instantly recognize the voice of Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Nat King Cole, or many others just like them. Christian music is no different...there are certain singers that you know immediately when they start to sing. Our featured album of the week on Vinyl Revival spotlights 10 singers, most of whom each of you know, or have probably heard without knowing it (we'll get to that shortly). It is simply titled Voices, which is a perfect name for the project, because it is about two things...number 1, the voices of the artists who performed on the album, and number 2, the project was actually done to benefit Survival Ministries, a charitable organization designed to minister to the needs of children all around the world.
The album was the brainchild of producers Mike Mierau (The Choir, Barren Cross) and Rick Thomson (drummer, Sweet Comfort Band), and was carefully crafted using vocalists who were pretty familiar to the casual CCM fan, and VERY familiar to the hardcore CCM fan. Most fans will know that nine of the ten singers featured on this album are west coast based, with the only exception being former Miss Florida, Kim Boyce. The result was a recording that was far too underrated at the time, although it has gained a cult-type following among hardcore Westcoast Pop fans. 31 years later, it is safe to say that Voices was a one of a kind masterpiece that was unfortunately ignored by the majority of CCM fans. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, and most anyone could come up with several ideas that might have helped the album sell better, such as they should've went for more popular singers, or I've never heard of some of these people. However, the premise of the album musically was to gather some of the premier voices in their field, and put them all on the same recording, to raise money for charity. The producers notes on the back of the album jacket read quote There are certain singers whose voices are instantly recognizable. The minute you hear them, you know they're one of your favorites. Here on this record are ten new songs by ten great singers. It's a collection of amazing talents offering their voices to God. From those four sentences, you see that it was literally the voices of each of the singers that landed them on the album. The average fan will easily recognize at least six of the ten vocalists on the album, and possibly seven. Those of us who had CCM running through our veins in the 80s will know who all ten are, and that may or may not have been the kind of person that this album would have been marketed to back then.
No matter how many of these singers you may recognize, the bottom line is this...Voices is a fantastic album, with ten very great performances by ten premier singers, singing ten very good songs. Now I would've loved to have interviewed all ten of the artists who sang on this album, but since I did not get to do that, we'll go through each of the ten tracks, covering each singer with their individual song. Here we go...
1. IN YOUR LIGHT - TATA VEGA...even if you don't recognize her name, that's still okay, because trust me, you have heard Tata Vega (pronounced Tah-Tah) sing. Doesn't matter if you listen to Christian or mainstream music on the radio, you have heard her sing. On the Christian side, she has sang on albums by artists like Russ Taff, Andrae Crouch, BeBe & CeCe WInans, and Koinonia among others. On the pop side, the names of artists like Elton John, Kenny Loggins, Stevie Wonder, and Ray Charles appear on her resume. Even though she made her name primarily as a studio singer, Tata Vega was asked to sing the opening track from Voices, called In Your Light. When you hear her sing, you will instantly know why...this lady can SING!! The song is a fusion of light R&B and pop, and she has the pipes to carry the song, it's that simple. If you want to know more about Tata, just Google her list of studio credits, it's very impressive, and rather long to boot. She leads off the album in grand style, placing her own distinctive stamp on the project, I believe you will enjoy her song and voice equally!
2. HEAVEN IS WAITING - BOB CARLISLE...okay, this one needs very little embellishment from me. EVERYBODY knows the voice of Bob Carlise, and if you don't something is wrong. Like Tata Vega, Carlisle had earned his cred as a studio singer, before joining the Christian rock band Allies in 1984. Blessed with one of the finest voices you will ever hear, Bob delivers this driving, power pop song to perfection, but you probably had that figured out already. Also, be listening for the guitar solo on this track, it is played by Allies bandmate Randy Thomas, who also happened to be a former bandmate of the man who sings the next song on Voices.
3. COME AS YOU ARE - BRYAN DUNCAN...again, very little embellishment needed here. Simply said, Bryan Duncan possesses one of the sweetest (see what I did there?) voices CCM has EVER heard. It probably was not much of a challenge for the producers to nab him for this project, since Bryan and Rick Thomson spent ten years working together in the Sweet Comfort Band, but if you're looking for someone to sing on an album called Voices, there is NO WAY you can leave this gentleman out. To this day, there is no one who can sing like him, whether it be the funky style he has perfected as a solo artist, or it be a progressive rocker, like he sang with SCB, or a quiet, introspective ballad like this particular song, Bryan Duncan is in a class all his own, and I dare anyone to try and debate that!
4. LIGHT OF THE WORLD - MATTHEW WARD...few CCM singers have gained the notoriety and respect that Matthew Ward has. Performing during the Jesus Music era of the 70s as a member of the legendary 2nd Chapter Of Acts, and later as a solo artist, Matthew owns one of the most distinctive sounding voices you will ever hear, and he definitely fits the M.O. of this album. When you hear his voice, you INSTANTLY know it is him. Truth be told, Matthew's pipes are one of the biggest reasons the 2nd Chapter is still a fan favorite all over the world, and if you are unfamiliar with him (I can't imagine), you will definitely remember the name and voice after you hear this song. It is different stylistically from the type of music he usually does, but an A-class vocalist can pull off any type of song, and Matthew Ward proves it on Light Of The World. Fun fact...you will hear the voice of Bob Carlisle singing the background vocals on this song, as he did on 7 of the ten tracks on this album.
5. IN YOUR PRESENCE - HOWARD McCRARY...this is one of the singers that some fans may not recognize, but Howard McCrary has a very interesting history in music. He was a member of his family's singing group, The McCrary's in the early 70s, and stayed until his siblings decided to switch from gospel to R&B in the middle of the decade. Howard decided to stick to Christian music, and went to work with artists like Andrae Crouch, Chaka Khan, and the legendary Quincy Jones. He even has a credit with the California Raisins to his name. He also happens to be the father of Darius McCrary, who we all know as Eddie Winslow on the television sitcom Family Matters. Musically, he has a voice that is about as smooth as you're ever going to hear, and that is front and center on this particular song, which sounds like a song you might hear on a DeBarge album. It's good stuff!
6. HELPLESS - JOHN ELEFANTE & KIM BOYCE...as I mentioned before, Kim Boyce has the distinction of being the only artist featured on Voices who was not based on the west coast. She told me that her record producer Brian Tankersley had relocated to Los Angeles, and was instrumental in getting her onto this project. On the surface, she almost looks mismatched with the former lead singer of Kansas, John Elefante. but looks can be deceiving. She matched the man she called Mr. Rock & Roll in every way on this song! This is my personal favorite track on the entire album, and when I bought my first copy of this album, a cassette, I wore out this song. Great harmony, great song, the only problem with the track is that it only lasts for 3 minutes and 28 seconds, the second shortest song on the album. From the keyboard opening, to the stellar vocals by both John and Kim, you will love this song!
7. HEAVEN MUST HAVE SENT YOU - RICK RISO...after gaining notoriety as a songwriter in the early 80s, Rick Riso decided to get into the artist arena, and in 1985, he released his debut album called Gotta Have The Real Thing. It is a great album, and showcased the rest of Rick's talents, one of which was that he has a very good voice. It is still a shame that Rick didn't gain the respect he deserved, he was one of those artists that sort of fell through the cracks, even though he did manage to have a few hits on the CCM charts. Anyway, his song on this album showcases the Westcoast pop sound that he perfected on his solo albums, and he certainly earned his spot on Voices.
8. TEACH ME HOW - BOB CARLISLE...somehow, Carlisle managed to get a second individual song on this album, and just as he did with Heaven Is Waiting, he delivered the goods again on this track, which is a power ballad. This is proof once again that a vocalist like Bob Carlisle has the chops to sing just about any type or style of song perfectly. Great performance, but would you expect anything less from one of the best voices around?
9. THEN YOU CALL MY NAME - BENNY HESTER...yet another artist that most fans will recognize, Benny Hester has been a fan favorite for many years. He has an impressive list of hits, including Nobody Knows Me Like You Do and When God Ran, which are probably his two biggest and most recognizable songs. Once again, a very distinctive voice, that fans instantly know when they hear it...just what the producers were looking for. Benny turns in a very good performance on this mid-tempo song, which he co-wrote with producer Rick Thomson and James Raymond. Very enjoyable tune, which is well performed and written, and a song that CCM fans will enjoy even today.
10. LIFT UP MY VOICE - TOMMY FUNDERBURK...yet another noted session singer, Tommy Funderburk will probably be recognized by most CCM fans for being the lead singer of The Front, a terrific group that sadly only recorded one album. The same guys got back together later in 1987, and recorded a pop album called What If, and though not quite as good as The Front, was still a great showcase for Tommy's vocals (She Rocked My World is dynamite). A LONG resume in the studios of Los Angeles has names such as Amy Grant (Wise Up), Starship, Clint Black, Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Kim Hill, Bad English, and many, many others listed as having Tommy voice singing background vocals, so you can see that this gentleman definitely has the street cred to be on this album. Lift Up My Voice displays the amazing set of pipes that Tommy Funderburk brings to the studio every time he is hired, and when you hear him sing, you will know why he was chosen to appear on Voices.
So there it is...ten songs, ten voices. There isn't a bad song on this album. Some are different than others as far as style goes, but one central truth remains through the entire project, and that is that each of these ten vocalists had earned the right to appear on this album, because each one had a voice that sets them apart from others in their field. I don't recall this album selling well, or having many hits on the radio, but I sometimes wonder if that was really the goal of the project. I can tell you this...if the goal was to showcase great songs and voices coming together for a worthy cause, this album was very successful, whether it sold well or not. As Michael W. Smith said on The Big Picture...
'Le bon et 'le mal, these are the voices
1. In Your Light (Tata Vega)
2. Heaven Is Waiting (Bob Carlisle)
3. Come As You Are (Bryan Duncan)
4. Light Of The World (Matthew Ward)
5. In Your Presence (Howard McCrary)
1. Helpless (John Elefante & Kim Boyce)
2. Heaven Must Have Sent You (Rick Riso)
3. Teach Me How (Bob Carlisle)
4. Then You Call My Name (Benny Hester)
5. Lift Up My Voice (Tommy Funderburk)
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