Won By One – “Give Him A Song” Debut Project #2
Following in the trend of trios that eventually became quartets, we now go back to the year after BF&A was established. I suppose it was clearly a popular thing around this time to start a trio, as opposed to other decades where southern gospel failure was generally synonymous with the thought, unless you were a family group (Bishops) or Heaven Bound. Others joining the trio party were Greater Vision – 1990. BF&A – 1993. Won By One – 1995. (By the way, Booth Bros first hit a stage in 1990). Maybe this was the rebellious thing to do in southern gospel in the 90s, maybe it was the cool thing to do (and generally, rebellious and cool are also synonymous). But that’s a later story for a later day, as I do have some insight on that trend worth sharing.
When Won By One began to take shape, I wasn’t quite sure where I stood. This was essentially, The Singing Americans minus D. Burke, and as soon as I saw the track listings I immediately noticed 2 SA covers. Granted, David Jenkins, Clayton Inman, and Greg Shockley were SA alumni…but not tenured during the few years that we remember so well. Still, I suppose it was fitting for them to try it. All were from, living, or had lived in the mountains of East Tennessee. Clayton had most recently been with the Kingdom Heirs after his second tenure with SA. I believe he sang about a year with Shockley, before being eventually replaced by none other than David Jenkins. Shockley and Jenkins sang with one another about a year before they both split. Another reason it may have seemed like a good idea may be due to the fact that the Singing Americans had virtually disbanded around ’94-’95. Spurring a little Singing American revivalist spin-off probably wouldn’t be a bad little gig, considering their connections and friendships.
When I put this CD in to write about it, I came to the conclusion that this project was much more substantial than I had previously thought. The reason: Song selection. Won By One didn’t play around with a bunch of cheesy, lyrically flat or un-inspiring numbers. What they may have lacked in prestige or overall vocal abilities, they definitely made up for it with their ability to pick a handful of good songs. It’s far too common when industry veterans team up for a new group to just want to take some quick pics and put out a table project with bad, mostly unoriginal songs, or renditions of classics that everybody knows and crowds come away saying, “it was good, but they didn’t do it like the Cathedrals or Gold City or The Goodmans or The Kingsmen” and so on and so on. Won By One avoided that dilemma by what seems to me, diligently seeking out songs that fit their style and vision. That’s not to say there aren’t familiar cuts, because there are, but what we’re given is still relatively a traditional style we can rely on and something that is not completely diluted.
The star is obviously Clayton Inman as he is featured on maybe 7 or 8 of the cuts in some capacity. I find Inman to be a good singer in the style that he sings. I guess what I mean is, he is a good southern gospel singer. In some ways, he will always be compared to Michael English in hardcore Singing American circles. Michael English could sing rock, pop, blues, gospel, and now country. Clayton Inman can sing gospel, and still do it with quality. And in this debut, he shows that what he does do, he does in quality condition. But why Won By One is important in southern gospel history and this specific debut is this reason…it created a steamroll of group turnover that solidified some cherished sounds. For instance:
Clayton Inman had just left The Kingdom Heirs, creating an available spot for Steve Lacey (a personal fave) which didn’t last very long and in turn, created a spot for Arthur Rice in which his presence and consistency has helped flagged this group as a Quartet mainstay.
Steve Lacey left Gold City for the KH, which left an available spot for David Hill (another personal fave), which also didn’t last long, creating the opportunity for Jonathan Wilburn to join GC, cementing them as another Quartet dynasty.
When Won By One began to slowly unravel, Inman left to join 3 KH alum and his son to form Triumphant Quartet, another Quartet mainstay on the southern gospel scene, currently pumping out great music.
So if my quick research proves anything, it proves Inman has become a vital piece to this butterfly effect of gospel music and the formation of Won By One seems to be in the center of it. However, in a few short years, they caved into the quartet peer pressure and added a bass. Naturally…but with all that background in place, I’ll give a quick rundown on the tracks, which I find to be mostly solid. I heard chatter of a WBO resurrection a couple of years ago, but I’m not sure if it ever happened.
That’s Why We Give Him A Song: If you own this album already, you’re going to think I’m crazy by saying this is one of the best cuts. But I still feel that way. Not just because it was co-written by Phil Cross either. It does sound exactly like a late 80s or early 90s Talleys song. Makes sense, especially considering Cross wrote a bunch of songs for the Talleys during that era. Inman gives it a little soulful nature at the end of the song.
Something New: This was featured on “Live & Alive”, which I find to be one of the greatest live recordings of all time, as does Doug Anderson of EHSS (seen here). Written by Michael English and Ronnie Teachey, Inman takes over and we’re able to hear the Singing American roots that WBO seems to build on, or more precisely, draw attention to. The arrangement is similar to the original. I mean, why not stick with something that worked and hadn’t been overdone to the point of a new arrangement. I don’t think anybody was anticipating an inner English to sprout up in Inman’s performance, but he does a nice job and it’s a song I immediately began singing to. Even when a new group is targeting some new and original material, it’s always beneficial to insert something recognizable within the first few songs.
The Story: This song was penned by Kyla Rowland. The orchestral intro is light, yet lush. This is essentially a story (hence the song title) in a song. But at 4:34 it’s hard to imagine the entire redemption story, but alas, the important elements are clearly inserted. Shockley has a very technical approach to his singing style, and that’s okay in the perspective that this was a technically written song.
Just A Little Water: I gravitated towards the song on first listen. I remember as a kid thinking it was a pretty cool song. I had forgotten about it for a long time, and when I played it again, I was thinking, “this one wants to groove” but it never really happened. I mean it’s fast, but besides the intro it just never did anything for me. I attribute this dilemma to the unoriginal and cliche of the lyrics. Obviously I sound conflicted. I wanted to like this song. I thought it had an aura of potential, but lyrically that thought escaped me. I’m not against songs that aren’t always thought provoking or emotionally detaching, but I failed to see the legitimacy connecting “a little water from the brook” and “The Book” unless “The brook” is indeed a reference to the “the Book”, and they become the same thing. I assume the soldier was weary from the battle and wanted to drink…or read. The problem is, we can assume a lot of different scenarios about this song. I think you could make an argument for about 5 different interpretations (which I did). If it were a little more descriptive in what it was attempting to convey, rather than merely focusing on the rhyming aspect of the song, it may have turned out a bit more convincing for my enjoyment.
Where The Nails Were: This was an excellent rendition of an old Sandi Patti song. I haven’t mentioned much of the Producer/arranger Roger Talley, but he composes a great track for this cover (with the help of John Purifoy). Mid 90s heavy orchestration with some Talley enhancements and all is right with the world. This song leaves the airwaves letting you know that it had arrived….and now had vanished. I do think there would be a case where one could argue on the plane of its accuracy in a theological context, but it’s somewhat minor and would take awhile to hash out on a blog. Maybe I’ll make my argument on a Word document and hyperlink it someday. Inman gives a very riveting and captivating version to the SG fan that works well. Inman has always seemed to sing in a studio like he would in a live setting. From time to time, there lies some small bits of “histrionics”, but you could argue that’s just the way this genre pulls things off. We’re almost trained into the conceptual reality of its importance. It’s his income. It’s his life. He can perfect it. But what real emotion there is in this album, Inman gives it here.
Full Circle: If I’m not mistaken, this was the 1st single from the group, or at least the 1st single to see some evidence of life on the charts. Also, if my memory serves me well, this album was first released entitled “Full Circle”. Continuing the Talley theme…if an all male trio were to record a song written by Daryl Williams, originally pitched to The Talleys that they never recorded, this would be it. Complete with some handclaps and a fast track, this was a good cut.
God’s Gonna Fix It: Roger Talley and Clayton Inman help this song shine. Talley has a certain style to his piano stylings and this kind of arrangement is his element. Inman does his version of vocal acrobats, which in comparison to many other artists, is very conservative. We even hear some Inman growls and sighs, which are always a treat. Ultimately, I think the average southern gospel fan would really enjoy this song. It moves well, Inman performs it well, and as mentioned earlier, Talley conducts a great cut. Another thing that was brought to my attention was the guitar playing of Bryan Sutton, who is a fabulous player. He was a hot commodity in the 90s. Along with the first track, this is my other favorite uptempo number for the way it’s molded to hit all cylinders of a gospel music experience, musically, lyrically, in a studio, or in a concert.
Count Your Blessings: In most cases, we’ve all heard this song from the Buddy Mullins songbook. Off the top of my head, The Martins and Gold City also recorded this song around the same time.
And God Cried: This was originally recorded on an old Chris & Diane Machen Inspo recording- “Written On The Wind” (1988). Did God cry during all these events? I don’t doubt that God weeps over sin and even during the killing of His Son. But I don’t believe “one final cry of anguish, salvation’s price was paid.” I know that’s not the exact message that’s intended to construct, but on first listen that jumped out at me, I just hoped that wasn’t what was implied. I give the benefit of the doubt though. You can tell this was written and composed with an Inspo flavor. It’s a monumental, detailed story capturing the events of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Talley weaved it in very well musically. Hearing this live, by the end of the song I’m wanting to stand up and shout. This is a type of song that grabs your imagination and sentimentality with power. The music definitely moves according to the lyrics, creating suspense (although we know where it’s going) and eventually triumph.
They Can’t Take That Away From Me: This a great song. Maybe not my favorite rendition, but nonetheless a great song. This was another SA song, featured on Black & White, another Goss/English masterpiece. Jenkins takes the lead on it. With a ballad of this structure, it would be nice to hear some energy and escalating passion. I don’t really get that vibe. I know I’ve knit-picked on a few things here and there regarding this or that, but this is the last song on the project. I wanted to feel something lively and magnetic at the end. I didn’t really feel it. Maybe I would feel a little different if it wasn’t virtually the same arrangement as SA’s, but for the most part…it is. Jenkins does show us his range on the last turnaround, in which I stopped chewing my food. It came out of nowhere.
Synopsis: Shockley and Jenkins relied very much on the technical aspects of singing, which is fine. I mean, they were on key and their voices complimented Inman with a nice blend. But in doing so, I didn’t feel their freedom to captivate me with a raw, enduring, highlighted introduction in their individual voices on this particular recording. Maybe it would be different in a live audience. But being the first recording, there may have been a bit of hesitance. Maybe they were striving for subtlety. At least I can assume that. Inman on the other hand, seems to sing on this recording as if he was singing to me. I’m hearing growls, sighs, and soulful attitudes of warmth and liveliness. And he has always seemed to be a pretty technical gospel singer.
I do believe that Roger Talley did a tremendous job in the production of this project. With The Talleys calling it quits, he had a little more time for studio work and put in some great work for his East Tennessee friends to make this a solid debut. His talents seem to surface in the capacity as a producer/arranger and this recording is proof of that. His hand helped craft something of quality, and something for WBO to build on.
Overall, I think the songs were good. They obviously found a winning formula that worked for them for a few short years. Bob Caldwell came on board later to grind that famed gospel quartet sound and the WBO renown increased a little with that move, as I’ve always found Caldwell to be a solid bass singer. But trios were the new thing, why not go for it? I think it goes without saying that once Shockley and Inman left, there wasn’t much left in the tank. Inman was clearly the machine that fueled the passion. And in his departure, he helped to create a great quartet sound with his son Scott and “the others from the un-named, residential group of Dollywood”. And that’s another reason why this recording is important. For Inman, WBO was sandwiched between a KH stint and a Triumphant arrival that became a mysterious saga in which we may never fully know about. Just another typical day in the life of a child o…southern gospel group.