1970 was a year of big changes for the Downings, as by the summer of 1970, more changes ensued as Sue Chenault had left the group and joined the Speers, where she remained for about 3 or 4 years and enjoyed immense success as their soprano singer. A young lady named Joy Dyson joined the group to replace Sue and was a wonderful addition to the group. Dony had also left the group for a brief period of time and the group ended up hiring 2 piano/keyboard players, Linda Robinson (who had just previously left the Speers) and a young man named Danny Larson. During this time, the Downings utilized an organ/electric piano, along with the acoustic piano and bass in their live concerts. I actually have a live recorded performance of the Downings from around this time period and they sounded great with the piano and organ combination.
1970 produced 2 new albums by the Downings, and “This is the Day” is their second offering of the year, which was released right before Christmas of 1970. Featuring a nice cover shot taken at the Tennessee State Capital Building, the album was once again produced by the legendary Bob MacKenzie, who was a magnificent producer for the Benson Company. This latest album features orchestral arrangements, but they are not nearly as robust as with their “Happiness” album. Featuring several slower tunes, the album further demonstrates the Downings’ ability to deliver genuine, heartfelt emotion in their songs, even from the stoic environment of a recording studio, but they also show that they can deliver the goods with those lively up-tempo numbers as well. “This is the Day” is a good mix of tempos and styles and really did a wonderful job showing the diversity that the Downings were already exhibiting so early in their career.
Piano and organ accents start things off with the upbeat title song, “This is the Day”. Written by Nancy Harmon, the song was a perfect match for the Downings and sets the tone for this album. Other groups have used this song over years including Hovie Lister & the Statesmen Quartet and Florida Boys, but my favorites (along with the Downings) are the Speers from their 1993 album “A Beautiful Day” and the Perrys 2003 version from the recording by the same name, “This is the Day”. It’s a fun song that allows everyone to shine, especially Paul, while also reminding everyone to be “exceedingly glad..this is the day that Lord hath made!”
As the mood shifts to a more somber feel, we are introduced to newest member, Joy Dyson as she sings the emotionally riveting, “I Find No Fault in Him”, which was written by Andrae Crouch. The song was a popular one during the early 70s and was recorded by several artists including the Speers, Blackwood Singers and JD Sumner & the Stamps. In fact, more recently, the Mylon Hayes Family recorded it a few years ago and did a phenomenal job with it. But here, the Downings do a remarkable job with the song, and it became a big concert favorite for the group, even including it on their upcoming live album that was released in 1971.
With its iconic piano/bass guitar intro, we come to another Andrae Crouch tune, “I’ve Got Confidence”, which features Joy once again. Even though the Imperials recorded it a year prior (the song was even recorded a few years later by Elvis), the Downings were the ones who made it a bona fide hit, as the song spent almost 20 months in the charts between 1971 and 1973, peaking at #6 in October 1972. This exciting contemporary tune was one of the Downings greatest hits and was a showstopper in their concerts for several years. It’s a tremendous song of faith that still shows up every once in a while on a recording or in concert, a true testament of a great song!
Wayne Hillard steps up to sing the beautifully orchestrated, “The Healer” which echoes the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 53:5…”He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, surely He bore our sorrows and by His stripes we are healed.” One of my favorite Wayne Hilliard features, the song has become a classic that has been recorded numerous times over the years including the Cathedrals, Hazel Slaughter, Ruppes, Jimmy Swaggart and many others, and the chorus is one that has been sung in many-a healing and altar service over the years as well. Simply put, it’s a great song that reaches the hearts of believers everywhere!
Ann and Wayne are featured next on the black gospel feel of, “No Need to Worry”, which was a slight departure from the norm for Southern Gospel. Starting off slow, the tempo soon picks up and it becomes a fun up-tempo song that will have you smiling and clapping along before the tempo slows back down for the Gaither classic, “The Longer I Serve Him”, which rounds out the first side. Featuring Ann, the song features some nice modern harmony by the Downings and is a highlight of the recording.
Another song starting off slow is the bluesy feel of, “One of These Days”, written by the legendary Ralph Carmichael. Featuring Wayne, this string and brass infused tune gets side two underway, and by the time we get to the chorus, the pace picks up and it’s a highly enjoyable tune before the tempo slows down for the Speer Family classic, “He is Mine and I am His”, which was one of the last songs written by Dad Speer before he passed. As Ann takes the second verse, the tempo is slowed way down and allows Ann to deliver a dynamic performance before the group rejoins her on the final chorus. It’s one of my all-time favorite songs and the Downings do a tremendous job with their rendition of the song.
Ann is featured once again on another Andrae Crouch tune, “Broken Vessel”. This was one of Ann’s big features during the early 70s and the song perfectly showcased Ann’s innate ability to pull on every heart string. The industry was noticing Ann’s skill as a performer and communicator as well, as she won the Dove Award for Female Vocalist of the Year in 1970, which validated what Downing fans already knew!
The tempo picks up for one of my all-time favorite Downing tunes, “One More Time”. Penned by Elmer Mercer, the song is Southern Gospel to the core, and was a peppy concert favorite that allowed Paul to shine. I feel that someone like the Inspirations or Tribute Quartet could bring this song back and have a lot of fun with it!
The dramatic anthem, “The End Was the Beginning”, which was written by Paul and Elmer Mercer, rounds out the recording, and was a very unique and unusual song for the Southern Gospel genre, and was a big step outside the box for the Downings. The song, which is part recitation and part song, has dark and dreary overtones as it depicts the hopelessness that was felt on the day of the crucifixion, but soon the song takes a dramatic turn and hopelessness is turned into hope with the resurrection, and the tempo and feel of the song changes. It’s a fantastic finish to a great album and was a big concert favorite for the Downings during this time.
The Downings were enjoying an immense surge in popularity and coupled with Ann taking home the Dove Award for Female Vocalist of the Year in 1970, that wave of success was growing. “This is the Day” was one of the Downings most popular albums and it featured several hit songs and concert favorites that were major milestones for the Downings. In fact, many of these songs made their way onto their live album they recorded the following year, so it was neat contrasting the live version with the studio version of these great songs.
With this album, the Downings were also stretching their musical wings and were blending some unique contemporary flavors with the more traditional styles. This was a nice mosaic of songs ranging from blues to black gospel, along with some country and traditional Southern Gospel sounds. All these styles and hues came together to become “This is the Day”, and truly showcased the Downings as a forward-thinking group, and this was just the beginning! Within just a couple more years, they would be one of the groups leading the charge blending strong contemporary sounds into their music, along with their counterparts such as the Rambos, Speers, Lanny Wolfe Trio, Imperials, Orrells…well just about any group recording for Benson. The Downings were definitely making their mark, and this was truly their day to shine!
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