One of the greatest and most exciting live albums ever recorded is this latest album by the Downings, appropriately titled, “Praise Him!”. Filled with lots of exciting upbeat tunes that make live albums so…well…exciting…the album also features several wonderful moments of quiet worship and praise. I originally bought this album via cassette from Ann Downing Ministries back in the mid-90s. I have a unique memory of Dean Hopper (of the Hoppers) riding with me in the car and we were listening to this cassette and we both were singing along at the top of our lungs! He later told me how much he enjoyed the Downings music back in the day. Eventually, I got my own vinyl copy from Ann Downing, as she had an extra copy in her office, and she sent it to me back in the late 90s.
This would be the last album produced by Bob MacKenzie, as eventually he would move on to other things and he would no longer be producing for the Benson Company. Recorded live in Louisville, Kentucky, they captured an amazing and exciting concert filled with lots of emotion, enthusiasm and unadulterated praise. Musicians appearing on this album include Dony on keyboards, Jeff Catron playing bass, Fred Satterfield on drums and the electric guitar played by Pete Cummings, and they came together and created an amazing bed of music for the Downings to deliver an exciting program.
Most live albums start with some type of introduction welcoming the artist to the stage, but in an uncommon move, there is no introduction of the Downings, and the album starts off with the group diving right into the song, “I Feel So Good About It”, which had become the Downings’ mantra for the past year. You can immediately feel the joy and fervor in their performance of the song as it perfectly sets the mood for this live album, before they immediately jump into the invigorating, “Come on and Praise Him”. This exciting live performance of the song is one of the most electrifying and exhilarating live performances caught on tape. As the song builds with intensity to its grand finish, it’s an amazing performance by the Downings.
With its bluesy feel, the Downings slow things down a bit as they have fun with the Gaither penned, “I Came to Praise the Lord”. The song reiterates the album’s title as the Downings declare…“I don’t know what you came to do, but I came to praise the Lord”! It’s a highlight of the album and the Downings playfully perform the song before Paul takes a moment to welcome everyone and reflect on the events of the evening as he introduces the Lanny Wolfe penned, “God’s Wonderful People”. As they segue into the Gaither penned, “The Family of God”, it’s a great moment caught on tape as they enjoy a moment with God’s people, and as the last notes of the song fade to silence, side 1 is over.
Side 2 has a very different feel than side 1, as they almost seamlessly move from song to song in wonderful moments of worship and praise. Starting with a new song written by Alma Androzzo, Joy sings the testimonial, “I Have Something to Give”. With its blues/jazz undertones, the song builds with intensity to a colossal ending with Fred beating the life out of the drums at the end (which I absolutely love) before Joy quietly begins singing another Androzzo penned classic, “If I Can Help Somebody”. A song that has been recorded literally hundreds of times by such artists as JD Sumner, George Beverly Shea, Hoppers, LeFevres, Doris Akers, Statesmen and most recently by Angela Primm, Joy does a really nice job on the song before Dony takes the lead next, as he starts singing the Jimmy Pearce classic, “It’s My Desire”. The song was not originally planned for the evening, but Dony felt led to sing it and it goes down as one of the Downings best loved songs. This is one of the greatest live performances ever, and I just love how the organ comes in as Dony gets to the chorus. The group did not join Dony on the song, as they didn’t know the song, but Dony definitely handled the song perfectly, and as the crowd bursts into thunderous applause, Dony quietly begins singing the classic, “To Be Like Jesus”, which is the perfect follow-up to “It’s My Desire”. You can almost hear a pen drop as the crowd is hanging onto every note being sung by the Downings.
Without missing a step, Ann steps up and immediately starts to sing the Gaither penned, “That’s Worth Everything”. Ann first heard the song just a week or so prior to recording this live album and wanted to record it, so with the blessing of the record company, she sang it that night and it’s a highlight of the album. You can tell Ann is feeling the lyric of the song (along with the baby crying in the background!) and you can feel the genuineness of her performance on the song.
Dony takes the lead once again as they go into the praise chorus, “He is Lord”, before modulating to another key as he slowly begins singing the verse of “I Feel So Good About It” (with the baby still crying in the background!). The tempo kicks into high gear when they get to the chorus, and with that, the first half of the album is over.
As the second half gets underway, Paul briefly introduces “He Gave Me Joy”, and the group turns in an exciting performance on the song before they move on to “Gettin’ Ready Today”. With its bluesy feel to start, the song eventually picks up the pace and is one of the most exciting parts of this album. This live version was my introduction to this song, and I remember thinking it was one of the greatest things I had ever heard…I still do! As a follow up, they jump into the highly popular, “Oh, I Want to See Him” and it also is quite euphoric, as it’s about as exciting as any song can get. These three songs together created an extremely exhilarating 12-13 minutes of pure excitement that can only be enjoyed live! The Downings “throw down” on these songs and it’s one of my absolute favorite live moments caught on tape!
After very little talking during the first half of the recording, Paul takes a moment to testify before introducing Joy as she sings the vulnerable lyric of the Lanny Wolfe penned, “I Just Want to Know That You Still Love Me”. Joy testifies for a few moments before giving an emotional performance on a verse of the classic hymn, “The Love of God” before leading the audience in a chorus of this great song, as side 3 comes to a close.
Dony starts off the last side as he testifies for a moment before singing, “Blessed Be the Name” before segueing into the Andrae Crouch penned, “Jesus is the Answer”, which also features Joy on the second verse. Paul then takes a moment to speak before having Ann pray over the needs in the audience. After Ann finishes praying a genuine and heartfelt prayer, Paul jumps into “preacher mode” as he introduces “Greater is He That is In Me”, and the Downings give the performance of a lifetime (love that growl Ann!), and as the song builds to a mighty crescendo, the crowd bursts into thunderous applause.
As the applause dies down, Ann jumps into the chorus of the Gaither classic, “Because He Lives” and leads the audience into a couple of choruses of the song before Paul takes a moment to speak on the miracles Christ performed in the lives of the individual members of the Downings, as well as sharing his appreciation to their fans before leading the crowd in a chorus of “He Touched Me”. As the concert concludes with a grand finale, Dony slowly leads into the Downings’ mantra, “I Feel So Good About It” once more, and with an exciting ending, the recording is over.
Naturally, there are some songs I would have loved to have heard live such as “I’ll Soon Be Gone”, “Caught Up Together”, “When I Say Jesus”, “I Love Him Too Much”, etc. But the set list on this album is a wonderful representation of what the Downings were like in concert at this time. Compared to their first live album from 1971, “Praise Him” is a very different live recording in many ways, as there are several up-tempo songs and there is a lot less talking. The two live albums are very similar in the fact of how the songs seemed to flow together as the Downings weaved their magic, plus there were a lot of personal and genuine moments to feel and enjoy as the Downings could deliver those heartfelt numbers better than anyone else.
The Downings and their band were a force to be reckoned with and this live recording showcased the Downings at the height of their popularity as they created one of the most magical and exciting live recordings ever made. The Downings knew how to move a crowd and generate a genuine excitement in a live setting, and this live recording was testament to that. Personally, I wish they could have kept the momentum going with their future albums, but by the time they recorded a new album the following year, their sound took on a different feel that was totally different than what we had experienced in the previous 2-3 years. But for now, we can revel in the excitement of “Praise Him!”, and the joy that this live experience brought!
Please check out my music page on Facebook for more content related to Southern Gospel Music including more discography reviews on other groups, we well as other thoughts and discussions related to Southern Gospel Music. Please like and follow my page at https://www.facebook.com/James-Music-Page-102612571620560.