[Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Brian Fuson of Fuson’s Findings.]
Let’s hit the Rewind button and go all the way back to 2001. Before everyone on earth had an iPhone, when Chrysler was still owned by Germans, and my precious Detroit Tigers hadn’t had a winning season since I was a toddler. The Booth Brothers had no chart topping songs, no legions of fans, and weren’t really known by the average Gospel Music fan. Ronnie and Michael Booth were continuing the group they started with their father, Ron Sr, in the early 90’s. When Sr. departed in 1999, a young man named Joseph Smith joined the group, taking over the baritone position. Smith spent a couple years with Perfect Heart before the group disbanded and had proven to be an impressive vocalist in his short stint.
The group had recorded one impressive project, Walkin’ On The Good Side, that was fantastic. This Stage of Grace, released in 2001, would be the follow up. And it was the album that would make the Southern Gospel industry recognize the guys.
The project kicks off with the jazzy, Larry Gatlin track “Eternity There”. This song is absolutely one of a kind, and Ronnie Booth displays his smooth lead voice that has made him a favorite with fans for last decade. It also showcases they tight Booth Brothers harmony we have all come to know and love. Next up is the song that open that flood gates, “Still Feelin Fine.” Family friend Mosie Lister wrote this for the guys as a sequel to “Feelin’ Mighty Fine”, and the song would launch the Booths into a new stratosphere. It was the group’s first Number One radio single and is still a fan favorite nearly 13 years later!
The third cut of the project is the second of three consecutive Lister songs, “This Love Is Mine.” Ron Sr. originally recorded this song way back in 1968 on The Rebels Quartet’s 20th Anniversary album. Brilliantly arranged by producer Nick Bruno for a more modern feel, Michael absolutely shines on this song. I believe this is one of the greatest songs he has recorded in his career. If you have never heard this song, you must hear it! Next up is “Castles In The Sand”, which features Ronnie. The arrangement is done in the vein of an acoustic, Eagles-type sound. Ronnie sings the second verse with such feeling, and the vocals are just tight.
Marking the end of the first half of the album is “In His Time,” which is the first track to feature Smith. The song was actually a co-write between Joseph and Ronnie and is an awesome tune. I’m not aware of the guys ever singing this live, and it is one of the album’s overlooked songs. But boy is it great! Kicking off the second half of the project is the Andrae Crouch composition, “Along Came Jesus.” Ronnie is featured on this song, and it is definitely unique. The Booths have always shown their versatility and this song is a great testament to that. [Editor’s note: Michael himself is much less generous in his own evaluation of this song. I recall him saying it was the worst they had ever recorded in their career. :-D]
Another great song that has been overlooked on this project is “Holding To My Saviour’s Hand.” Written by the late Doug Riley, it features Joseph and also has some great harmony, I would love to hear someone bring this song back. The Booths tackle a familiar song in Squire Parsons, “Lord, Do It Again.” One of the reasons The Booths & Nick Bruno are such a magical combination is Bruno’s ability to arrange songs so brilliantly to make them sound so fresh. There’s some great vocal stuff the guys do off the key change that makes this song sound completely all their own.
“Try Jesus” is another Joseph Smith song that features him, and it is brilliant. This one was a staple of the group’s concerts, with Joseph on piano. A tender song that encourages the believer to “Try Jesus, he never fails,” in every circumstance and trial they face. The project then comes to a close with a great version of “If We Never Meet Again” that the group still performs to this day.
Although this project would launch the group into the next phase of their careers, it would be without Joseph Smith. Joseph would move on to join Mark Trammell in 2002, as he launched the formation of his trio. Jim Brady would take Joseph’s place and the group continued with their success, reaching new heights of popularity and endearing themselves to Gospel Music fans everywhere. Even though there is a whole new generation of Booth Brothers fans who may have never heard this album or even known there was a time Jim Brady was not in the group, This Stage of Grace is a pivotal and important album in the groups discography. Because of the massive success of “Still Feelin Fine,” the group went on to achieve what it has accomplished to this day. And that’s what makes it a classic to me. If you’ve never heard the project, you can download it on iTunes. Do it and you’ll thank me later! [Editor’s note: Maybe Brian could provide a download link, because I can’t seem to find the album sold in mp3 format anywhere.]