Aaron Swain's blog about Southern Gospel Music, News, and other items of interest in the SG world.
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CD Review: Gold Harbor – You Are My Song

March 21, 2014 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, Gold Harbor, SG Artists, SG Music

Rating: 3.5 starsGold Harbor - You Are My Song

Label: Nazareth Records
Website: www.goldharbormusic.com/

Song titles: Blessed; You Are My Song; Who Will Mend The Broken; Never; Rescue Me; If Grace Was Taken Away; Halfway; He Goes Before Us; Tis So Sweet; If Not For The Old Rugged Cross

Download Project Here

Gold Harbor has shown up on a couple of blogs around the SG world, including this one. The reviews have been differing and interesting, to say the least. Between those two projects, the group showed a dedication to honing their craft, so I expected an equal, if not greater, quality when I sat down to write this review.

Musically, the group’s voices work well together. When they are in their stylistic sweet spot (which seems to be ballads), they have a sound that just fits. One downside of having a ballad-heavy project is falling into the trap of the songs seeming to run together, which happens here a little bit. That being said, songs like the title track, “If Grace Was Taken Away,” and a cover of the hymn “Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus” provide some of the best songs of the project. In more up-tempo fare, this CD is all over the map, ranging from musical styles like 70s-pop (“Blessed”), peppy gospel (“Never”), jazz (“Halfway”), and bluegrass-country (“He Goes Before Us”). “Blessed” fits the group better than I would have imagined, and “He Goes Before Us” is a fine song and style for them to explore. Though I could have done without such a roller coaster of styles, it did break up the monotony of so many slower songs.

The tracks themselves are hit-and-miss as far as sounding “canned.” What I mean is, it is more obvious on some tracks than others that the instruments are artificial, like some string and brass sections. I did notice that on the songs that seemed stronger, this “canned” feeling was not prevalent, and that probably helped my impression of those songs a great deal.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, Gold Harbor works hard at what they do, and it has shown over the years as their music has crossed my desk. They are also unafraid to try their hand at differing stylistic choices, which I appreciate. Taking risks like that will help them to weed out what doesn’t fit them and move forward in their next effort. Though it does get muddled with similar sounding songs, there are a few tracks here that are well worth multiple listens, and as long as Gold Harbor can keep finding songs with strong lyrics and a sound fit for their voices, they will continue to improve what they do. You Are My Song receives 3.5 stars.

Studio Clip of the New Gaither Vocal Band

March 20, 2014 By: Aaron Category: Gaither Vocal Band, SG Artists, SG Music

The Gaither website just sent an email with a clip of the group with the new additions of Adam Crabb and Todd Suttles in the studio. The group has re-recorded “Give It Away,” and you can hear it here.

The website mentions here that David Phelps did the arranging, and the perhaps the most interesting part is the fact that it sounds like Todd Suttles is taking the bass part, including a standout near the end. It’s hard to tell, but that may have Bill in the baritone slot, at least for this song.

This is unprecedented for the five-man iterations of the GVB. Bill was the full-time baritone in the group’s early days, singing over Lee Young and later Jon Mohr, but he has been the group’s bass for most of its career. There were several observations around the Internet that Todd Suttles had a lower speaking voice than Bill, but the fact that something like this is happening in the music, even on a part-time basis, makes this chapter of the group unique.

Will we see more of this as this lineup expands its repertoire? Only time will tell, but I wouldn’t be opposed. If they were going to make a name for themselves apart from the “all-star” lineup with English and Lowry, a move like this is the way to do it.

Update: Interestingly enough, I’ve found a live clip of this song.

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CD Review: The Hoggle Family – (Self-titled Debut)

March 10, 2014 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, SG Artists, SG Music, The Hoggle Family

Rating: 4 starsThe Hoggle Family

Producer: Adam Kohout
Label: Independent Release
Website: www.thehoggles.net

Song titles: Somebody Sing; I’ve Been Saved; Blessed Be His Name; I’ll Keep On Running; He’ll Carry You; God Always; I’ll See God Smile; When I Think About Heaven;
Rolling Away; Unconditional Love

There is always a bit of trepidation when I sit down to review an artist’s debut project, especially if it’s kind of an “out of nowhere” type of group. With a group like Freedom or Canton Junction, I have an idea of the quality I’ll be faced with based on the members of the group, but I’m never quite sure what to expect when it comes to completely fresh talent. This time around, I’m only familar with one member: lead singer Donald Morris. Donald sang for several years with the Dixie Melody Boys, and was last seen on the group’s 50th anniversary project, The Call Is Still The Same. He brings his Ed O’Neal University diploma with him to the Hoggle Family, with also consists of soprano Reagan Hoggle, alto (and Donald’s wife) Kaylan Morris, and baritone Dylan Hoggle. With a group that is 75% “new” faces to the genre, it was going to be interesting to see what kind of first impression they would make.

Not even considering the “debut status” of the project, I was impressed with the quality of both the music and the vocals. The group has a decidedly country flavor, as evidenced by tracks like “He’ll Carry You,” and “When I Think About Heaven,” and “Rolling Away,” but songs like “Somebody Sing” and “I’ll Keep On Running” lean more towards straight-forward Southern Gospel. Speaking of “I’ll Keep On Running,” the group’s first single from this CD is one of the stronger songs of the collection, and it does a good job of highlighting both the individual voices and the blend. The preceding track, “Blessed Be His Name,” is the standout ballad, and should be seriously looked at for radio as well. Both of these have seen repeated plays on my iPod lately.

Like Steve Eaton of Musicscribe, I was impressed with the song selection found here, and to find out that Donald Morris wrote all ten tracks was even more impressive. We heard some of Donald Morris’ songwriting on his last DMB project (“Bottom of the Basket” and “Go To The Well”), but this project really showcases his repertoire. To have every song be from the same writer and not seem stale or carbon-copied is no easy feat, and I think we may soon see Morris’ name alongside those of Joseph Habedank and Scott Inman when speaking of young SG songwriters.

The Hoggle Family has gotten off to a good start with their first national release. They avoided the pitfall of sounding too “young,” despite the young age of some of the members, and while not perfectly polished just yet, they have a good blend and raw talent that bodes well for their future. This is bolstered by a strong lineup of songs to choose from in concert, and I look forward to hearing what future projects will bring. The Hoggle Family receives 4 stars.

Things I Missed (3/1/14)

March 01, 2014 By: Aaron Category: Gold Harbor, Legacy Five, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Hoggle Family, The Inspirations

1. The Inspirations lineup has finally settled. The group has had a series of fill-ins lately, but it was announced this week that the new lineup sees the return of Dallas Rogers at tenor, Matt Dibler at lead, and Melton Campbell at baritone, with Jon Epley moving down to the bass part. The band remains the same.

Here’s a clip of the new Inspirations in action:

2. Legacy Five bass Matt Fouch’s “On The Couch With Fouch” has become a favorite series for Southern Gospel fans. Here’s the latest installment with guest Scott Inman of Triumphant Quartet:

Next week, I plan to have two CDs reviewed: The Hoggle Family’s self-titled release, and You Are My Song by Gold Harbor.

Video of the Day: The Hoppers Revised

February 26, 2014 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG Music, The Hoppers, Youtube

This clip was just too good not to post. Borrowing from the uploader’s title for the video (h/t, psalmofpraise), this comes from the Southwest Gospel Music Festival in Phoenix, AZ. Kim and Connie Hopper were snowed in and unable to make it to Phoenix for the Hoppers’ set that night, so Dean, Claude, and Mike put together a group of “honorary Hoppers” in the meantime. They were joined by Doug Anderson on Connie’s part, Chris Allman carrying Kim’s part, and Tim Lovelace sitting in on the piano.

If you’re going to put a group of singers together in a pinch, this is the way to do it!

Youtube Spotlight: Skyline Boys

February 25, 2014 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG Music, The Skyline Boys, Youtube

Last weekend found me attending the Winter Hearts Benefit Concert, an annual event held in my home area of Lynchburg, VA. Each year, this organization brings in a Southern Gospel group (or multiple artists) to put on a concert to benefit a local family in need. This time, the lineup featured Howie McKinney (a soloist from Salem, VA), the Skyline Boys, and the Rick Webb Family. Space constraints and battery life prevented me from capturing the Rick Webb Family’s set, but I will say that I came away impressed from my first time hearing them. It was mentioned by the promoter that they are return favorites for the event, but I had never had the opportunity to hear them.

I did manage to take a few clips of the Skyline Boys. They were traveling with a fill-in lead singer after Brian Alvey’s departure, but it was not mentioned from the stage that he was filling in, and you wouldn’t have known the difference if you weren’t aware that they are searching. I hadn’t seen the group outside of NQC before, so it was nice hearing a fuller set from them. They did two songs from their new project, Love Came Through, and I was able to capture one: “Sing It, Brother, Sing It.” The new songs went over very well.

The lineup for this concert was tenor Jodi Hosterman, fill-in lead Chris Williams, baritone Chris Little, and bass Dennis Powers.

Woodsmen Quartet Welcomes Two New Members

February 20, 2014 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, Woodsmen Quartet

We all know about the big announcement this week with the Gaither Vocal Band. That’s been covered well, so I won’t rehash it. Instead, I’ll spotlight another group that has reconfigured.

You may have seen the Woodsmen Quartet in their brief appearances on main stage at NQC, or maybe you’ve heard of them because of some of their past members (Derrick Boyd of the Dixie Melody Boys, Carolina Boys, and others, or Jim Huston, brother to Bryan Hutson of the Kingsmen and Soul’d Out Quartet). They’ve recently had a shift in membership, with two faces that some might recognize coming on board:

The Woodsmen Quartet would like to announce the new additions to the group!

As you may have already heard, Josh Arnett, our lead singer has announced his departure and has decided to pursue other things. Josh is one of the best lead singers in the business and we will definitely miss him a lot as he was a huge part of the Woodsmen and always will be! We are thankful for Josh’s time with us and wish him the best! Coming back to sing lead for the Woodsmen is our own Jim Hutson, as you may have heard. We’re very excited to have Jim back with us and look forward to see what will happen in 2014!

Some of you may have heard but our tenor, Scott Joss has also announced his departure from the Woodsmen. Scotty has been a great asset and we will miss him and wish him the best! Coming in to fill in the tenor shoes is 22 year old Daniel Rivera from Merrillville, IN. Daniel is no stranger to Southern g=Gospel music. Having sung with The Toney Brothers, Blackwood Legacy, Promise, and The Hallmark Quartet, Daniel brings to the stage a sound of a seasoned southern gospel veteran. We look forward to this brand new lineup and can’t wait to see what God has in store! They will start together in March!

This has the makings of a quartet with a great sound. I’m not all that familar with Jim Hutson’s singing (just enough to know he’s good), but I actually got to hear Daniel Rivera when he filled in with Promise back in 2012. Here are a couple of clips from that concert:

It’s safe to say that these two men will be an asset to the Woodsmen Quartet.

CD Review: Mark Trammell Quartet – Your Walk Talks

February 06, 2014 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, Mark Trammell Quartet, SG Artists, SG Music

Rating: 4 starsYourWalkTalks_CD

Label: Crimson Road Productions
Website: www.marktrammellministries.com

Song titles: Don’t Stop Running; God’s Been Faithful; When the King Comes To Claim His Throne;  Thanks to Calvary; I’ll Go Over Jordan Someday; Man of Sorrows; Your Walk Talks; To Know He Knows Me; I’ll Take It To The Grave; I Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way

The Mark Trammell Quartet has had quite a time since their last release of new songs (Testimony in 2010. They’ve released three projects of mostly older material since). The lineup on Testimony included tenor Joel Wood, lead Dustin Sweatman, baritone Mark Trammell, and bass Pat Barker. During the span from then to now, Wood left and original tenor Eric Phillips rejoined the group. Sweatman came off the road and Mark’s son, Nick, stepped into the role. Phillips then left the road again, and the group was left looking for a tenor. After a trial run, Dustin Black was eventually named as the new guy.

Despite these transitions, the group has not rested on its laurels. This project serves as a debut for two things: a new sound/lineup for the group, and the birth of a new record company in Crimson River Productions.  With stakes as high as these, one would be forgiven for wondering if this project collapses under the weight of its own promise. It does not.

The wait for truly new music from the Mark Trammell Quartet has been long (four years), but worth it. While the better-known projects in the group’s discograpy have been pretty ballad centric, this one only has one such track in “Man of Sorrows.” That is certainly a strong track, but one will probably think of the upbeat songs when recalling this CD. “When The King Comes To Claim His Throne” and “I’ll Take It To The Grave” are two major standouts, one telling of the milennial reign and the other celebrating the joy and peace that we have forever in Christ. On the other end of the tempo scale, “God’s Been Faithful” and “Thanks to Calvary” are worth mentioning. The latter is the George Younce signature, and while it doesn’t stray too far from the original, it is a fitting tribute in the context of the recent Cathedral Family Reunion.

I have alluded to the “new sound” that debuts with this project, and that’s one of the reasons I appreciate this release. The difference is most evident with the tenor part. Though no one could truly duplicate the sound the group had with Eric Phillips, Joel Wood was a hire that had a similar tone, so the group’s sound never really wavered from what it used to be. Dustin Black, on the other hand, is another matter entirely. Phillips made the MTT/MTQ unique because of his through-the-roof notes and consistently high harmonies; Black makes them unique by having a different sound from any tenor on the road, and while he is not as stratospherical as Phillips, his blend with the group is smoother. His feature at the end of the project, “I Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way,” is a perfect showcase of this, though “I’ll Take It To The Grave” sounds like one they would have done with Phillips.

MTQ continues their line of strong song choices and a recognizable sound with Your Walk Talks, and this will undoubtedly be seen as one of the best quartet releases in 2014. It receives 4 stars.

MTQ Blog Tour Stop #4: Pat Barker

January 15, 2014 By: Aaron Category: Mark Trammell Quartet, SG Artists, SG Music

ywtblogtour_fbcoverpatThe Mark Trammell Quartet has quickly become one of the finer quartets in this genre of music, with a journey that began before they added a bass singer. I started paying attention when they released the Once Upon A Cross as a trio, and I have continued to appreciate their strong song choices and their ability to hold that standard even through personnel changes.

I got the chance to catch up with the bass singer for the quartet, Pat Barker, and ask him about the group’s latest effort:

Aaron Swain: What is your favorite song from “Your Walk Talks,” and why?

Pat Barker: My favorite song is “Your Walk Talks.” I was on the Alaska cruise when Rodney (Griffin) and Babbie (Mason) went into the piano bar and wrote that song. They came out to the table and immediately pitched it to Mark. I loved the hook from the beginning and the arrangement is perfect. Mark does a perfect job on the solo, even throwing in a little Jake Hess just for fun.

AS: “Thanks To Calvary” was a signature song for George Younce, and your admiration for him is no secret. What went into the decision to include that song?

PB: “Thanks to Calvary” is a “George” song, no doubt. He is the greatest, and will always be the greatest.

I have had the honor of doing Remember the Music concerts along with Glenn Dustin and Matt Fouch the last few years. It has been a dream come true. More recently, I got to be a part of the Cathedral Family Reunion. At a RTM concert, someone in the audience requested “Thanks to Calvary.” I had never sung it, but I knew the song. Something special happened, and we literally didn’t know what to do next. It became a permanent fixture at the RTM concerts, and was added to the CFR concert as well. Gerald Wolfe was the one who suggested that we put it on the album. My testimony is the story in that song, so it is an easy one to sing. I love that song.

AS: Other than Mark Trammell, you are the only member that has been with the group from the beginning of their “quartet” days. With the other two parts changing over this time period, how do you think the sound has evolved, and do you feel that the change is reflected with this project?

PB: Lots of things have changed. Losing (Dustin) Sweatman was a tough loss. He brought a lot to the table with his piano skills and his ability to win the crowd over. He was also a big help in the studio and picking songs. I still miss having a piano on stage, but Nick (Trammell) has taken over beautifully on lead. He is also a great songwriter, which shows up on this new album.

With the loss of Eric (Phillips), we not only lost an incredible tenor, but I lost my buddy. We bonded very quickly, and that relationship continues, but not as much as I would like. When Dustin (Black) came on board, I knew it would be a challenge for him. I could not be prouder of someone musically than I am of him. There is no other tenor that he sounds like, and I, for one, welcome the change. His solo at the end of the project is one of my favorite cuts.

Thanks, Pat, for a great interview!

I’ll echo Pat’s sentiment about “Your Walk Talks.” At first listen, it just sounds like a bouncy little ditty, but there are very true and applicable lyrics in such a fun song. Another that has taken up residence on my “most played” list is “I’ll Take It To The Grave.” The team of Rebecca J. Peck and Dianne Wilkinson penned a great song with that one, and I’m glad to see it get a fine quartet treatment.

Head over to Musicscribe for the next stop on the MTQ blog tour as Diana Brantley interviews Dustin Black!

Legacy Five Stays With Daywind Records

January 15, 2014 By: Aaron Category: Legacy Five, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

With the recent Kickstarter campaign to fund the group’s upcoming release, speculation began as to whether Legacy Five would remain a Daywind artist much longer. Those questions were answered today in an announcement from Daywind:

Multi-award-winning artist Legacy Five recently signed a long-term recording contract with Daywind Records. Daywind has been Legacy Five’s home for the past decade, beginning with the group’s “London” project. The group is putting the finishing touches on their latest recording, entitled “Great Day.” The upcoming release is produced by Lari Goss, and it will release on March 25.

Legacy Five manager Scott Fowler stated, “We are thrilled to continue our partnership with Daywind. Daywind has an incredible roster of artists, and we consider it an honor to be a part of their family. We are very excited about the direction they are going. We feel like our fans are part of our team, too. Daywind is inviting our fans to choose the cover photo for our new CD, ‘Great Day.’ Fans can vote athttp://legacyfive.wordpress.com/2014/01/13/choose-l5s-new-cd-cover/#comment-3168.

“Legacy Five is one of the premiere groups in Gospel music. This agreement will continue Daywind’s successful partnership with Legacy Five for the foreseeable future,” stated Daywind Vice President Scott Godsey.

In 2014, Legacy Five will celebrate its 14-year anniversary in Southern Gospel Music, having been formed by Roger Bennett and Scott Fowler, two of the members of the legendary Cathedral Quartet. The male quartet has been nominated for two Dove Awards and more than 75 Singing News Fan Awards. “Great Day” comes to Legacy Five fans following its latest release, a “A Wonderful Life.” “A Wonderful Life” included the successful singles “Ask Me Why,” “Living In the Palace,” and “I’m Still Amazed.”

Daywind Records is home to a great roster of artists such as Brian Free and Assurance, Adam Crabb and Greater Vision. Daywind is distributed to retail through New Day Christian Distributors, Select O Hits, and all major digital outlets including iTunes. For more information, visit www.daywindrecords.com  or contact Amanda Martin at publicity@daywind.com.

For more information on Legacy Five, please visit www.legacyfive.com.

It is worth noting that Great Day will be distributed by Daywind as well.