Aaron Swain's blog about Southern Gospel Music, News, and other items of interest in the SG world.
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Matt Felts Steps Down From Dixie Melody Boys

August 22, 2014 By: Aaron Category: Dixie Melody Boys, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

In both a Facebook status and press release today, tenor Matt Felts announced his decision to step away from the tenor position at the “Ed O’Neal University” after four years:

In a statement today, Matt Felts, tenor for the Dixie Melody Boys, has announced that he will be leaving the group at the end of August.

“I want to thank the friends and fans of the group for the way they have embraced me. It has been a huge honor to sing with Ed O’Neal and the Dixie Melody Boys for over four years. Being a member of the Ed O’Neal University has been a blessing to not just me, but my family. Ed has taught me so much and gave me such an incredible opportunity. Saying ‘thank you’ will never be enough to repay Ed. The last four years have been a great season for the group, but I am very blessed to be a part of the current lineup. I think it’s been a special lineup for the group. Thanks to Aaron Dishman and Josh Garner for the last year, as well as Rayburn Lane for keeping me safe on the roads. Some may say I am graduating, but I’ve learned that you never truly leave the Dixie Melody Boys. It’s a family that you’re always a part of. I will be announcing future plans soon, but for now, I just wanted to thank Ed for an incredible journey.”

Matt joined the Dixie Melody Boys in 2010 and has been a mainstay for the group, having been a part of many awards, including the 2012 and 2013 Favorite Quartet, and was named the 2013 Favorite Tenor in the Southern Gospel Fan Awards.

There have been very few groups that have seen a turnaround in quality and direction like the Dixie Melody Boys have in the past few years, and that is due in large part to what Felts brought to the table. Yes, he sang the tenor part and sang it well, but his marketing background paid dividends in the quality of the group’s presence in the genre and the presentation of their music. I saw them in concert a couple of weeks ago, and that opinion was confirmed. Losing him is a huge blow, but the work that he has put in to building up the group, combined with the other singers that are present, will make the transition to a new lineup smoother. I look forward to seeing what happens next for both parties.

In tribute to Matt’s time with the group, here’s one of the songs I will always associate with him and his tenure with the group:

Pat Barker Launches Website

July 30, 2014 By: Aaron Category: Pat Barker, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

For the past couple of days, the online community has been buzzing about a “big announcement” that was promised by Pat Barker. Today, that announcement hit:

(Gadsden, AL) July 30, 2014 – Pat Barker announces the launch of his new online community – You Tell Me. Through the “You Tell Me” campaign introduced on his site, individuals will have the opportunity to share how BIG God has been in their life and read how He has shown up in others. There will be artist video testimonials and prayer requests where you can respond in real time to requests made from all over the world.

Most of you were introduced to Pat Barker eight years ago when he joined the legendary Dixie Echoes. Fans from all over discovered his love for gospel music to be contagious. Fans not only loved his ability take a solo and sing it like no other bass singer, but his spirit and personality off the stage. With Pat’s move to the Mark Trammell Quartet, thousands more were introduced to his talent in some of the largest venues across the country including his unforgettable appearance with the Cathedral Family Reunion. When Pat left the road, many wondered if they would ever have the opportunity to see him again involved with the music he loves so much. Do we ever have good news for you. If you thought Pat would start his own group or launch a solo career, you weren’t thinking BIG enough. Today you can join a community of believers from all over the world through Pat’s brand new site http://HOWBIGISGOD2U.COM!

As a member of the community you will also have access to where Pat will be ministering and his latest products. July 30 is the day where You Tell Me and the rest of the world how BIG God is! You can also join Pat live Sunday August 3rd from 3 – 4 o’clock p.m. Central time to ask anything you like. Ask about the new site or find out what’s going on with Pat in the near future. DON’T MISS IT!! More information on Pat Barker and the You Tell Me campaign can be found online at: http://howbigisgod2u.com or on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HBIGYouTellMe

This is certainly a unique idea that goes beyond the normal solo career announcement. I look forward to seeing how it progresses as time goes on. Be sure to check it out!

Mark Trammell Quartet Hires Randy Byrd

July 16, 2014 By: Aaron Category: Mark Trammell Quartet, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

In a move that is likely not a surprise to anyone who has been observing the group’s concert appearances since Pat Barker’s departure, the Mark Trammell Quartet announced today that they have selected Randy Byrd as their new bass singer. From the group’s blog:

After three months and 36 candidates for the position, Mark Trammell has announced today that Randy Byrd will be the new bass vocalist for the Mark Trammell Quartet.   Mark shares, “We are thrilled with the overwhelming inquiry about this position.  And after much prayer and consideration, the group collectively feels that Randy is the man for this season of our ministry.”

Many of you will remember Randy from his recent years with the prestigious Blackwood Brothers Quartet. He also logged some miles with our friends the Mike Lefevre Quartet and the Songfellows.  Randy relates the following upon receiving confirmation from Mark.

“At 12 years of age, I heard The Cathedrals sing There is a Fountain and I was hooked!! I told my mother that night after hearing George Younce, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a bass singer.’  God has blessed me and allowed me to sing with some of the best in the business.  Three years ago my dream started to fall apart.  Between my flesh and Satan’s attacks it seemed my life was over. I am thankful today that in spite of my faults and failures, God never took His hand off of me.  Everything that Satan robbed from me, God has restored!  I am beyond excited to join The Mark Trammell Quartet! I am living proof that God IS faithful!!  Pat Barker is a dear friend.  I am not and cannot be Pat Barker.  But I can work at being the best version of me that God can use and I gladly accept that challenge.”

Please join us in welcoming this wonderful man to the Mark Trammell Quartet!!!

This is a great pick for the quartet’s next chapter. Randy seems to fit them like a glove both on and off the stage, and there is no doubt that the quality of the music will be maintained with this hire. Here’s a clip from Facebook:

Post by ThOm GilmOre.

Youtube Spotlight: Soul’d Out Quartet (July 4, 2014)

July 12, 2014 By: Aaron Category: Concert Reviews, SG Artists, SG Music, Soul'd Out Quartet, Youtube

The 4th of July is an important American event, and one of the many ways that people celebrated in Bedford, VA, was by having a cookout and concert with Soul’d Out Quartet. The group had been to Mount Olivet Southern Baptist Church a few times before, and they drew a large crowd this time around. The evening started with a cookout dinner served at the church, and then everyone moved to the sanctuary for the concert. Of course, I got plenty of video.

One thing I appreciate about this group is that they tend to keep their set list fresh. They had the added benefit this time of having their brand new project, Great Life, available, so they had some new material to work into the concert, as well as selections from their recent Soulace 3 table project.

Read the rest of this entry →

Guest Post at Musicscribe

July 08, 2014 By: Aaron Category: Blogging Community, SG Artists, SG Music, The Skyline Boys

I recently got the opportunity to travel along for a weekend with the Skyline Boys, and I was asked to do a guest post about the trip on Musicscribe. Check it out!

Triumphant Quartet Signs With StowTown Records

June 30, 2014 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, Triumphant Quartet

StowTown Records has done it again by grabbing one of the biggest names in Southern Gospel music. From the Singing News:

June 30, 2014 (Nashville, TN) - StowTown Records is proud to announce the signing of GRAMMY-nominated and multi-award winning gospel quartet, Triumphant.

The GMA/Dove-nominated group is set for its premier release with StowTown in March 2015. Triumphant will once again partner with producer and StowTown co-founder Wayne Haun on the project.

“I cannot wait to get back in the studio with these guys. They are so talented, and working with them is always a pleasure,” said Haun. “They are genuine and downright fun. We make a great team.”

The longstanding fan-favorite quartet, based in Pigeon Forge, TN, consists of lead vocalist Clayton Inman, his son and baritone Scotty Inman, bass Eric Bennett, and tenor David Sutton.

“Triumphant has had the opportunity of working with Wayne Haun and Landon Beene over the past several years. We have been friends with (StowTown co-founder) Ernie Haase throughout his career,” added Sutton.”We are so excited to join the incredible team that God has put together at StowTown Records. We look forward to being able to create wonderful music together that will touch audiences all across the country. We can’t wait to see what God has in store.”

Triumphant was most recently with The Mansion Entertainment. Purely from an observational standpoint, it seemed that since signing with that label, all projects except the first one (Love Came Calling, one of their best to date) had been independent releases. Many probably did not even notice, as these independent releases were of the same level of quality as a “mainline release,” and even garnered some radio attention. StowTown seems to keep pretty busy, so I’m sure we’ll be seeing more label releases from the group.

Having Wayne Haun on hand to produce and arrange material may also help to ease the transition for the group following the departure of Jeff Stice, although I imagine that since he is doing solo dates and studio work now, he will still have at least a part in that role.

Still Here!

June 18, 2014 By: Aaron Category: Blogging Community, SG Artists, SG Music

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

It’s hard to believe that I haven’t written anything on this corner of the Web since March, but life got in the way for sure. As I finished up my junior year of college, I had to prioritize the copious amounts of difficult schoolwork, which unfortunately meant that Swain’s Musings was put on the backburner. But, if I’m being perfectly honest, I just didn’t feel motivated to post for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, which is why I didn’t post even after the semester ended. While I certainly didn’t mean for this “break” to last multiple months, maybe it was what I needed to get that motivation back.

During the time that I’ve stepped away, it seems that Southern Gospel music has entered a season of change. The group whose CD I reviewed in my last post (Gold Harbor) suddenly lost their owner and manager, Jimmy Richards, which was a true shock. The last member of the original Cathedral Trio (and Quartet), tenor Bobby Clark, passed away during this time as well. We also saw several largely unexpected group changes, such as the departures of Pat Barker and Jeff Stice. Perhaps we’ll see them on the road again in the future, but for now, we thank them for their years of dedication to this music and the message in it.

The Southern Gospel blogging world also saw the end of an era with the closing of Southern Gospel Journal. Many of you will know that site as Southern Gospel Blog. Over his years of writing, Daniel Mount, in large part, opened the door for this particular blogging niche to gain traction. I can tell you that he was an inspiration in my decision to start writing about this great music. Daniel, thank you for all the years of thought-provoking articles and for facilitating a place for lively discussion about this genre. Hopefully, a few years down the road, the blog can make a comeback in some form or fashion.

Swain’s Musings will continue on as it always has; there is still so much more to write; CD reviews, future news, and other things of general interest. I look forward to it all! Be on the lookout for more coming soon.

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.