Aaron Swain's blog about Southern Gospel Music, News, and other items of interest in the SG world.

Archive for November, 2008

RIP Billy Todd

November 30, 2008 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG History, SG Industry News, SG Legends, SG Music, The Florida Boys

Dixie Echoes pianist Stewart Varnado sent out a newsletter saying this:

It is with a heavy heart that I write this email to let you know that my friend
and former Florida Boys & Dixie Echoes bass singer, Billy Todd, passed away
this morning (November 30th), after a long battle against alzheimers.

Arrangements are still pending. They will be available at www.singingnews.com once
they have been finalized.

I have just uploaded a “Remembering Billy Todd” page on our website: www.dixieechoes.com
that consists of a brief biography along with many pictures of Billy throughout
the years.

Please keep the Todd family in your prayers.

God Bless you all!
Stewart Varnado
Dixie Echoes

This is sad news; I enjoy hearing Todd sing on old Florida Boys projects. However, we all know he’s not suffering anymore.
I encourage you to check out the tribute on the Dixie Echoes website and I echo (no pun intended) Stewart in saying to pray for the Todd family.

Cross 4 Crowns Announces New Tenor

November 27, 2008 By: Aaron Category: Cross 4 Crowns, Monument Quartet, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

Knoxville, TN (Press Release)

David Hoskins, manager of Crossroads Entertainment artist Cross 4 Crowns, is pleased to announce the addition of Matt Felts to the tenor position with the group. Matt, for the last two years, has sung with Monument Quartet. Allen Leath, owner of Cross 4 Crowns, states “Matt is truly a once in a lifetime find for our ministry. Matt’s singing is incredible, but his heart for ministry and people is beyond words. All of the guys knew, after just talking to Matt, he was the one for us.”

Matt continues, “I am excited to be a part of this incredibly talented group. It is wonderful to see the hand of God working in these men and it’s an honor to be a part of that. I want to thank Monument, most especially Marshall, for the last two years. It was truly a blessing to go and spread God’s love to countless thousands at fairs across America. Thank you to all the friends and fans who supported us night after night. I will miss Marshall, Jerry, Daryl and the band greatly but I am excited to begin this new chapter in my ministry.”

Former tenor Dallas Rogers came to the group a few weeks ago and said the doctor had put him on complete vocal rest, and he felt it would be best to come off the road for now. We wish Dallas the best of everything and truly thank him for being a part of our group. We will miss him very much.

Cross 4 Crowns will be going into the studio shortly after the new year to begin work on their sophomore project with Crossroads Entertainment, so keep listening.

Until I got this press release this morning, I was unaware that Dallas Rogers had come off the road. I am familiar with Matt Felts’ work with Monument, and he is a very underrated tenor. This lineup of Cross 4 Crowns should be fantastic.

This does make me wonder, however, if the rumors about Monument disbanding are true… Nevertheless, I am anticipating hearing the new project from Cross 4 Crowns.

For those unfamiliar with Matt, Daniel Mount conducted an interview with him last year.

Lily Fern Weatherford Turns 80

November 25, 2008 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG History, SG Industry News, SG Legends, SG Music, The Weatherfords

Today is the birthday of an SG legend. I’d just like to take the opportunity to encourage all of you to send her an email to let her know how much you appreciate what she has done and continues to do for Southern Gospel Music. (hat tip, Daniel Mount)

The Cathedrals w/ Kurt Young – This Old House

November 24, 2008 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG History, SG Music, The Cathedrals

I can hear the groans from everyone that just read the title of this post. “Come on, Swain! How many more times do we have to hear this song getting butchered in the end?!?!”

Fear not; this is not the infamous “Dove Awards” video of the group singing this song. Rather, it’s an earlier version, off of Nashville Now, I think. Naturally, this is a much better version of the song, and another piece of evidence supporting my theory that Kurt Young could have easily been one of the best tenors the group ever had if cirumstances had allowed.

It’s not just the ending that is better here; the sound quality is better as well. Everyone’s mics seem to be turned up and mixed evenly, with no one vocalist sticking out like a sore thumb. No one is oversinging either, which it seemed to me that George Younce was doing on the Dove Awards video. It’s a shame that the group couldn’t have sung this well on the other clip.

My NQC 2009 Top Five

November 21, 2008 By: Aaron Category: Cross 4 Crowns, Liberty Quartet, Mike and Kelly Bowling, N'Harmony, NQC, SG Artists, SG Music, The Collingsworth Family, The Imperials, The Old Paths

Daniel Mount’s latest post lists the top (ten) groups he’d like to see on mainstage at NQC 2009, and it’s a good list. I’ve narrowed mine down to five very deserving groups (in no particular order):

1. The Old Paths – One of the best young groups out there today (and with a live band, too!), these guys remind me of an early Kingsmen lineup. They should have a spot for sure.

2. Liberty Quartet – They were a hit at showcases last year, and I was impressed with the song they did when they were invited to mainstage for a song on Saturday night. I’ve heard their new project, and it’s one of the best this year. One of the classiest and best sounding groups on the road.

3. The Collingsworth Family – Anyone familiar with their music and talent knows that this group has had a mainstage spot coming for several years. Give it to ’em already!

4. N’Harmony – The revived version of this group has a tight blend that few “starting” groups have. Daniel Mount mentioned a “one-year-rule,” meaning that a group has to be in existence for one year before they are invited to mainstage. Technically, the group has been around for much more than a year, just not this particular lineup. These guys could be the next Mercy’s Mark (although I hope they can keep together longer!) and they certainly have the talent level to be on mainstage.

5. Mike & Kelly Bowling – They have several great songs in their repretoire, and it’s about time they get a slot on mainstage. There’s no excuse not to have them.

Honorable mentions: Cross 4 Crowns – The only reason they didn’t make my list is because I don’t think many people have heard them yet. They are a shoo-in for my 2010 list, though, and I’ll have a review of their newest release in a few weeks.

The Imperials – I can hear the naysayers now: “Hey! They’re not really SG!” Really? To my ears, they sound like Southern Gospel with a kick. After the SGN Awards a few months ago, one guy even said they were “Southern Rock-spel” Sure, they’re Progressive at any rate, but the “new” group of The Imps has a couple good albums under their belt already. Group name history notwithstanding, they’ve got a great sound.

What I’m About

November 18, 2008 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG Music

The latest post at Averyfineline talks about excessive praise; rather, such praise as it pertains to Southern Gospel Music. I agree with what commenters have said, and I noticed my name mentioned as one blogger who may fall into this category. I’ll take this opportunity to state my goal for this blog.

I’m of the opinion that you can say what you want to say and get your point across tactfully. That does not mean, however, to look at the world through rose-colored glasses. I’ve been accused of being a bit starry-eyed in my reviews of SG projects before, but let me say this: I say what I think in such a way that, should the artist read that review of their project, they can take what I say and use it to better do what they do.

I try to be kind in my reviews, but I also believe that mediocrity/shoddy work is not to be overlooked if this genre of music is to survive. If a project is something that isn’t very good, we as bloggers should say so. However, we shouldn’t say it in a mean-spirited fashion.

Bottom line: this blog is about being honest and constructively criticizing all things SG.

New Clip Of Upcoming GVB Reunion video

November 13, 2008 By: Aaron Category: Bill Gaither, Gaither Vocal Band, SG Artists, SG History, SG Music

Here’s a new clip of a lineup featuring Wes Hampton on tenor, Michael English on lead, baritone Mark Lowry, and, of course, “bass” Bill Gaither.

I guess to those unfamiliar with the English days of the GVB, this would actually sound pretty good. And, in truth, it is a somewhat decent performance. But, as Doug Harrison points out, it’s kind of a mess. Doug is certainly not far wrong; he and I both know how the English era sounded, and this is almost a shadow of that group.

I don’t agree with Harrison’s assessment of Wes Hampton’s tenor singing here; with the absence of Terry Franklin (a real shame, IMHO), Hampton was called on to fill in, and he does a good job. He’s really not as bad a tenor as Harrison makes him out to be. Wes doesn’t try to sing out of his range here and he fits the part well.

I guess, to my ears, the saddest part about all this is Michael English’s part. As I stated earlier, I’ve heard the early days of the group, and I was a big fan of the lineups with English. He brought such a great voice to the lineup, not unlike Guy Penrod has done for over a decade. It’s tragic to me to listen to the result of drug abuse and stress so many years later. Drugs and stress can tear a voice up like I don’t know what, and it’s sad to hear such a powerful voice sound so… reduced, if you will.

I noticed that “I Bowed On My Knees” is on the video’s tracklist. I’m pretty sure English gets the feature there. Hopefully, he can still sing that with the pathos that he sang it with here.

Like I stated earlier, it is not a terrible performance. I guess my somewhat “educated” ears just long for something more.

Soul’d Out Singing "Just A Little Talk With Jesus"

November 10, 2008 By: Aaron Category: Crystal River, SG Artists, SG Music, Soul'd Out Quartet

This is Horizon Group Of The Year 2009 material, folks. All of the guys are great vocalists, but tenor singer Dusty Barrett (formerly of Crystal River) has the best control over his voice than a lot of tenors these days. That’s quite a range he displays in this video; I don’t think he ever switched to falsetto the whole time. If he did, it was very subtly.

I make my prediction right now; Soul’d Out Quartet will be next year’s Horizon Group. Watch this and the other videos of the group’s current lineup and I think you’ll agree.

Interesting Observation

November 06, 2008 By: Aaron Category: Greater Vision, Kirk Talley, SG Artists, SG History, SG Music

Commenter quaid posted something yesterday that I thought was a very true statement:

Just wondering, has anyone else noticed vocal similarities between Jacob Kitson and Kirk Talley? I know, you who read this will probably think ‘what in the world is he talking about?’
But listen to “Be Still and Know” with Kirk in mind. I think you’ll see (hear) what I mean.

You can hear the song he mentioned here in the media player.

I think the comparison is pretty accurate. Both Kitson and Talley can carry a ballad like nobody’s business, and yet fit right in to any other faster song. The good thing is, Kitson is still young, and can only improve with age. He may very well be remembered as a great tenor akin to the likes of Talley by the next generation (controversies excluded, hopefully). I have a feeling Gerald Wolfe saw this similarity as well when he hired Jacob to sing tenor for Greater Vision.

What say you? I’m sure opinions will differ widely, and I’d love to read them.

CD Review: N’Harmony – Favorites

November 05, 2008 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, N'Harmony, SG Artists, SG Music

Rating: 4 stars

Producers: Shane Dunlap & N’Harmony
Label: Independent

1. Step Into The Water – The album opens up with a new arrangement of The Cathedrals’ classic song. The group breathes new life into it, giving it a more country sound, speeding up the tempo a tad, and shedding the stand-out bass lines on the chorus. The last change is not as disappointing as one might think, and this track is still good.

2. Old Time Religion – This old song takes the piano-and-vocals approach. The solo features are baritone Chris Whitaker, lead Shane Dunlap, and tenor Brent Mitchell, respectively. Bass singer Will Van Wyngarden gets short solo lines on the chorus. Nothing fancy about this track, but it will appeal to fans of the old style of Southern Gospel singing.

3. The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power – The group covers a song that was also featured on Brian Free & Assurance’s Timeless Hymns & Classics Volume II project. Chris Whitaker’s great range is displayed here and he turns in a fine performance. This version of the song has a slight edge of BFA’s version in that it does not feature “canned” instruments at all; the horns on BFA’s version sounded somewhat fake.

4. He Loves Me – Brent Mitchell gets his first true solo feature of the project here. This song was written by George Amon Webster and orginally recorded by The Cathedrals when he was their baritone. My all-time favorite version of this song is Greater Vision & Eric Bennett’s version on GV’s Quartets project. This arrangement differs from both in that it is a tenor feature. Mitchell’s voice fits the song well, and it comes at a close second to my preferred version.

5. Run On – Shane Dunlap steps out front for this bluegrassy song. This sounds to me like a faster, slightly different arrangement of Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” that was a single off of his posthumous American V: A Hundred Highways. The groups pulls off this sound pretty well.

6. It Is Well – This is another song on the project to feature just piano and vocals, at least until the chorus when some light accompaniment comes in. I thought that Chris Whitaker’s range was impressive on “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power,” but he displays it much more here. This is the first time I’ve heard a baritone featured on this song, and it exceeded my expectations.

7. I Can See The Hand – This is possibly my favorite song on this project. The group takes the song and gives it more life than The Cathedrals version, picking up the tempo a bit. The key change pushes Brent Mitchell to some high notes. Mitchell is by no means Danny Funderburk, and niether does he claim to be. He turns in a good vocal here, and bass Will Van Wyngarden is none too shabby in his bass part here either. Very well done track.

8. Lord Feed Your Children – Just piano and vocals here for this Shane Dunlap feature. This is a good arrangement; I’ve never been as crazy about the song as most people, but the guys sing it well.

9. Life Will Be Sweeter – This track is really no different than Mercy’s Mark’s arrangement on their Southern Selections Volume Two project. It’s almost a carbon copy, right down to the piano. This is an OK track besides that fact.

10. Beulah Land – A short, acappella version of the chorus of this Squire Parsons classic shows that the guys have great harmony. My only complaint is that it wasn’t longer (it clocks in at 58 seconds).

Final Thoughts: The revived version of N’Harmony that Shane Dunlap has built has made a fine “debut” project. It shows that they have the potential to be one of the genre’s top quartets. Brent Mitchell holds down his tenor part well, the similarities in Shane Dunlap and Chris Whitaker’s voice (not to mention the fact that both have impressive ranges!) make for some tight harmony, and Will Van Wyngarden is a young bass who’s style is akin to Chris West or Christian Davis.
The guys do a great job of revamping classic songs here, and I am anticipating future, original material from this young group.