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

Archive for September, 2011

Jessy Dixon Passes Away

September 26, 2011 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

By now, it has made the rounds; popular Gaither Homecoming solist Jessy Dixon died this morning. He was 73 years old. His sister stated he was sick, but did not explain further. ABC News has the story here.

Please be in prayer for the Dixon family.

Gold City with Jerry Pelfrey

September 26, 2011 By: Aaron Category: Gold City, SG Artists, SG Music, Youtube

Youtube user bigdrummer21 has put up a couple of videos of one of Jerry Pelfrey’s first concerts as lead singer for Gold City (hat tip, jdsumner):



Though the videos are certainly not pristine quality, these offer a glimpse into the potential of this lineup. I noticed that Pelfrey’s stage presence is already strong, and will only get better the longer he’s with the group. I can already hear the Ivan Parker similarity in his voice as well. I’m looking forward to hearing them for myself in a couple of weeks.

CD Review: Promise – Promise

September 24, 2011 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, Promise, SG Artists, SG Music

Rating: 5 stars

Producer: Gerald Wolfe
Label: Independent Release
Website: www.promisetrio.com

Song titles: Don’t Try To Tell Me; Tell Me The Story of Jesus; New Wine; Land of Living; Whosoever Will; I’ve Got A Love; He Is Mine; On A Journey; There Is A River; Happy Tracks

When the Statement of Faith trio disbanded earlier this year after group founder Jacob Kitson’s departure, two of the members, baritone David Mann and lead Joe Kitson, teamed up with tenor TJ Evans to reorganize as Promise. Kitson soon left, however, and Mann and Evans called their mutual friend James Bell to fill the tenor spot as Evans moved down to lead. With the release of the trio’s debut project, the Southern Gospel music world gets a formal introduction to Promise.

This CD, produced by Gerald Wolfe, features ten Greater Vision songs from the 90s. Wolfe provided the original tracks to the group, and thankfully, they are all songs that haven’t been re-recorded to death. The real question is whether or not the trio is relying so heavily on the Greater Vision influence that they themselves are just becoming a “lesser Greater Vision,” so to speak. When a group does a project of this nature, they run the risk of producing copied versions of the earlier recordings that may or may not stack up. The fact that this is the group’s first project also gives them the challenge of defining their sound, and the combination of these factors makes for a tricky musical situation. Has Promise avoided the pitfall of becoming “GV Lite?”

The answer, thankfully, is yes.

While the tracks are indeed the ones used in the original versions, the singers deliver the songs in a way that very much makes them their own. To illustrate this, I’ll use one of the better known songs on the project, “He Is Mine.” On this song especially, the group will undoubtedly be held under close scrutiny because of the song’s popularity when it came out, and Mark Trammell’s great performance of it. While Mann has drawn comparisons to Trammell from a lot of bloggers and readers in recent months, he does not deliberately go for a Trammell-esque delivery, instead opting to put his own nuances into the song. On the final chorus, the group sings it pretty straightforward until the last notes, when the tenor takes it up, rather than giving the standout to the baritone as in the original. Little differences like that show up all throughout this project, and the versions stand on their own. Other highlights include TJ Evans’ take on a Gerald Wolfe signature, “Land of Living,” and James Bell singing “Whosoever Will.”

I know this seems like an awfully positive, optimistic review for a group’s first project, but honestly, there’s really nothing to complain about. You would be hard pressed to believe that this trio is entering their third month of existence with the blend that they possess. I’m sure it helps that they sang together in college, but there are enough years in between that it would be like starting over now. Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that the voices “click,” and the result is a project of covers that doesn’t sound like a project of covers. To use a horrible pun, Promise shows great promise with this first project. Time will tell whether a collection of original songs will continue their upward trend, but for now, they have a lot of things going for them and have a lot to be proud of here. Promise’s self-titled debut receives 5 stars.

Charles Burke, 1936-2011

September 23, 2011 By: Aaron Category: Charles Burke, SG Artists, SG History, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Singing Americans

Came across this article on the Singing News website:

Singing News has learned that Charles Burke has passed away today (Friday, Sept. 23) at around 7 a.m. at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Early indications suggest that Mr. Burke suffered a brain aneurysm late last night at his home near Maiden, North Carolina. He had just celebrated his 75th birthday Sunday, Sept. 18.

Mr. Burke is generally regarded as a “behind-the-scenes” guiding force of Southern Gospel music. Among his numerous contributions to music in bringing life harmony are his distinguished service as a Board Member of the Southern Gospel Music Association and the Southern Gospel Music Hall Of Fame. An entrepreneur with several diversified businesses to his credit, including partial ownership of the National Quartet Convention, Mr. Burke was a driving force behind the outstanding quartet, The Singing Americans, and, with his son Michael, owned Tape Corporation Of America.

A tremendous discoverer and encourager of new musical talent, Mr. Burke was instrumental in the careers of such persons as Clayton Inman and David Sutton of The Triumphant Quartet, Ivan Parker, Danny Funderburk, as well as such groups as The Whisnants, The Reggie Saddler Family and The Dove Brothers.

In a conversation this morning with Michael Burke, Michael says that the family appreciates all the prayers during this time. He further states that funeral arrangements are pending, but will be shared as soon as they are finalized.

Mr. Burke made an indelible mark on Southern Gospel music; one that is, sadly, often overlooked. I suppose that is part of being “behind the scenes,” but the list mentioned in the press release is only a part of his many accomplishments and influences on this music.

I couldn’t find the original version of the song from when Michael English was singing lead, but here is a song from the Singing Americans featuring Clayton Inman that is a fitting tribute for Mr. Burke. Listen to the words that he heard early this morning: “Welcome to Heaven, my child.”


NQC 2011: Wrapping Up

September 18, 2011 By: Aaron Category: NQC, SG Artists, SG Music

Another National Quartet Convention has come and gone. I got in at about 6:30 Friday evening, and in between getting settled, catching up with people in the exhibit hall, and listening to music, I had no time to blog! I encourage you to check out some of the other blogs for their take on Friday night’s music. However, I have some thoughts on things throughout Saturday, and some final thoughts about NQC 2011 as a whole:

1. The Dixie Melody Boys reunion was this year’s “moment.” Every year at NQC, there is a musical moment, be it in a showcase or evening performance, one song or an entire set, that stands out from everything else during the week as a meeting of both spirit and musical greatness. The twenty or so minutes of the Singing News Fan Awards Straw Poll showcase that were set aside to honor Ed O’Neal’s 50 years in Southern Gospel music were those that made up this year’s moment. Three songs, a presentation, a heartfelt testimony, and a powerful closing number; these ingredients made up the magic this time. I counted at least three standing ovations, though it may have been four; either way, I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen an audience respond so well at NQC.

“Antioch Church Choir” and “Good Old Boys” opened it up, and the former got the first ovation. “Ride That Glory Cloud” was absolutely electric, complete with a live band consisting of Eric Ollis on piano, Rodney Griffin on bass guitar, and a drummer whose name escapes me, and it was encored several times. I am usually not an emotional person, but I will admit that I teared up twice this week. Ed O’Neal’s comments that led into “The Call Is Still The Same” caused that second time. What a broken, heartfelt testimony. All that aside, the current lineup of the Dixie Melody Boys is the best they have had in years, hands down. They have a very powerful sound now.

2. The live band and Burman Porter’s rehire are the two best things to happen to the Dove Brothers. Seriously. Their set tonight flat-out rocked. When you can keep doing encores (venturing into four times) and it doesn’t get old, you’re doing it right. Porter’s delivery of “King Jesus” was, at the risk of wearing this adjective out, electric. The energy is back for the Dove Brothers, for sure.

3. Something felt different about NQC this year. Let me preface this by saying that I am very much a fan and supporter of Southern Gospel music. As a matter of fact, I’d love to be able to sing it full-time one day. That does not change the fact that overall, my impression of this year was kind of disconcerting. I don’t know if it was the fact that by the time I got there everyone was tired or what, but it just felt… empty this year. Like the buzz that usually accompanies this event was turned off this time around. I don’t believe I’m the only one who felt this way; comments I’ve seen and heard around our corners of the web and in person lead me to believe that everyone else felt this weird, void-like sensation as well. Will it be fixed for next year? We’ll see. Until then, we have another year of Southern Gospel to enjoy, so let’s get to it!

NQC 2011: Thursday Observations

September 15, 2011 By: Aaron Category: NQC, SG Artists, SG Music

Some thoughts on the day’s events:

1. I caught the Gaither Vocal Band reunion on the webcast this afternoon. I largely enjoyed it, Penrod’s absolutely unmentioned/unacknowledged absence aside. Buddy Mullins and Marshall Hall split most of the duties for his parts; I’d forgotten how darn talented Mullins is as a singer. Larnelle Harris has got to be nearing or past 60 years old, and the dude can still bring it! Unfortunately, sound issues plagued the set. It took at least four songs for Lee Young’s mic to be properly turned up. Head over to Southern Gospel Back Row for a song list.

2. Set of the night, from a musical standpoint, probably could go to the Dixie Echoes. The newly revamped lineup with new tenor Michael Helwig and new bass Mike Jennings brought their A-game tonight, along with an expanded band with guitars, drums, and a harmonica in addition to the usual piano and bass guitar. Best song of the set came in the form of “Walk With Me,” highlighting a tenor sound that is fuller and more robust than previous tenors for the group have been. Truly a powerhouse sound. Though the baritone/bass mic seemed to not be mixed in correctly for the ensemble singing, the group still showed that they have come through these changes with a fine sound.

3. From an emotional standpoint, the award has to go to The Isaacs. They sang a new song, “I’m Gonna Love You Through It,” which the kids wrote in honor of their mother’s fight with breast cancer (which she has survived for a number of years.) Halfway through, different artists came on stage with large signs: Dean Hopper held one up with the number of years Connie Hopper has been cancer-free, and others held signs of their own to signify their cancer struggles: Scoot Shelnut, Jeff & Sheri Easter, etc. The one that got me? Ray Dean Reese’s sign: “Diagnosed in 2011. Would appreciate your prayers,” or something to that effect. He was, understandably, looking very emotional, and I had to wipe away a few tears myself. What a moment…

Heading out tomorrow to see the NQC for myself tomorrow and Saturday. Looking forward to a great weekend!

Gold City’s New Lead Singer Is…

September 14, 2011 By: Aaron Category: Gold City, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

Jerry Pelfrey. He’s apparently sung in some regional groups, and he’s from Chattanooga, TN. He just put on his Facebook that he is the new lead. A press release should be forthcoming soon.

He should be appearing at NQC on Thursday (h/t, Brandon.) Brandon has some clips of Jerry’s singing, and he sounds like a young Ivan Parker. It appears Gold City will not be losing a thing in the lead department.

NQC 2011: Wednesday Night Commentary

September 14, 2011 By: Aaron Category: NQC, SG Artists, SG Music

6:04 PM: Just got in. The Freemans are singing. Good sound. Not that familiar with their stuff.

6:08 PM: Not perfect, but goodness, can you tell they believe in what they’re singing. I’d rather hear a sincere man or woman get up there and bend a few pitches here and there than hear a 100% spotless performance with no heart in it.

6:12 PM: The son is singing now. This is apparently the first time singing with them; he usually plays drums. His voice would have fit right in with that Hinsons reunion last night. Very country sounding.

6:22 PM: The Browns are playing a violin trio that went from “I Sing The Mighty Power Of God” to Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Interesting!

6:25 PM: Tribute Quartet is opening with a song from their new project, “He Is Leading The Way.” Good choice.

6:28 PM: Now another new one, “It Makes Me Want To Go.” They’re really working Riley Clark on the tenor part tonight, and he’s rising to the occasion.

6:32 PM: Poet Voices’ arrangement of “Sweeter As The Days Go By” is up next.

6:34 PM: The group’s current single “Bring On The Joy” is up now. This should go over well with the NQC crowd.

6:38 PM: Great choice to feature Clark on “Homecoming Day.” It seems the group is pulling out all the stops for their only chance on mainstage this year.

6:42 PM: The encore has started and Melissa Brady (wrote the song) has joined them. A 20-year old tenor just got a standing ovation from the majority of the hall. Think about that. Wow.



Craig West Leaving Gold City

September 14, 2011 By: Aaron Category: Gold City, NQC, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

Nate Stainbrook has the scoop straight from the horse’s mouth at NQC: West is leaving because two days a week at home is not enough time to raise his son. The quote here:

“Well, you see I have never traveled with a Southern Gospel group before, and I have a ten year old at home that has been used to seeing his daddy home every day. At first it was fine as my son thought it was real cool that his dad was a singer; but after awhile it started getting to my son that he only gets to see me maybe two days a week. My wife told me one day that our son was not doing well at all without his dad at home. So I went and talked to my son about it, after some gentle prodding, he told me that really wants me to be home with him again. Well you see I myself had been feeling like I was not putting my family first and then when my son verbalized his feelings to me about the situation which convinced to start really seeking God’s will. One day while I was running some errands my old boss saw me, and said he wanted to talk to me about something. So we went to lunch where he asked me if I were interested in coming back to his company. After which he told me that God had been impressing it on his heart to talk to me about working for him again. Well I knew then what I had to do. I got ahold of Danny and let him know what was going on.”

Gold City has had a lot of changes take place over the past couple of hires, and I won’t go into the nature of all of them here, but this is probably one of the most clear-cut reasons out of the bunch. Family is important, and often, juggling family and work becomes a full-time gig in and of itself. Some artists (and their families as well) can handle Dad being out on the road so much better than other singers or their spouses/kids, and they make it work. Others don’t handle it quite so well, as is the case here. It is perfectly understandable why Craig is stepping down; there’s no hidden agenda here, and Stainbrook finally going and asking him about it can put the rumors to rest better than any press release about the departure. Yes, he’s leaving, and it is to spend more time at home. As disappointing as it may be to some, Craig is just doing the right thing, the honorable thing, and there’s no juicy story.

Craig West is a tremendous young talent, as I have said many times. His contributions to Gold City’s sound, though short-lived, was profound, and I will miss hearing what he brought to the table. Perhaps one of these days, we will see and hear him again with another big group.

I have been told that Gold City has already found a new lead singer from a regional group, but I will refrain from posting who it is until I get the green light. I wonder if he has already put his vocals on the upcoming project…

NQC 2011: Tuesday Night Commentary

September 13, 2011 By: Aaron Category: NQC, SG Artists, SG Music

For a little while tonight, before other commitments take me away, I’ll be watching the live feed and giving my thoughts as the night goes on right here in this post. I’ll do this for other nights as well, but I’ll just do “highlight posts” Friday and Saturday when I’m actually at the convention.

I have a feeling that one of the biggest sets I will be covering tonight is that of the Dove Brothers. Burman Porter is making his return tonight (though I believe he’s been back on the road for a couple of weeks, NQC may as well be his “re-debut!”), and I’m very excited about hearing him again.

5:31 PM: There’s a musical group that was apparently singing and playing in the convention hall before the feed went up that looked like they stepped out of a Charles Dickens book. Now Tim Lovelace is talking to people in the audience. Settle back for about 15 minutes for this.

5:40 PM: The Harpers are singing a bluegrass song (I believe by The Isaacs.) The strumming on that one instrument is doing all kinds of fun things with the sound. They just fixed it, though.

5:49 PM: The Booth Brothers are singing a song. At least they had all the mics on when they started!

5:52 PM: Dean and Kim Hopper are leading the crowd in some singing with a band made of Gerald Wolfe on piano, Mike Hopper on drums, and Scoot Shelnut on bass guitar.

5:56 PM: And here come the Dove Brothers! Mic problems right off the bat… Looks like Les Butler and his son are helping the Dove Bros Band out tonight.

6:02 PM: Here’s “I Recall.” Burman Porter’s solo lines are solid. Good song for this group.

6:06 PM: I just noticed Joe Lane (formerly of The Dixie Melody Boys and several other groups) is playing piano for The Doves.

6:08 PM: Burman is singing “Operator.” There you go! He’s still got it! It’s in a lower key this time. The band works well for this one.

6:11 PM: They encored “Operator.” I hope Joe Lane is a permanent hire; he’s playing the heck out of that piano.

6:13 PM: “Get Away Jordan” sounds just like old times.

6:16 PM: Jonathan Price soared on the end of the encore just like Jerry Martin used to. With that, the set is over. I really like The Dove Brothers’s sound now, both vocally and the band!

And I have to step out a while.

…… I think I’ll just do the whole thing tomorrow! No leaving this time!