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

Archive for June, 2012

New Kingsmen Clip

June 25, 2012 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG Music, The Kingsmen, Youtube

It was posted on Facebook today that The Kingsmen were at Crossroads Studios working on their next release. One of the songs was “Oh What A Savior,” and apparently, new tenor Chris Jenkins nailed it. No studio videos have surfaced yet, but here’s a concert video of that same song from last week. (Trust me, even though everybody and their brother has done this song, it’s worth it):

Update: Just as Daniel Mount promised in the comments, studio videos are surfacing. Here’s “Without Jesus,” showing off a smoother side of the Kingsmen. You may remember that song from The Kingsmen’s Proven Time and Time Again project, released with the Jerry Martin, Bryan Hutson, Parker Jonathan, and Ray Dean Reese vocal lineup:

Youtube Spotlight: Freedom

June 25, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Concert Reviews, Freedom, SG Artists, SG Music, Youtube

This past Friday night, I headed over to Wirtz, VA to hear Freedom sing at Halesford Baptist Church. The church hosts several concerts each year, and I’ve never been disappointed with the quality of the groups that are brought in. This concert was no exception. This relatively new trio features tenor John Rulapaugh, lead Josh Garner, and baritone Tyler Vestal. Here are some videos that I took during the concert:



CD Review: The Diplomats: Joy in the Storm

June 19, 2012 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, SG Artists, SG Music, The Diplomats

Rating: 3.5 stars

Producer: Corey Pearson
Label: Song Garden Music Group
Website: www.diplomatsqt.com

Song titles: Grand Homecoming; Joy In The Storm; Buried My Sins In The Past; God Shall Wipe Away All Tears; If Not for the Blood of the Cross; The Other Side; Travelers Protected By Grace; He Still Takes Time For Me; We’re Gonna Rise; Sheltered in the Arms of God; I’ll Soon Be Gone

The Diplomats Quartet is a family group based out of Georgia that has been around in Southern Gospel music for years. The group made main stage at NQC a couple of years back, which was my first real introduction to them. I had been unfamiliar with their music before receiving this project, so I came to this review with no reference to their sound before they signed with Song Garden Music Group last year. This CD marks their debut with that label.

The Diplomats excel at the upbeat, country flavored style of Southern Gospel music. Tracks like “Joy In The Storm,” “The Other Side,” and “We’re Gonna Rise” attest to this fact, as the group’s collective harmony seems suited to such a style, which does not require quite as much polish as others do. This mixed quartet is one of those “let it fly” groups; what you hear is what you get, and while the blend may not be as “tight” as other groups, it works well as an ensemble.

A couple of the less up-tempo songs stand out as well. “Buried My Sins In The Past” is a straight forward SG tune featuring lead singer Corey Pearson, which shows off a bit of his range, and, once again, fits the group vocals well. Speaking of Corey, he delivers the best song on this album: “If Not For The Blood of the Cross.” A powerful ballad about Jesus’ sacrifice, the performance and lyrical content made me sit up and take notice. The Diplomats would do well to send this song to radio.

This project has its fair share of cover songs. The Florida Boys recorded “He Still Takes Time For Me” on their I’m Forgiven project in 2000, and while it was written by group leader Jim Pearson and arranged by Corey Pearson, the performance does not quite stack up to that of the Boys. Two Gospel classics are also covered with “God Shall Wipe Away All Tears” and “Sheltered in the Arms of God,” and while the latter does feature guest vocals by Darrin Vincent of Dailey & Vincent, neither track really sets itself apart from other renditions of each song. That is not to say they are bad recordings; I just like to hear a classic be done with a “spark” that at least differentiates that recording from any other.

The Diplomats have put together a solid collection of songs for their Song Garden debut that defines the sound they possess quite well. While not an all-around perfect recording, it is a solid effort, and I’m looking forward to see where the next step of this quartet takes them. Joy in the Storm receives 3.5 stars.

Dixie Melody Boys Begin Lead Singer Search

June 18, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Dixie Melody Boys, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

Over the weekend, it was reported that Donald Morris, lead singer for the DMB for over three years, is coming off the road. As follow-up to that announcement, the group has sent out this press release about the audition process:

The Dixie Melody Boys announced on Saturday that lead singer Donald Morris has resigned. They are now beginning the process to find the next member of one of Gospel music’s legendary groups. “Through the years, Ed has developed some of Gospel’s finest singers including Ernie Haase, McCray Dove, Rodney Griffin and Derrick Selph. We are now looking for the next voice to add to that rich legacy.” said Matt Felts. The Dixie Melody Boys recently celebrated their 50th anniversary which included the historic album, The Call Is Still The Same. They are also seeing resurgence in popularity, being named Favorite Male Quartet in the SGM Fan Awards in May. The Dixie Melody Boys also host their own weekly television show, Great American Gospel, seen in over 200 countries.

“It is an exciting time for our group. God is blessing in so many ways. We have numerous things coming down the road that I am looking forward to. We know that God will send us the perfect fit to our group.” stated Hall of Fame member Ed O’Neal.

The group is now accepting demos. “We will narrow down the auditions to a few men who will then travel with the group. We will then announce the new member of our family on the main stage at this years National Quartet Convention.” added Matt Felts. Interested singers can contact the group by emailing them at dixiemelodyboys@yahoo.com.

This process for auditioning a new singer is very interesting. For one, it sets a deadline for both the group and the fans: for the group, in that they have a timeline for finding someone, and for the fans, in that they know when to expect to see a new face with the quartet. It’s not a restrictive timeline, either; this gives the Dixie Melody Boys a little under three months to find a new lead singer.

A move like this that promises the new singer’s “official” debut at an event like NQC also generates buzz for the group’s set. With the DMB, they already have a bit of buzz, since it’s their return to main stage, but this addition will add to that. Since the new vocalists will already have traveled with the group, they won’t be debuting at NQC completely cold to the group/material, which also helps.

All in all, this is a transition that I’m looking forward to seeing play out. Ed O’Neal is known for hiring “unknowns,” so it’s anyone guess as to who will get the job.

Donald Morris Departs The Dixie Melody Boys

June 16, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Dixie Melody Boys, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

Another group change has come down the pipe, as the Dixie Melody Boys announce their lead singer’s decision to come off the road. Take special note of the title of this press release:

Donald Morris Graduates The Ed O’Neal University

The Dixie Melody Boys have announced that lead singer Donald Morris has resigned from the group. Donald has been with the group for over 3 years. Donald’s incredible voice has made him a favorite to fans across the country. Donald has also risen as one of the top young song writers in Gospel music. His publishing company, True Testament Music has had success with songs recorded by the Inspirations, the Dixie Melody Boys and others. “It is common to hear that a guy comes off the road to be with their family. In this case it is true, Donald has made the tough decision to come off the road to be with his family. He has a beautiful baby girl at home and I’m sure he is looking forward to seeing her more. He will also be focusing on his songwriting and his publishing company. We are proud of Donald. He is one of the finest lead singers we have ever had. We will miss him.” said Matt Felts, tenor for the Dixie Melody Boys. “Donald will definitely be missed. We hate to see him go.” added Steven Cooper.

“The family of former members is very close. Donald will always have a special place in our family. We understand why he is coming off the road but we will miss him. He is a special talent. “ said Ed O’Neal.

The Dixie Melody Boys will announce plans to audition singers shortly.

I was not familiar with Donald’s voice before receiving a copy of the DMB’s The Call Is Still The Same project, but I was very impressed with both his voice and the songs that he brought to the group. I’m looking forward to seeing songs of his get picked up by more and more groups as time goes on, and I wish him well as he comes off the road.


June 14, 2012 By: Aaron Category: NQC, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

David Bruce Murray picked up on this story first. I was going to offer my thoughts in the comments section, but figured I’d better just stick it on my own blog in case it ended up becoming a lengthy rant.

First, here’s the basics: The National Quartet Convention 2012 will be filmed by Trinity Broadcasting Network, which will use the footage to create original programming to be aired in 2012-2013.

I’ll be honest: my gut reaction when reading the story was, “You’ve gotta be kidding me.”

Before this goes any further, I just want to give full disclosure and say that I do watch TBN, but only when a Southern Gospel artist is featured, such as on an episode of Praise The Lord. Any other time, count me out.

I won’t deny that TBN is probably the largest Christian television network out there. Like them or not, they do reach quite a massive audience. My thoughts toward this partnership are complicated, partly because I can see the opportunity in distributing NQC to that amount of people, but I have reservations towards the reputation that TBN possesses.

One only needs to take a quick Google search on TBN to find that they have had quite a bit of controversy over the years, but I won’t get into specifics. I will only point out one criticism of the network that should be enough to have encouraged the NQC to distance themselves from them. TBN has an unofficial representation of being the “prosperity gospel” channel. With a heavy emphasis on programs featuring people such as Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, and Benny Hinn, among others, it’s no wonder that I’ve had discussions with both Christians and non-Christians that blow TBN off as nothing but a “religious hack channel.” That’s a direct quote from a friend who identifies themselves as Christian. Just think of what my non-religious friends have said.

Why is this move bad for NQC? Is it the quality of the programming? That might be an issue, but most likely not. The problem here is, whether intentionally or not, this may make it seem as if the NQC endorses what TBN is selling with the programs they show. Do we really want the biggest Southern Gospel event of the year to be associated with a network that has the reputation of promoting suspect theological beliefs? Why not go with a network like Daystar (arguably just as big, and not nearly as controversial), or INSP (same as Daystar)? If I’m not mistaken, the INSP relationship has happened before, but since they have phased into primarily what appears to be a cleaner TV Land, I can see why they would be passed over. I’m not going to claim to know what goes into the contracts and such for these types of things, but I would hope a strong effort would be made to get a deal with either of those before going with the current agreement.

While  being shown on TBN may boost the NQC’s television audience and presence, will it affect the event/organization’s reputation? I welcome your thoughts.

Random Findings

June 08, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Driven, Palmetto State Quartet, Promise, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Stamps Quartet

1. Promise Trio has been looking for a full-time tenor since their original tenor, James Bell, left to join the Army late last year. A couple of weeks ago, I posted some videos of a concert they did with fill-in tenor Daniel Rivera, and the feedback was largely positive as to the sound. To quell any rumors, however, Rivera says he will not be joining the group:

I just wanna thank everyone for being so supportive of me and the people who have helped me get where I am with singing and everything. As of right now, I am coming off the road from full-time traveling and singing. God has been so good to me! Even though I am young, I have had a lot of trials in my life, especially with my health. I am thankful that God has given me the gift to sing and share His word and the gospel! But as of right now, I have to put traveling aside and focus on getting my health back together. I will be continuing my ministries at my church in South Holland, IL.

Again, I thank God and everyone for everything! I say all this because I had posted a status like this after I had left my last group, but I continued my ministries and helped another full-time group with filling in a vacant spot for them, hence the reason why I post again. I know God’s plan is always perfect and I believe coming off the road from singing is part of His plan. I don’t know what the future may hold, but I know it’s something good! I love u all and thanks for being so supportive! My new solo album will be coming out soon! Basically will tell my life story. Hope ya’ll will like it! 🙂

According to a post on Promise’s Facebook page, an announcement is forthcoming about a new full-time tenor singer.

2. Diana Brantley has posted some videos of a concert from Palmetto State from a couple of weeks ago. Mike Allen and Larry Strickland were absent, but former group baritone Rick Fair filled in on bass. Here’s a video of “All Hail The Power” that gives a good taste of the vocalists’ sound, as well as that of the group’s piano player Casey Martin. It’s interesting how the group has rearranged the song; it was originally a song that gave baritone David Darst all the solos. Currently, it is divided among Jeremy Easley, Paul Lancaster, and David Staton. This kind of thing makes me interested in future arrangements of Palmetto State’s material:

3. Also in the interesting video category, here’s a “behind the scenes” clip of Driven Quartet in the studio listening to a cut from their upcoming project. It may sound familiar to some viewers; that’s because it’s a revival of a track that is found on the 1984 album The Prestigious Cathedral Quartet, which was tenor Danny Funderburk’s second release with that group. It is only fitting that his son, Jason, be the leader of the group that brings it back. Also, it looks like Wesley Smith is Driven’s official tenor, though I have seen no press release yet. Here is the final choruses of  “I Would Not Be Surprised:”

On a side note, that must have been a LONG day in the studio! 😉

Bonus video: The big news in Southern Gospel this week was the major change in the Dixie Echoes. Though departing member Michael Helwig sang tenor for the quartet, he has sung lead or baritone in several other places, including the Stamps Quartet. However, I came across this clip a while back that features Michael on the tenor part for the Stamps, albeit in what appears to be a fill-in situation. Here’s their rendition of “Rainbow of Love:”

Dixie Echoes Group Shakeup

June 05, 2012 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Dixie Echoes

The Dixie Echoes announced a while ago that longtime pianist Stewart Varnado is leaving the group. Two separate announcements made on Facebook today bring further change to the lineup of the quartet. Tenor Michael Helwig posted this status this morning (Facebook login required):

I would like to announce that my tenure with the dixie echoes has come to an end. I would like to thank Stewart Varnado for the leadership he showed in the group and the element of professionalism he brought to the stage and to the business end of things.

A short while later, bass singer Mike Jennings posted this status (Facebook login required):

I would like to let everyone know that my time with the Dixie Echoes has come to an end. The Lord is blessing our family with another little one and I’ll be heading home to take care of them. I have met many wonderful people across the country this year, fans and fellow singers alike. I hope to see many of you again. I would like to thank my family for their love, support and selflessness this past year. Please keep our family in your prayers as we make this transition. God Bless.

To refresh our collective memories, it was roughly a year ago that the Dixie Echoes were looking for a bass singer and tenor at the same time, and that’s when Jennings and Helwig were hired. Now, both have departed, on top of the group still looking to fill the piano position. You hate to see such a shakeup all happen at once, at it often leads to a lot of extra speculation by fans of the group. Added to that is the fact that the age of social media often finds news being told before a press release is given by the group itself. It will be interesting to watch what may end up being the biggest “reconstruction” of the Dixie Echoes to come along in years.

Michael Helwig’s future plans will be announced shortly, and congratulations to Mike Jennings and his wife on their expected baby!

Update: For what it’s worth, Stewart Varnado left this comment at SouthernGospelBlog.com:

I’m not starting a group with anyone. I am simply coming off the road. Been very busy this week selling tickets for the Memphis Quartet Show. I look forward to time at home. I do wish Randy & Scoot the best. I had no idea when I turned in my notice that they would be losing more members. However, I will still be with the group thru June 16, at the Suwannee River Jubilee.

I am still in business with Scoot on the Gospel Jubilee Cruise. All is well between me and the Shelnut’s. I don’t want any speculation there. I’ve grew up with them and they are like family to me. They know that if they ever need a fill-in in a pinch, I’ll hop on the bus anytime.

Further update: There has been speculation around the various SG sites as to whether the Dixie Echoes will continue since they are tasked with filling so many vacant positions, and even if they will remain a male quartet. Their Facebook status clears up those questions:

The Dixie Echoes are now accepting auditions for the bass and tenor positions with the group. If you would like to try out, please send a demo and short resume to scoot@dixieechoes.com.

Please pray for the group during this time of transition. Dad and I will continue to give our fans the great quality quartet music they’re used to. In 52 years of ministry, God has never failed us, and I KNOW He never will!

Union Street – “He’s In Control”

June 04, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Ryan Seaton, SG Artists, SG Music, Union Street, Youtube

Ever wonder what Austins Bridge would have sounded like with a bass singer? Wonder no more. Here’s one of AB’s radio singles, “He’s In Control,” done by Ryan Seaton’s new quartet and featuring tenor Toby Hitchcock. Hitchcock was tenor for Austins Bridge at one point in their existence.

Gaither Send-Off For Gordon Mote

June 02, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Gaither, Gordon Mote, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

I’ve seen few send-offs that have been more classy or from the heart than the one that Bill Gaither did for Gordon Mote at the Family Fest when the announcement was made that Gordon is leaving the tour. Here’s the entire video, including Gordon being featured on the piano: