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

Archive for September, 2012

CD Review: The LeFevre Quartet – But For The Cross

September 29, 2012 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, LeFevre Quartet, SG Artists, SG Music

Rating: 4 stars

Producer: Tre’ Corley, Paul Corley, & Rick Sandidge
Activate Records

Song titles: But For The Cross; Come And See; I’m So Saved; The Wedding Song; Put It Right There; We Are The Church; Saved By The Blood; The Blessed Hope; Someday Soon; I’ll Let You Lead Me; Standing On The Daily Promises

The LeFevre Quartet’s newest release comes in at an interesting point in their discography, as it is their first truly new release since 2008’s Nothin’ But Good. Since that time, the group has released a Christmas table project, a classics table project, a live release that combined songs from the classics album and Nothin’ But Good, and another recent table project that featured new recordings of both LeFevre Quartet songs and a couple that tenor Harold Reed brought over from The Kingsmen. Over that time period, the group has also morphed into a basically completely new quartet. Baritone Mike LeFevre is the only vocal member remaining from the lineup that produced the 2008 mainline release under Canaan Records. The vocalists now stand at tenor Reed, lead singer Jordan LeFevre (who stepped from behind the drums and sound board after David Staton’s departure), baritone Mike, and bass Paul Harkey.

Despite all the changes, the group continues the interesting arranging and strong song choices found in Nothin’ But Good and further refines those attributes. The title cut is a great example of this; a powerful song about the impact of the Cross, featuring an orchestrated sound fused with more modern elements, and an arpeggiated chord placed near the end of each chorus. Right off the bat, the group highlights the fact that their ensemble sound is the strongest it has been in their history.

Each of the group members has at least one strong feature. Newcomer Paul Harkey is featured on the first verse of the new single, “I’m So Saved,” an upbeat tune from the pen of Dianne Wilkinson that immediately grabbed my attention. Harkey is also spotlighted on “Saved By The Blood,” and a jazzy tune with a familiar sound entitled “I’ll Let You Lead Me.” Jordan LeFevre’s first full effort from the group gives him a chance to shine with the smooth “Come And See,” which got a strong reception at NQC 2012, as well as verses on “But For The Cross” and “I’m So Saved. His father, Mike, takes the first verse of the title cut, and gets a full feature on the “We Are The Church.”

Fans of Harold Reed’s days with quartets like the Dixie Melody Boys, The Florida Boys, and The Kingsmen may be thrown for a loop if they are expecting that same traditional sound. Reed is taken out of what may be considered his “comfort zone” on this project, but he pulls it off with aplomb. While “The Blessed Hope” does fit into that traditional vein, his lead on the final part of “I’m So Saved” is definitely outside the box. He is also put out front on “Put It Right There,” another “different” song for him that parallels a father and his drug-addicted son with the crucifixion of Jesus. The lyrical content is something that is not usually found in a Southern Gospel song, and it is one of the strongest songs on the project.

While not every song on the project is a home run (“Someday Soon” didn’t fit with the rest of the material, and “Standing On The Daily Promises” seemed clichéd), it is strong enough to be worth the wait for a new mainline release from the group, and sets a good reference point for the LeFevre Quartet to build from. But For The Cross receives 4 stars.

The Blackwood Brothers Announce Changes

September 28, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Brothers, Promise, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

This group may not have been at NQC, but here’s a lineup change that may herald the start of the “NQC Turnover” season. The Blackwood Brothers made this announcement early this morning on their Facebook page:

The Blackwood Brothers Quartet announced the retirement of lead singer, Jimmy Blackwood tonight at the Bartlett Performing Arts Center. New singer is Mike Helwig. He has a great voice and will be a great asset to the quartet.

Jimmy Blackwood has a long history in Southern Gospel music, starting with JD Sumner and the Stamps in the 1960s, as well as with his father James Blackwood’s group, the Blackwood Brothers, in the 70s and 80s. When I saw the group in concert a few weeks ago, I was struck with the energy and power with which he sang. While seeing an announcement about his retirement is somewhat of a shock, I wish him all the best, and am glad to know that the group will be carrying on under the leadership of his brother (and group baritone singer), Billy Blackwood.

That leads us to the new addition: Mike Helwig. Fans of Southern Gospel music will recognize him as the recent tenor of The Dixie Echoes, but his résumé also includes The Torchmen, The Stamps, The Wilburns, The Williamsons, The Blackwood Quartet, and, most recently, Promise. Helwig is leaving the tenor position with Promise to take the lead singing job for this quartet, and the group has picked a vocalist that fits their style and direction very well.

But why take my word for it? Hear for yourself! Here are two videos of the same song: “Jesus Is Coming Soon.” The first features Jimmy Blackwood with the current lineup of the Blackwood Brothers, and the second features incoming lead Mike Helwig during his time with the Blackwood Quartet (especially on the encore).

NQC 2012 Thoughts: Friday

September 15, 2012 By: Aaron Category: NQC, SG Artists, SG Music

1. Today marked the first ever NQC Music Awards show, and I’m still trying to decide how I feel about it. On the one hand, there were several moments that echoed the spontaneity of some of the Singing News Fan Awards shows throughout the year, but it ended up running really long and at times felt like a train careening out of control. At the beginning, some ground rules were laid out that basically said, “Stick to the script, no additional joking,” but that rule wasn’t followed, and actually became a joke in itself as the awards show went on. It did make for some moments that made me laugh till I cried, though!

But I digress. I don’t even remember who I voted for, but I can’t think of any winners today that left me disappointed. It was nice to see David Phelps win Favorite Tenor, for sure. Hopefully, if the Music Awards become an annual thing, they can refine what they do further.

2. Gaither’s block made for some of the strongest moments of the evening. Sisters had a strong set, especially with their A Capella number, as did The Nelons. Speaking of The Nelons, I was glad to see them finally get back on Main Stage, as they have had a quality group in recent years that deserved a spot there. Let’s hope this starts another streak of inclusion for them.

The Gaither Vocal Band did several things different from their usual material. Mark Lowry had fun with “I Catch ‘Em, God Cleans ‘Em,” and Matthew Holt played some great licks on the piano. By the way, he was officially announced as Gaither’s new pianist tonight. The new material from Pure And Simple went over really well with the crowd as well.

3. All the sound issues that have held off, for the most part, throughout the week all decided to converge on the day’s events. Feedback, mic level issues, and more plagued the night. Here’s hoping they will disappear so the sound can finish the week strong on Saturday.

NQC 2012 Thoughts: Thursday

September 14, 2012 By: Aaron Category: NQC, SG Artists, SG Music

Today was another busy day at NQC, and most of the evening found me in the exhibit hall visiting with friends. I will say that it was nice to finally meet Brian Crout in person! I thoroughly enjoy reading his blog and am looking forward to his notes on the week. Since I wasn’t in the audience for the evening concerts most the time, my thoughts on those are few, but I do have some observations from the day:

1. While Gaither still hasn’t successfully gotten every Gaither Vocal Band alum back together, it was nice to see Guy Penrod back. I appreciated the fact that the showcase wasn’t a rehash of the videos or last year’s reunion; there were plenty of moments that made it an event all it’s own. While I would have liked to hear Penrod featured more, it was nice to hear “Baptism of Jesse Taylor” again. Closing with “Glorious Freedom,” was a wise move; it’s a powerful song, and served as a sort of “teaser” for the GVB’s newest project, Pure and Simple.

2. In the “Things That Make You Wonder” department: did anybody else notice that Gene McDonald was on stage and singing for the Gaither Vocal Band Reunion? The wishful thinker in me wants that to be foreshadowing for something big…

3. While there were several repeated stories from last year, the “Funniest Stories” showcase is brilliant. The concept itself is great and well executed; it almost plays like sitting around a table at a restaurant somewhere swapping stories, except the audience is privy to the discussion. I would love to see a revolving cast each year, bringing in different artists with different stories each time.

4. Of the sets I did see in the evening concerts, two stood out. First, Tribute Quartet produced what was easily their strongest set since being on NQC Main Stage, and I don’t say that lightly. From song selection to the vocals, it was a testament to the group’s development. “Good News From Jerusalem,” in particular, was met with strong response.

The other set that stood out was Greater Vision’s, partly because of Gerald Wolfe’s generous move in bringing up an A Capella trio to sing the Doxology. Great sound, lots of potential, and very cool of Greater Vision to give up a portion of their time to spotlight a young group.

NQC 2012 Thoughts: Wednesday

September 13, 2012 By: Aaron Category: NQC, SG Artists, SG Music

I arrived in Louisville this evening just in time to settle in for the first group at 6:00, and stayed the rest of the night. A few thoughts from the evening:

1. If one were making a case for the comeback of live bands in SG, they could point to several of tonight’s sets as positive examples. The LeFevre Quartet’s set kicked off the night, and while a whole set of brand new songs by itself would be great to listen to, it grabbed my attention more when they hit the stage with a live band.

I also enjoyed seeing the Dixie Melody Boys with a band once again; while the “All-Star Quartet” that was scheduled never made it to the stage, the DMB brought the “All-Star Band” on stage: pianist Stewart Varnado, bass guitarist Scoot Shelnut, guitarist Madison Easter, drummer Michael Booth, and Adam Crabb on harmonica. It felt like going back in time hearing “When I Cross To The Other Side of Jordan” and “Ride That Glory Cloud” with a live band, complete with encores!

2. It was a night of debuts, with several vocalists making a first time appearance on Main Stage. The Dixie Echoes brought two new faces in tenor Craig Thomas and bass Jordan James, and the crowd enjoyed James especially, giving applause before the first line of “How Big Is God” was even finished. The Kingsmen presented lead Bob Sellers and tenor Chris Jenkins for the first time at NQC tonight as well, and the group got several standing Os in their set. To tie this in with the first note of the night, I sure wish the Kingsmen had put together a band!

Though not his first time on Main Stage (I believe he performed there with The Anchormen at least once), Paul Harkey made his first appearance there as the LeFevre Quartet’s bass singer. His vocals added to an already solid three other parts make for the best sound the group has had in their existence, and I thoroughly enjoyed their set.

3. Gold City’s “let the fans pick the set” thing that they did tonight made for one of the strongest sets of the evening. No talk, just singing. “Midnight Cry” especially got a big response, with most of the crowd standing at the end. The Jerry Pelfrey-Ivan Parker comparison was very strong.

4. This is usually the note where I would give my annual complaint about how awful the sound was, but I’m pleasantly surprised to say that I have no notes to that effect. Were there hiccups? Sure. However, the sound tonight was mostly an improvement over recent years, and I hope that this trend will carry throughout the week.

Look for more thoughts tomorrow night, and feel free to leave your own in the comments section!

Bonus note: Soul’d Out Quartet is AWESOME! (Rankin, I accept cash, checks, food, etc.).

National Quartet Convention Announces Move in 2014

September 09, 2012 By: Aaron Category: NQC, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

With college starting up for me recently, I hadn’t found much time to blog as I settled back in to the routine. Now that I’ve found a bit of time, what better news story to cover than a change in the biggest event in Southern Gospel music? It turns out that the rumors that have popped up around our corners of the web of NQC moving to Pigeon Forge are true. Check out the press release (emphasis mine).

Louisville, KY – The National Quartet Convention has announced the dates for the 2013 NQC. September 9 – 14 will be the dates for the 2013 NQC in Louisville, Kentucky. The event will be very special, as it will be the last year for the event to be held in Louisville. Many special and unique events are being planned for 2013, to celebrate the end of a wonderful era for the NQC in Louisville. Thousands of attendees from across the United States and Canada, as well as several countries around the world, will gather one last time in Louisville to relive great memories from two decades of gatherings at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center. Plans are already underway to make the 2013 NQC one of the biggest and best weeks of the event’s 55-year history. Many first-time attendees are also expected, as it will be their last chance to experience the NQC in this historic location.

In September of 2014, the National Quartet Convention will begin a new and exciting era as Gospel Music’s Largest Annual Event moves to one of America’s most popular, family-friendly vacation destinations… Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Reserved seating can be purchased for the 2013 NQC during this week’s event, in the North Wing Lobby of the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center, and will then be available at www.nqconline.com throughout the year. Attendees are urged to reserve seating and lodging early for the final year in Louisville.

It was not mentioned in the press release where, exactly, in Pigeon Forge that that NQC will find a home, but I’m assuming that they aim to hold the event in the new convention center being built there. While I’m not convinced that the size of that, or any of the facilities in Pigeon Forge, are a step up from Freedom Hall, I trust that a lot of time and thought was given to the decision. We’ll see what transpires in the next couple of years.

Speaking of NQC, I plan on being there from Wednesday night onward, and giving my thoughts on each night again (if not every night, then at least the nights on which I am attending). Say what you will about NQC, but the interaction with people on both sides of the stage lights is unrivaled at this event, and I look forward to joining many of you there!