Aaron Swain's blog about Southern Gospel Music, News, and other items of interest in the SG world.
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Archive for March, 2013

Dixie Melody Boys Announce Change

March 23, 2013 By: Aaron Category: Dixie Melody Boys, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

In a departure from normal “change” announcements, the Dixie Melody Boys have announced that Steven Cooper has stepped down from the Dixie Melody Boys as baritone singer… but not as a member:

“We are sad to announce that Steven Cooper will be stepping down from the baritone position with the Dixie Melody Boys. As some know, he has been experiencing vocal issues for the last several years. He has been to numerous vocal specialists and they have advised him to go on an extended vocal rest. Steven recently celebrated his fifth anniversary with the group. He has been a valuable asset to us and will continue to be so.” said Ed O’Neal. Steven will remain a member of the Dixie Melody Boys. He will help the group off stage and will also begin playing bass guitar for the group in the near future.

“I want to thank everyone for their concern and understanding over the last year. It has been difficult time having to go through this as a singer. I hope that someday my voice will return and I will be able to sing again. I ask that you will keep me in your prayers as I trust God for a healing. I also want to thank Ed, Matt and Mike for their support in this change and for allowing me to remain a member of the group.” said Steven Cooper.

I have enjoyed Steven’s vocal contributions to the group since the beginning of his tenure. My listening to the music they were putting out when he first joined was admittedly spotty, but I appreciated the fact that was a solid “blending” baritone that could sing a strong feature when needed. I trust that God will heal his voice, and am glad that he is remaining a part of the Dixie Melody Boys.

Now we come to the part that makes this change announcement different from the norm. You may have noticed that it said Steven would soon begin playing bass guitar for the group. It seems that the Dixie Melody Boys have been bitten by the “live band bug” that’s been going around recently, because the plans are in place to bring back live music to the DMB concerts:

The opening has brought an exciting change for the group. “We are currently looking for a new baritone that can also play piano. The Dixie Melody Boys have a rich legacy that included a live band for years. Our lead singer Mike Rogers is one of the best guitar players in Gospel music. With Mike, Steven on bass and the new member on piano, we are excited to add the live band back to our performances. Sometimes through tough situations God can bring new seasons of blessings.” said Matt Felts.

The Dixie Melody Boys will be excepting demos for the baritone/ piano position. Interested people can send them to dixiemelodyboys@yahoo.com.

While I hate that it took a tough circumstance to bring this change about, I am excited that it’s being turned around this way. The Dixie Melody Boys have been on an upward climb over the past couple of years, with a sound and new material that is making them a viable group again. A move that brings back live musicians for them will continue that trend. Their live band set at NQC last year was among the most exciting of the week, and I’m looking forward to hearing that sound in some capacity on a regular basis again.

In tribute to Steven’s contributions to the group thus far, here are a couple of videos. The first is from a couple of years ago and features him prominently. The second, while not a baritone solo, highlights his enthusiastic stage presence. Be sure to watch the whole thing!


New Tenor For The Dixie Echoes

March 20, 2013 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Dixie Echoes

Since the departure of Craig Thomas and Jordan James a couple of weeks ago, the Dixie Echoes have been seeking a new tenor and bass singer. Part one of their search is complete, as evidenced by this announcement posted last night on the group’s Facebook page:

The Dixie Echoes are pleased to announce the hiring of George Shelton, Jr. as our new tenor singer. George is one of the greatest tenor singers, and one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. We are so proud to have George and his lovely wife, Gail, as part of the Dixie Echoes family!

We are still in the audition process for the bass singer position, so If you have a demo, or a Youtube clip, we would love to hear you! Email a short resume’ and demo to scoot@dixieechoes.com.

Shelton filled in with the group two separate times: last summer, when the group was searching for a tenor after Michael Helwig’s departure, and in the past couple of weeks. He was present with the group at a recent date at Lake Gibson Nazarene Church, and I commented to some friends that I thought he’d be a perfect fit if he was interested in the job, which I had thought over the summer as well.

Here are some clips from his fill-in stint this past summer:

Since the Dixie Echoes are still looking for a bass singer, Mark Cates (the fill-in bass from the first three clips above) may be worth a call.

Youtube Spotlight: Ernie Haase & Signature Sound (3/3/13)

March 06, 2013 By: Aaron Category: Concert Reviews, Ernie Haase and Signature Sound, SG Artists, SG Music, Youtube

The EHSS bus once again rolled into my home area of Lynchburg, VA for a concert at Thomas Road Baptist Church this past weekend. It’s almost become an annual date for the group; they did not come in 2012, but came the year before that when Ian Owens had just recently started singing with them, and had a couple of concerts there when Tim Duncan was there. This time, they have Paul Harkey in the bass slot, and are experiencing change on the band side of things; guitarist Kelly Vaughan recently left the group, and drummer Zak Shumate is on the way out for a position with The Isaacs.

While I was not able to attend this year because of being away at college, my Mom did, and filmed a few videos of the night. Thanks, Mom! 🙂

Every bass singer that has been with EHSS has had a signature song at some point in their tenure that was usually a softer selection. For Tim Duncan in his early days, it was The Old Rugged Cross. For Ian Owens, it was “I Believe.” For Paul Harkey, it’s “Scars In The Hands Of Jesus.” While this song is more often heard as a tenor feature, it works quite well for Harkey’s smooth upper range. Look for this as a featured track on the group’s upcoming project, Glorious Day.

This is a brand new song entitled “That’s Why” from the group’s upcoming release. Mom did not film the main song, but was so impressed with it that she made sure to film the reprise. I don’t know how extensive the instrumentation is for the track, but the song sounds as if it was made for a “stripped down” sound like what is done here. This “teaser” makes me look forward to hearing the full thing on the project in April.

In the last of “new” clips from the night, the group does a cover of “Noah Found Grace In The Eyes Of The Lord,” which was recorded by several groups, but was arguably made the most popular by the Statler Brothers. EHSS takes off from the Statlers’ later arrangement that was recorded with Jimmy Fortune, right down to the held tenor note near the end, and it fits their energetic style.

There’s not much to say about “Sometimes I Wonder” that hasn’t already been said, except that Doug Anderson was a perfect choice to be featured on this song. Like Scott Howard of Legacy Five, he seems to always get songs that fit him like a glove, and this is no exception.

The concert closer, “Then Came The Morning” has rightfully remained a concert staple for the group, as evidenced by its strong response even after eight years of staging it.

CD Review: Sounds of Jericho – The Story of His Grace

March 02, 2013 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, SG Artists, SG Music, Sounds of Jericho

Rating: 4 starsSounds of Jericho - The Story of His Grace

Producer: Mark Dowdy
Label: Independent Release
Website: www.soundsofjericho.com

Song titles: Deeper Journey; If The Lord Wasn’t Walkin’ By My Side; Living Testimony; Resting Place; Wayfaring Stranger; Spread It Around; Jesus Never Changes; Standing In The Storm; I’d Rather Have Jesus; Leave The Light On; Ten Thousand Angels; Operator

Every so often, I’ll have a project come across my desk that is the debut for a brand new quartet to hit the Southern Gospel scene. Such is the case with this CD from Sounds of Jericho, a quartet out of Flowery Branch, GA that contains a couple faces we’ve seen before. The group was formed by tenor Stephen Sigmon and bass Stacy Bragg, who were both charter members of the LeFevre Quartet. These two are joined in this new endeavor by lead Matt Tyler and baritone Ken Thomas. Since the release of this project, producer Mark Dowdy has joined as pianist.

Obviously, the challenge given to any new group is to establish themselves as a unique presence in the SG music world. A look at the history of this genre will tell you that the groups with a sound that sets itself apart have had a lot more staying power than a group that sounds like a carbon copy of what’s already there. Given that two of the group’s members were part of a well-known group already, I expected there to be a similarity to the sound of that era of the quartet. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was only a passing comparison.

With a project made of mostly original songs, Sounds of Jericho does a good job of establishing their own identity. Some of the arrangements are pretty ambitious for a new group, but it was a risk that worked. Among the “cover songs,” I enjoyed the brassy treatment of the Henry Slaughter classic “If The Lord Wasn’t Walking By My Side” and the Country-Western tinged treatment of “Wayfaring Stranger.” The latter is probably the best classic cover on the project; it’s certainly unique from any other version I’ve heard.

The original songs make up the majority of the project, and do a good job of highlighting the sound of the group. The anthem “Living Testimony,” from which the project title is derived, would make a good choice for a radio single. “Deeper Journey” is a good harmony song. A couple of songs, such as “Spread It Around” and “Jesus Never Changes” are strong save for “plugged in” bridges made of hymns; they seem unnecessarily thrown into the songs, but this is a minor quibble.

One particularly surprising choice that a new group doesn’t usually make is throwing in an a Capella track. “Resting Place” starts off sounding like it could be a lead-in to a country or bluegrass track, but turns out to be completely instrument-free. This is a bold move, especially with some of the places the arrangement goes, but the quartet has a sound that blends well. It’s refreshing to see a new group click like this right off the bat.

I appreciate the fact that no singer strays out of their range anywhere on the album. In the early LeFevre Quartet days, Sigmon and Bragg both had moments where they seemed to be out of their comfort zone. That improved even during their time with the group, and has carried over to now. This debut project by Sounds of Jericho makes me wish that they traveled more outside of their home state, and hopefully, this project will start something in that direction. The Story of His Grace  receives 4 stars.