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

Archive for July, 2013

The Dixie Echoes Hire The Utech Brothers

July 31, 2013 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Dixie Echoes

At long last, the lineup is finalized for the Dixie Echoes after the departures of tenor Craig Thomas and bass Jordan James. Earlier this8m5e_bioimgmainalexandrew year, the group hired George Shelton, Jr. as tenor, but they have taken their time in hiring a new bass. Now, they have gotten a bass singer, along with a new musician and driver!

The Dixie Echoes are proud to announce the addition of Alex Utech, from Scottsboro, Al, as the bass singer for the quartet. In addition, Alex’ twin brother, Andrew, will also be a part of the group as a musician and driver. These young men are 20 years old, and are extremely talented. They have been singing sing the age of 8, and used to travel and sing with their grandfather, and were quite popular at the Grand Ol’ Gospel Reunion. Be sure to come and meet Alex and Andrew at a concert soon!

Alex Utech was a name I knew I’d heard before, so I took to Youtube for answers. As it turns out, he has filled in for Mike Holcomb with The Inspirations a few times. Here he is around 18:

And here he is again about three months ago:

The Dixie Echoes’ bass singer hires lately have been guys in their early twenties with loads of potential. I am excited to hear Alex as he settles in with the group, as well as hearing his brother add to the sound as a musician.

CD Review: Blackwood Brothers – Sweet Songs About Heaven

July 08, 2013 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Brothers, CD Reviews, SG Artists, SG Music

Rating4 starsBlackwood Brothers - Sweet Songs About Heaven

Producer: Billy Blackwood
Label: Daywind Records
Website: www.blackwoodbrothers.com

Song titles: Goodbye Egypt (Hello Canaanland); Swing Low, Sweet Chariot/Swing Down Chariot; Sweet Songs About Heaven; That’s What Was Good About the Good Old Days; It Is No Secret; I’ve Heard About a City/Walk Dem Golden Stairs; Declaration of Dependence; That’s What Heaven Will Be; Someone to Care; The Devil Can’t Harm a Prayin’ Man

The name Blackwood is synonymous with Southern Gospel music, with an influence that has been around for most of the existence of this genre. The lasting influence is impressive enough, but add that to the fact that the group has still been going strong under the leadership of the sons of James Blackwood and you have something even more commendable. This project features the lineup of tenor Wayne Little, lead Jimmy Blackwood, baritone Billy Blackwood, and bass Butch Owens. Since this project’s release, Jimmy retired and Michael Helwig has stepped into the lead position. Other than the value of having Jimmy Blackwood’s final project with the group, how does this project measure up in quality?

The Blackwood sons seem to be playing a safe strategy with their music, leading a time-honored name into the modern recording era without forsaking the traditional Gospel quartet sound that has been cultivated in the group’s 75+ year history. On this recording, that ideal translates to mostly straight-ahead covers of classics, but there’s not much to complain about in terms of vocal sound. I would have liked a little more creativity involved in the covers of songs such as “It Is No Secret” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot/Swing Down Chariot,” as they really don’t cover new ground in terms of arrangement, but the singing is quality enough that it’s not really an issue.

The highlights of this project come in the new songs found here. Wayne Little and Billy Blackwood turn in the finest features with “Sweet Songs About Heaven” and “Declaration of Dependence,” respectively. Blackwood’s feature, in particular, was surprisingly strong; those who heard the group’s previous project, The Song Will Go On, got to hear plenty of Little and the others, but Billy Blackwood stayed mostly in the blend, only really being heard on a couple of standout lines. It was a pleasant surprise to hear how his vocal presence has developed, and I would not be surprised to hear “Declaration of Dependence” as a radio single. New bass Butch Owens also had a strong showing with good solo verses on “That’s What Was Good About the Good Old Days” and “Someone to Care.”

If you’re looking for a project full of groundbreaking material, Sweet Songs About Heaven isn’t it, but solid quartet singing on a mix of old and new songs is just what this CD delivers, besides having sentimental value as Jimmy Blackwood’s last project before retiring. It’s not easy to bring a group with such a long legacy into the present day without dwelling in the past, but this project is a solid step in that direction, and it deserves its 4 star rating.

Things I Missed (7/6/13 Edition)

July 06, 2013 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Quartet, Promise, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

It was a busy enough week that I didn’t have time to get to these stories when they hit, but here are some noteworthy news items that came about in the past few days:

1. The SG industry lost two men this past week that impacted it in various ways. The first was Harold Gilley, mostly known for his days singing bass with the Palmetto State Quartet and his impressions of various bass singers. I always thought he was grossly underrated, and I know that he had been in poor health for some time. The second is Furman Wilson, founding member of the Primitive Quartet. Although Wilson left the group in the late 1970s, there’s no question that the work he helped start has become a mainstay in SG, and that is not to be overlooked. Please keep the families of both men in your prayers.

2. David Mann, lead singer and co-founder of Promise, is stepping away from the group. It’s not often that you get a press release dealing with change that is this open and forthcoming, but David teased a change a couple of days ago on Facebook, and then posted this yesterday:

An Open Letter To Family, Friends, and Fans of Promise
By David Mann


“The only thing constant in life is change.” – François de la Rochefoucauld

The past two years have been a fun and exciting ride. It’s definitely had its ups and downs, but the progress we’ve seen, in spite of the obstacles we’ve faced, has always kept us optimistic. Because of that, making the decision to leave was one of the hardest ones I’ve ever had to make.

In August, I will be stepping down from my position as manager/lead singer for Promise. Starting a group, with next to nothing, is never an easy task. The past two years have taken a toll on me, both physically and emotionally. More importantly, the financial burden on my family has simply become too much. Everyone’s situation is different, but unfortunately, for me, it’s come down to choosing between my work with Promise, and the well being of my wife, and 3 young children.

The good news is, Promise is pressing on. TJ Evans will be stepping in and taking the reigns. I’ve known him for nearly 12 years now, and I have every bit of confidence that the group is left in good hands. Better hands. Promise will be keeping all it’s commitments, as well as continuing on. I’ve told the guys that, though I’m leaving, I still foresee a very bright future for this group. Please take a moment to show them your support. Encouragement goes a long way. My last date will be on August 4th, in Winona, Texas. This will be a special night for me, because my last date with Promise also happens to be where we held the very first concert we ever booked.

As far as my future plans are concerned, I will be taking a position, singing baritone, with the Blackwood Quartet. Most who know me, know I sang with Mark Blackwood and his group for a little over 2 years, from the fall of 2008 to the winter of 2010. I’m happy to be returning, and excited about the future. I’ll be starting with them, immediately following my departure from Promise.

Thank you for all your support and encouragement!

God bless,

David Mann

No real room for speculation there. I am excited that Promise will be continuing, as I have been impressed with them from their start and am looking for them to continue to rise in the industry from here. No word on a new singer for them yet, but be looking for a press release as August 4th approaches.

As far as the Blackwood Quartet, they are getting a solid baritone that knows the ropes. The first time I saw them was not long before David left, and even though it was the tenor’s first night and they had a fill-in bass, the sound was solid. Mark Blackwood has never had much trouble putting together a good quartet, and I look forward to seeing what plays out there in the future as well.

Side note: Be looking for a long overdue CD review on Monday. Hopefully I can actually get this thing finished!