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

Catching Up With Donald Morris

December 13, 2013 By: Aaron Category: Interviews, SG Artists, SG Music

Donald MorrisRecently, I had the opportunity to chat with former Dixie Melody Boys lead singer Donald Morris about what has transpired since he came off the road with he and his wife joining the Hoggle Family.

Aaron Swain: Most know you from your time with the Dixie Melody Boys, but can you give us a little of your background in Southern Gospel music?

Donald Morris: I grew up around music all my life. I come from a very musical family and remember sitting through several band practices and rehearsals at an early age. I was 16 when I actually started singing. Before then, I was only focused on learning instruments to play. I made my “debut” at the church Christmas play that year, and have been singing ever since. My church was filled with Southern Gospel. We had groups like The Greenes, The Anchormen, and The Dixie Melody Boys who would always stop by annually, as well as others. I met and spoke with Ed O’Neal there after a concert and gave him my number in case he was ever looking for a lead singer. He told me, and I quote, “I’ll keep it close.” I sang and traveled all over North Carolina with local groups for a few years, and when I was a senior in high school, Ed called. Devin McGlamery was leaving to join Karen Peck and New River, and Ed asked me if I wanted the job. I told Ed I really would like the job, but I wanted to at least graduate from high school first. He said he fully understood and would keep me in mind for the future. The next year, he called me and informed me that Dustin Sweatman was leaving for the Mark Trammell Trio, and I accepted the position. I left the group to attend college, and after a few years, Ed called me again and he needed a lead ASAP. I accepted again and remained with the group for almost four years.

AS: The last DMB project you were on (The Call Is Still The Same) had several cuts that you had written. When did you start writing songs, and have your songs been recorded by anyone else?

DM: I actually started writing songs a year or two before I started singing. Before then, I always dabbled in poetry. I won the school poetry contest in elementary school when i was in the 4th grade, and have been published in a few books since. One day, I just decided to put the poetry with the music, and things took off from there.

I have had several new artists record my songs, and The Inspirations recorded a few, but my dream was to have The Dixie Melody Boys record one. 80% of my time with the group was doing older quartet songs with just piano and bass, and I finally got the opportunity when we did our 50th anniversary album.

AS: How did joining The Hoggle Famly come about? While you’re at it, could you give us an intro to the group, since this may be a new name to a lot of people?

DM: I first heard the The Hoggle Family in 2010 while traveling with the Dixie Melody Boys. We were doing a concert together in central Alabama. I noticed a very beautiful female singer in the group… she would later become my wife! After leaving the Dixie Melody Boys to spend more time with my wife and newborn baby girl, we decided to move to her home state of Alabama. My wife rejoined her family singing, and I joined!

I’ll save the second part of your question for a later date. We will be launching a brand new website in January that will have all the details of the group history and introductions. We look forward to sharing this information with everyone soon!

AS: What can we expect from the upcoming project?

DM: You can expect ten new songs in a Progressive/Country music style, with a Southern Gospel backbone. This will not be a “Quartet Style” album. Though some of the songs may be a good fit for a quartet, I mean that you won’t hear the big building climax songs you would typically get in a traditional Southern Gospel quartet album. This is more along the lines of a mainstream country release. We are very excited about it.

Thanks, Donald, for a great interview! Be on the lookout for more details on the Hoggle Family in the coming months.

CD Review: Mark209 – On A Roll

December 02, 2013 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, Mark209, SG Artists, SG Music

Rating: 4.5 starsMark209 - On A Roll

Producer: Jamie Brantley
Label: Music City Music Group
Website: www.mark209.com

Song titles: We’re On A Roll; God Fearin’ Family Man; That’s What Love Looks Like; Wherever God Is Moving; Hillbilly Haircut; It Took A Man Like That; Are You Ready?; It Takes Faith; It Might As Well Be Me; Graceland; It Ain’t Over ‘Til God Says It’s Over; Have A Good Time; Tennessee Orange; Bible Story

Download Project Here

Every now and then, a group comes along in Southern Gospel music that, for any number of reasons, stand out in the crowd. There’s no denying that they’re part of the genre, but something about them sets them apart from the norm. Whether it’s their sound, the way they present themselves, or something else, it’s a factor that’s out of the box. A good example would be Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, especially in their Get Away, Jordan era. Even the album art for that project turned heads, and if you’re judging a book by its cover, this latest effort from Mark209 will grab your attention based on the picture alone.

As unique as the image is, the musical component for the project is even more so. I appreciate a group that has a sound that leaves no doubt as to who it is, and they have laid the groundwork for becoming an instantly recognizable group on the radio. Songs like “Wherever God Is Moving,” “It Takes Faith,” and “Have A Good Time” have a punchy, driving flavor that works well for the voices in the group, both individually and as a unit.

That’s not to say that the whole project is that way; there is plenty more laid-back fare here that showcases a smoother, tighter-blended side to the quartet. “It Took A Man Like That” may have been snatched up by Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, but the performances from the two groups are so vastly different that Mark209 should consider it as a radio release. “That’s What Love Looks Like” is probably the most “mainstream SG” sounding song on the project, and features strong performances from each member. “Tennessee Orange” is a beautiful patriotic number that lets baritone Bryan James Hatton shine. Lead singer Jym Howe turns in a tender performance on “It Ain’t Over ‘Til God Says It’s Over,” “Are You Ready?” is a nice, smooth vehicle for bass Ray Woconish, and tenor Nathaniel Justice has a strong feature on “Graceland,” which some may remember from The Mike Bowling Group.

The engineering and producing for this project should have a special mention. The production value found here brought to mind David Bruce Murray’s comments on the mix found on Driven Quartet’s self-titled release. His words perfectly capture what I thought while listening to this project, so I quote:

“In closing, I’d also like to mention the mix. It isn’t perfect, and that’s a good thing. The vocals aren’t overly tweaked and polished. They’re pretty tight, but it sounds natural rather than robotic. Sometimes a phrase isn’t perfectly aligned, but that actually sounds better when it’s very close.”

Nobody’s vocal is buried in the mix, even on a song like “Wherever God Is Moving,” which has such a loud sound musically that either burying is likely to happen or the noise level would be unbearable. Thankfully, neither is the case. The project’s balance is good, and the unpolished vocals give the music a live feel without being sloppy. Polish is a good thing, but too much is not, and the voices found here work together better without over-sanitization.

While not every song was a home run (“God Fearin’ Family Man” and “Hillbilly Haircut” fit musically, but weren’t nearly as strong lyrically), this is one of the stronger quartet releases of 2013, and there is no reason not to give this group a try. On A Roll receives 4.5 stars.