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

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CD Review: Adoration Quartet – What A Change

September 01, 2014 By: Aaron Category: Adoration Quartet, CD Reviews, SG Artists, SG Music

Rating: 4 starswhatachangecd

Producer: Wesley Pritchard
Independent Release
Website: www.adorationquartet.com

Song titles: Drink From Him; His Tomb Is Empty Now; Just One Hope; I Enter In; Coming Out of the Tomb; Jesus Really Cares; What Ever You Need; I’ve Been Revived; Stepping Out; Peace Through The Blood

Adoration Quartet is a “new yet not new” group that has just re-emerged on the Southern Gospel scene. The group was around a few years ago with current bass Chris Serlick, but their claim to attention seemed to stem from the fact that the group had two alumni from one of the Anchormen’s best eras: tenor Brian Routh and baritone Terry Carter. The group disbanded a few years ago, but recently with Serlick in the bass slot, Declaration’s former tenor Joshua Horrell and pianist Dustin Leming in the tenor and baritone positons, respectively, and Anchormen alum Corey Wilson singing the lead. The quartet wasted no time in putting out new music, which is important for any group looking to get a running start.

While listening to this project, my mind kept recalling the days when Brian Routh or Steve Ladd and Jeff Chapman were part of the Anchormen. The voices and tracks possess the same dynamics found with that era of the group: soaring tenor, rumbling bass, solid voices in the middle, uptempo songs that made good use of those vocals, and powerful slower songs as well. Normally, such a strong comparison would not necessarily be a good thing, especially when trying to make a unique name for yourself with a first release, but since time has seen a shift from that style (the recent Anchormen releases, while great, have progressed from that), there is a niche to be filled, and this group does it well. This is evident on the first radio single,”Coming Out of the Tomb (Stepping Into The Light),” which does a fine job of defining the group’s sound and should do well on radio. “Peace Through The Blood” covers the ballad part of the equation with a strong performance from tenor Horrell. Other highlights include “I Enter In” (which was first recorded with the original iteration of Adoration) and “His Tomb Is Empty Now.” You can hear clips of all of these and more on the group’s website.

As introductory releases ago, Adoration has put a lot of work into making this a quality project, and it shows. The voices fit together well already (though it probably helps that three of the four sang together previously). Horrell shows that he has the potential to be of the genre’s best upcoming tenors. Corey Wilson hasn’t lost a thing in the lead department since he left the road. Serlick lends a solid, smooth low part, and Dustin Leming has a solid, blending baritone voice. Sure, I would have liked to hear brass and strings that weren’t “canned,” but that’s a minor nitpick since they don’t distract much from the rest of the music, and that problem can be remedied with the right budget. Given the right touring schedule and promotion, I look for Adoration Quartet to be around for a good while, as this introduction is a solid representation of what they can do. What A Change receives 4 stars.

CD Review: Gold Harbor – You Are My Song

March 21, 2014 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, Gold Harbor, SG Artists, SG Music

Rating: 3.5 starsGold Harbor - You Are My Song

Label: Nazareth Records
Website: www.goldharbormusic.com/

Song titles: Blessed; You Are My Song; Who Will Mend The Broken; Never; Rescue Me; If Grace Was Taken Away; Halfway; He Goes Before Us; Tis So Sweet; If Not For The Old Rugged Cross

Download Project Here

Gold Harbor has shown up on a couple of blogs around the SG world, including this one. The reviews have been differing and interesting, to say the least. Between those two projects, the group showed a dedication to honing their craft, so I expected an equal, if not greater, quality when I sat down to write this review.

Musically, the group’s voices work well together. When they are in their stylistic sweet spot (which seems to be ballads), they have a sound that just fits. One downside of having a ballad-heavy project is falling into the trap of the songs seeming to run together, which happens here a little bit. That being said, songs like the title track, “If Grace Was Taken Away,” and a cover of the hymn “Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus” provide some of the best songs of the project. In more up-tempo fare, this CD is all over the map, ranging from musical styles like 70s-pop (“Blessed”), peppy gospel (“Never”), jazz (“Halfway”), and bluegrass-country (“He Goes Before Us”). “Blessed” fits the group better than I would have imagined, and “He Goes Before Us” is a fine song and style for them to explore. Though I could have done without such a roller coaster of styles, it did break up the monotony of so many slower songs.

The tracks themselves are hit-and-miss as far as sounding “canned.” What I mean is, it is more obvious on some tracks than others that the instruments are artificial, like some string and brass sections. I did notice that on the songs that seemed stronger, this “canned” feeling was not prevalent, and that probably helped my impression of those songs a great deal.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, Gold Harbor works hard at what they do, and it has shown over the years as their music has crossed my desk. They are also unafraid to try their hand at differing stylistic choices, which I appreciate. Taking risks like that will help them to weed out what doesn’t fit them and move forward in their next effort. Though it does get muddled with similar sounding songs, there are a few tracks here that are well worth multiple listens, and as long as Gold Harbor can keep finding songs with strong lyrics and a sound fit for their voices, they will continue to improve what they do. You Are My Song receives 3.5 stars.

CD Review: The Hoggle Family – (Self-titled Debut)

March 10, 2014 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, SG Artists, SG Music, The Hoggle Family

Rating: 4 starsThe Hoggle Family

Producer: Adam Kohout
Label: Independent Release
Website: www.thehoggles.net

Song titles: Somebody Sing; I’ve Been Saved; Blessed Be His Name; I’ll Keep On Running; He’ll Carry You; God Always; I’ll See God Smile; When I Think About Heaven;
Rolling Away; Unconditional Love

There is always a bit of trepidation when I sit down to review an artist’s debut project, especially if it’s kind of an “out of nowhere” type of group. With a group like Freedom or Canton Junction, I have an idea of the quality I’ll be faced with based on the members of the group, but I’m never quite sure what to expect when it comes to completely fresh talent. This time around, I’m only familar with one member: lead singer Donald Morris. Donald sang for several years with the Dixie Melody Boys, and was last seen on the group’s 50th anniversary project, The Call Is Still The Same. He brings his Ed O’Neal University diploma with him to the Hoggle Family, with also consists of soprano Reagan Hoggle, alto (and Donald’s wife) Kaylan Morris, and baritone Dylan Hoggle. With a group that is 75% “new” faces to the genre, it was going to be interesting to see what kind of first impression they would make.

Not even considering the “debut status” of the project, I was impressed with the quality of both the music and the vocals. The group has a decidedly country flavor, as evidenced by tracks like “He’ll Carry You,” and “When I Think About Heaven,” and “Rolling Away,” but songs like “Somebody Sing” and “I’ll Keep On Running” lean more towards straight-forward Southern Gospel. Speaking of “I’ll Keep On Running,” the group’s first single from this CD is one of the stronger songs of the collection, and it does a good job of highlighting both the individual voices and the blend. The preceding track, “Blessed Be His Name,” is the standout ballad, and should be seriously looked at for radio as well. Both of these have seen repeated plays on my iPod lately.

Like Steve Eaton of Musicscribe, I was impressed with the song selection found here, and to find out that Donald Morris wrote all ten tracks was even more impressive. We heard some of Donald Morris’ songwriting on his last DMB project (“Bottom of the Basket” and “Go To The Well”), but this project really showcases his repertoire. To have every song be from the same writer and not seem stale or carbon-copied is no easy feat, and I think we may soon see Morris’ name alongside those of Joseph Habedank and Scott Inman when speaking of young SG songwriters.

The Hoggle Family has gotten off to a good start with their first national release. They avoided the pitfall of sounding too “young,” despite the young age of some of the members, and while not perfectly polished just yet, they have a good blend and raw talent that bodes well for their future. This is bolstered by a strong lineup of songs to choose from in concert, and I look forward to hearing what future projects will bring. The Hoggle Family receives 4 stars.

CD Review: Mark Trammell Quartet – Your Walk Talks

February 06, 2014 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, Mark Trammell Quartet, SG Artists, SG Music

Rating: 4 starsYourWalkTalks_CD

Label: Crimson Road Productions
Website: www.marktrammellministries.com

Song titles: Don’t Stop Running; God’s Been Faithful; When the King Comes To Claim His Throne;  Thanks to Calvary; I’ll Go Over Jordan Someday; Man of Sorrows; Your Walk Talks; To Know He Knows Me; I’ll Take It To The Grave; I Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way

The Mark Trammell Quartet has had quite a time since their last release of new songs (Testimony in 2010. They’ve released three projects of mostly older material since). The lineup on Testimony included tenor Joel Wood, lead Dustin Sweatman, baritone Mark Trammell, and bass Pat Barker. During the span from then to now, Wood left and original tenor Eric Phillips rejoined the group. Sweatman came off the road and Mark’s son, Nick, stepped into the role. Phillips then left the road again, and the group was left looking for a tenor. After a trial run, Dustin Black was eventually named as the new guy.

Despite these transitions, the group has not rested on its laurels. This project serves as a debut for two things: a new sound/lineup for the group, and the birth of a new record company in Crimson River Productions.  With stakes as high as these, one would be forgiven for wondering if this project collapses under the weight of its own promise. It does not.

The wait for truly new music from the Mark Trammell Quartet has been long (four years), but worth it. While the better-known projects in the group’s discograpy have been pretty ballad centric, this one only has one such track in “Man of Sorrows.” That is certainly a strong track, but one will probably think of the upbeat songs when recalling this CD. “When The King Comes To Claim His Throne” and “I’ll Take It To The Grave” are two major standouts, one telling of the milennial reign and the other celebrating the joy and peace that we have forever in Christ. On the other end of the tempo scale, “God’s Been Faithful” and “Thanks to Calvary” are worth mentioning. The latter is the George Younce signature, and while it doesn’t stray too far from the original, it is a fitting tribute in the context of the recent Cathedral Family Reunion.

I have alluded to the “new sound” that debuts with this project, and that’s one of the reasons I appreciate this release. The difference is most evident with the tenor part. Though no one could truly duplicate the sound the group had with Eric Phillips, Joel Wood was a hire that had a similar tone, so the group’s sound never really wavered from what it used to be. Dustin Black, on the other hand, is another matter entirely. Phillips made the MTT/MTQ unique because of his through-the-roof notes and consistently high harmonies; Black makes them unique by having a different sound from any tenor on the road, and while he is not as stratospherical as Phillips, his blend with the group is smoother. His feature at the end of the project, “I Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way,” is a perfect showcase of this, though “I’ll Take It To The Grave” sounds like one they would have done with Phillips.

MTQ continues their line of strong song choices and a recognizable sound with Your Walk Talks, and this will undoubtedly be seen as one of the best quartet releases in 2014. It receives 4 stars.

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.

CD Review: Dixie Melody Boys – Have You Heard

October 04, 2013 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, Dixie Melody Boys, SG Music

Rating: 5 stars

Producers: David Staton & Dirk Johnson
Label: Song Garden Music Group
Website: www.dixiemelodyboys.com

Song titles: Praise The Lord Hallelujah Amen; What I Lost In The Flood; Roll Back; When I Called His Name; God’s Gonna Give You A Testimony; Valley of Tears; Muddy Water; What Remains Of Me; Rhythm of Heaven; Death Has Died; That Story Is Mine; Haven Called Heaven

When it comes to comeback stories in Southern Gospel music, one can certainly point to the Dixie Melody Boys as a prime example. Just a couple of years ago, almost anyone who followed the music may have told you that the group was one with a rich heritage in this genre, but was heading off into the sunset of their careers. It looked like the Ed O’Neal University was probably going to close its doors for good.

Then came the group’s 50th Anniversary. A change in personnel and the release of a celebratory project fittingly entitled The Call Is Still The Same kicked off the biggest turnaround for a group’s direction in recent memory. The quartet hasn’t stopped since then, and this latest CD finds them at an interesting point in their history.

Since the last album, the group has seen baritone Steven Cooper step down from his vocal role due to voice problems and take a seat behind the soundboard, with an occasional bass guitar appearance. Filling his role, as well as playing piano on select songs, is Aaron Dishman, a fresh face to most fans. Lead singer Donald Morris came off the road and Mike Rogers stepped in. He had all but completed his contribution to this project when he left to join Brian Free & Assurance, and Florida Boys alum Josh Garner was eventually picked as the new lead. With so many changes in the lineup, this project has the daunting task of continuing the group’s positive trajectory, while also establishing an almost brand-new vocal sound.

The Dixie Melody Boys tread new musical ground here as far as their catalog is concerned. Songs like “What I Lost In The Flood,” “God’s Gonna Give You A Testimony,” and “Rhythm of Heaven” are progressive enough to set themselves apart from other things the group has done, while still falling solidly in the quartet tradition they have established. There is still plenty of straight-up traditional fare here, such as the country-flavored “When I Called His Name,” the fast-paced “That Story Is Mine,” and the Rodney Griffin and Joseph Habedank ballad “Valley of Tears,” which features newcomer Dishman.

Did you ever think that the Dixie Melody Boys would cover a big, orchestrated Cathedrals ballad? Take a listen to their revival of the underrated “Death Has Died.” Another pleasant surprise is Ed O’Neal’s solo feature. His work on “What Remains Of Me” makes the song a prime choice for a radio single.

The Dixie Melody Boys have produced a collection of music that is another solid step in the right direction, proving that they have become a viable quartet once again, and that is why Have You Heard receives 5 stars.

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.

CD Review: Beyond The Ashes – Living In The Moment

April 01, 2013 By: Aaron Category: Beyond The Ashes, CD Reviews, SG Artists, SG Music

Beyond The Ashes - Living In The MomentRating: 5 stars

Producer: Wayne Haun
Label: Stow Town Records
Website: www.beyondtheashesonline.com

Song titles: So Amazing To Me; Living In The Moment; Oh, The Thought That Jesus Loves Me; No Sin Greater Than God’s Grace; Peace In The Midst Of The Storm; Walking With My Eyes On Jesus; I Can’t Do This By Myself; Where The Gold Begins; When Love Whispers Your Name; Your Love Comes Shining Through; Over For Good

Download Project Here

Beyond The Ashes is a trio that has been on an upward climb in Southern Gospel music for the past couple of years. Started by Anthony Facello, former tenor of groups such as the Heaven Bound, The Down East Boys, The Journeymen, and Mercy’s Mark, the group has steadily built a fan base since around 2007. The group started under the name Anthony Facello & Crossroad before changing their name to Beyond The Ashes in 2008. With their release on Vine Records, Treasures Unseen, the trio began to make a name for themselves with successful radio singles such as “Whenever We Pray.” After signing with Ernie Haase & Wayne Haun’s Stow Town Records, they released an independent project made of covers entitled Loving What’s Begun, which was also the first project to feature the current lineup of tenor Facello, lead Dustin Doyle, and baritone Kellan Monroe. This lineup gets their first real chance to show themselves with this release.

As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, I appreciate a group that has a distinctive sound. Facello’s is a tenor voice that is instantly recognizable, but Beyond The Ashes is comprised of voices that set them apart even from the other groups he has been a part of. Each voice has a similar soulful quality that meshes well with the others. This is used to good effect on close harmony songs like “So Amazing To Me” and “Oh, The Thought That Jesus Loves Me.” You may have guessed that the latter is a cover of a Collingsworth Family song, and BTA’s version holds its own in a way that doesn’t make it feel like a cover. Facello himself gets a standout track on the project with a song from his own pen, “No Sin Greater Than God’s Grace.”

Speaking of distinctive voices, this album is a highlight reel for new lead singer Dustin Doyle. Doyle gets the lion’s share of features here, and his singing style lends itself well to the “traditional Gospel with a twist” feel of “Peace In The Midst Of The Storm,” as well as the Jason Mraz pop tune “Living In The Moment.”

In reviewing this album, I discovered that Beyond The Ashes may have established a knack for picking catchy songs; I’ve had a harder time getting most of these songs out of my head than possibly any other project I’ve reviewed. Songs like the bouncy “Your Love Comes Shining Through” and the aforementioned “No Sin Greater Than God’s Grace” or the title track have a way of embedding themselves in your head, and you’ll more than likely find yourself humming them from time to time. For any Christian music, this can be a good thing; the message in these songs is important, and they’ll be grasped more if the listener catches on to the music well. If Beyond The Ashes can continue picking songs of that nature, it certainly won’t hurt.

Treasures Unseen may have put the foot in the door for Beyond The Ashes, but Living In The Moment has the all-around quality that can potentially solidify their place on the Southern Gospel map, and that’s why it receives 5 stars.

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.

CD Review: Mark Trammell Quartet – Lifetime

October 30, 2012 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, Mark Trammell Quartet, SG Artists, SG Music

Rating: 5 stars

Producers: Lari Goss and Mark Trammell
Label: Daywind Records
Website: www.marktrammellministries.com

Song titles: Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah; ‘Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus; Way Past Ready; Garden City Tour Medley; Wonderful Time Up There; Too Much To Gain To Lose; Meet Me Over On The Other Side; Footprints of Jesus; I Sing The Mighty Power; The King Is Coming Medley

I’ll admit it; whenever I see the description of an upcoming project of “hymns and classics,” and the project is supposed to be a mainline release, I cringe. This is because these projects usually just rehash the same old songs that everybody and their brother has recorded, and doesn’t really do anything to break the mold, and I just end up wishing it was a table project to tide the listener over for the next major CD. When I saw some of the songs on the track list for this album, I had the same reaction. My interest was piqued a little when I saw some songs that haven’t been done to death, but I still had doubts as I gave the CD a first run-through.

The Mark Trammell Quartet has released a collection of material here that, thankfully, exceeded my expectations. Starting with a triumphant rendition of “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” it’s clear that this list of old songs isn’t just more of the same. A good example of this is a brassy arrangement of “Wonderful Time Up There.” This song is one that could have easily fallen into the problem I mentioned earlier; everybody seems to record it at least once, so it all runs together. Not so this time around; the orchestration gives it a unique flair, and bass singer Pat Barker turns in one of the stronger performances of his career.

Tenor Eric Phillips marks his return to the group on this project, and sounds as if he has not lost a thing in his years off the road. His solo feature on the CD, “‘Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus,” may not be pitched in the rafters, but it shows a smoother side of his voice that was rarely brought to bear with the Mark Trammell Trio. That’s not to say he doesn’t do some high singing here; his ensemble work on songs such as “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah,” “Wonderful Time Up There,” and “Way Past Ready,” to name a few, give the listener plenty to enjoy in that regard. Speaking of “Way Past Ready,” it is the only original song on the project, and is strong enough to fit in with the rest of the track list.

Baritone Mark Trammell is the frontman for most of the songs, and over the years has perfected a delivery style that is both unique and reliable, hitting notes that few baritones attempt (for example, the high B-Flat during “Golden City Tour Medley.”) Though the project was built around the concept of songs from the years of Trammell’s life, he is featured on the only “new” song, the aformentioned”Way Past Ready.”

While I would have liked to hear the solo feature tracks divided more evenly (Mark Trammell gets the lion’s share, with Eric Phillips and Pat Barker getting one each and new lead Nick Trammell getting none), this CD is evidence that the Mark Trammell Quartet has truly found their niche. Lari Goss’ production work, coupled with the strength of the vocals, makes for a “hymns and classics” project that is worth pushing through whatever reservations the listener may hold with that description. Lifetime receives 5 stars.