Aaron Swain's blog about Southern Gospel Music, News, and other items of interest in the SG world.
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Archive for the ‘Mark209’

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.

Clips from NQC 2013

September 16, 2013 By: Aaron Category: Freedom, Mark209, NQC, Omega, SG Artists, SG Music, The Skyline Boys

As promised, here are a few videos of some performances at NQC 2013. We’ll start with the “debut” of Freedom Quartet:

Next up is the Skyline Boys, with completely new top parts with the return of Jodi Hosterman at tenor and the newly hired Brian Alvey at lead:

Here’s a trio called Omega from GA. They have been on main stage as showcase winners in the past couple of years. New lead singer Kevin Harry filled in for the Dixie Melody Boys before Josh Garner joined. From what I can gather, this was the lineup’s first time on stage.

Finally, up-and-coming group Mark209 sang a Christmas song a regional showcase:

Keep An Ear Out: Mark209 – It Takes Faith

June 01, 2013 By: Aaron Category: Keep An Ear Out, Mark209, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

Baritone Bryan James Hatton, tenor Nathaniel Justice, lead Jym Howe, and bass Ray Woconish make up Mark209.

Baritone Bryan James Hatton, tenor Nathaniel Justice, lead Jym Howe, and bass Ray Woconish make up Mark209.

This post kicks off what will hopefully become a series of posts at Swain’s Musings that highlights upcoming radio singles.

Our first subject for the series is Mark209. Although relatively new to the quartet scene, they have started making a little headway with singles such as “My Home In Heaven” from their debut project, reviewed here. Since the release of that album, the group has seen changes in the baritone and bass positions, causing a shift in vocal sound. Judging by this single, however, the energetic country sound cultivated by their debut has remained and continued to develop. The song hits radio today (June 1).

This song was written by Kenna Turner West, and the players help to give the cut a sound that sets itself apart from most other Southern Gospel music, with a roster that includes Bruce Dees, Kerry Marx (Grand Ole Opry), and Jamie Brantley (Ronnie Milsap). The instrumental track gives the lyric an extra punch that gives a catchy vibe and helps drive the message home, which is especially important in this genre of music. I’ve found myself humming the chorus several times since my initial listen. The lyrics deal with putting action to our faith; not just saying we believe God’s words, but living them as well.

Head to the group’s BandCamp page for a preview of the song and the full lyrics.

Mark209 Seeks Bass Singer

July 28, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Mark209, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

There hasn’t been much news to speak of this week, but here’s an item that I just got wind of: Mark209 is looking for a bass singer after the departure of Joe Armstrong. Armstrong leaves the group on good terms, and you’ll hear him in the bass position for Charlie Waller’s Florida Boys soon.

Mark209 is a quartet with great potential, as evidenced by their debut release, and I am looking forward to hearing who their next bass singer will be. Interested parties can send demos and resumes to contact@mark209.com.

CD Review: Mark209 – From The Heart Of Nashville

April 20, 2012 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, Mark209, SG Artists, SG Music

Rating: 4 stars

Producer: Billy Coren
Label: Music City Media Group
Website: www.mark209.com

Song titles: The Blood of One Man; Book of Life; Count Me In; Daddy; Down In Bethlehem; Get Up In Jesus’ Name; Already On The Phone; In God We Still Trust; My Home In Heaven; That’s How Jesus Sees Me; Tougher Than Nails; Who Prayed For Me; Wine Into Water; The Tree

Last year, after the departure of baritone Ed Crawford from the Mystery Men Quartet, and the subsequent hiring of Jimmy Reno a short time later, it was announced that the group would be changing their name. During the week of NQC 2011, the new name was announced; the quartet would be called Mark209, a reference to mile marker 209 that leads into Nashville. It is fitting, then, that the group’s first project of original songs would be titled From The Heart Of Nashville.

Fans of the Mystery Men Quartet may find a lot of this project very familiar; that’s because all but two of the songs can be found on the Mystery Men’s Blue Collar Gospel project. Before you blow this off as a “get something out quick” effort, I’d encourage you to take a listen to it. I admit that, seeing the song titles, I went into this fully expecting something of that nature. However, I appreciate the fact the current lineup of Nathaniel Justice, Jym Howe, Jimmy Reno, and Joe Armstrong took the time to go back and re-record most, if not all, of the vocals on the project. Their vocals take the sound that Blue Collar Gospel had and refines it, making this CD an improvement over the original. The new tracks, “Down In Bethlehem” and “In God We Still Trust” fit seamlessly into the track list, though the latter has been recorded so much that another song may have been a better choice. I also appreciate the fact that the mix has been tweaked and improved as well. Two of the issues most of the tracks had the first time around were that the instruments were unevenly mixed (for example, the cymbals were louder than everything else to the point of distraction), and the vocals often sounded muddy behind the instrumentation. Both were resolved this time.

Being from Nashville, you would expect the country music influence to be very prevalent in Mark209’s sound, and the group certainly delivers that in both sound and lyrical content. The opener, “The Blood Of One Man,” is a straight-ahead gospel tune with that genre’s feel, as is the next track, “The Book of Life,” which highlights the quartet’s ensemble work and harmony. Other such tunes include “He’s Already On The Phone,” another harmony feature that also gives lead singer Jym Howe a solo verse, and “My Home In Heaven,” the group’s current radio single penned by Woody Wright, which has seen some favorable chart action.

The other component of a country influence manifests itself in “story songs,” and this project has its fair share of such songs with a Christian message. Bass singer Joe Armstrong delivers “Daddy,” which centers around a father figure who was a simple man of simple means, whom the singer imagines will have a similar home in Heaven near his mansion. “Who Prayed For Me” is a baritone feature for Jimmy Reno, and a thanks to an anonymous person that prayed for the storyteller during various parts of his life. Reno also sings “Tougher Than Nails,” which relates the story of a father teaching his bullied son the “turn the other cheek” lesson through the example of Jesus’ life, and tenor Nathaniel Justice carries a thoughtful ballad in “That’s How Jesus Sees Me.”

Other high points in the project come in the form of “Wine Into Water,” a tender prayer for help from God, and the project’s closer, “The Tree,” which reflects on the fact that the Creator made the tree He would be crucified upon.

This project is one of the better debuts that I have heard in the past couple of years. It defines Mark209’s sound very well, and each member of the group is featured fairly equally, so the listener gets a taste of each vocalist’s style. Fans of the Mystery Men, as well as country-flavored gospel music, will appreciate this effort from Mark209, and I would encourage the uninitiated to give this CD a spin as well. From The Heart Of Nashville receives 4 stars.