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

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.

Mid-Week Roundup 10/30/2013

October 30, 2013 By: Aaron Category: Freedom, Legacy Five, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

Several news items have popped up in the past few days. Here’s a rundown:

  1. Legacy Five has started a Kickstarter campaign for their upcoming release. With the incentive of various rewards for different amounts of donations, fans can get involved in helping to fund this project. Visit the link for a summary of what the group is doing and the different rewards.

    One thing you can say Southern Gospel music is that even the “top groups” are some of the most accessible artists out there. In how many other genres can you regularly meet the artist at the product table? In a way, something like Kickstarter is perfect for this genre, because it’s a way for the fan to become involved in what the artist is doing with their music, which in turn brings a new sense of that accessibility.

  2. Some have asked where former Dixie Melody Boys lead Donald Morris ended up after leaving the group. Morris and his wife have just joined a family group by the name of the Hoggle Family, and are currently working on a mainline release through AK Music. You may remember that Morris had several songs that he had written cut on the DMB’s The Call Is Still The Same project. He has not stopped writing; all ten songs on the Hoggle Family project are from him.
  3. Freedom Quartet made a splash at last NQC with a lineup of several fan favorites and a new face to most. John Rulapaugh, Dale Shipley, Preston Garner, and Burman Porter are getting ready to release their first project as Freedom Quartet, and you can hear three songs from that project in the player at the bottom of their website: “Somebody Touched The Lord,” “I Believe He’s Coming Back,” and “On A Journey.”

Dixie Melody Boys Begin Lead Singer Search

June 18, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Dixie Melody Boys, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

Over the weekend, it was reported that Donald Morris, lead singer for the DMB for over three years, is coming off the road. As follow-up to that announcement, the group has sent out this press release about the audition process:

The Dixie Melody Boys announced on Saturday that lead singer Donald Morris has resigned. They are now beginning the process to find the next member of one of Gospel music’s legendary groups. “Through the years, Ed has developed some of Gospel’s finest singers including Ernie Haase, McCray Dove, Rodney Griffin and Derrick Selph. We are now looking for the next voice to add to that rich legacy.” said Matt Felts. The Dixie Melody Boys recently celebrated their 50th anniversary which included the historic album, The Call Is Still The Same. They are also seeing resurgence in popularity, being named Favorite Male Quartet in the SGM Fan Awards in May. The Dixie Melody Boys also host their own weekly television show, Great American Gospel, seen in over 200 countries.

“It is an exciting time for our group. God is blessing in so many ways. We have numerous things coming down the road that I am looking forward to. We know that God will send us the perfect fit to our group.” stated Hall of Fame member Ed O’Neal.

The group is now accepting demos. “We will narrow down the auditions to a few men who will then travel with the group. We will then announce the new member of our family on the main stage at this years National Quartet Convention.” added Matt Felts. Interested singers can contact the group by emailing them at dixiemelodyboys@yahoo.com.

This process for auditioning a new singer is very interesting. For one, it sets a deadline for both the group and the fans: for the group, in that they have a timeline for finding someone, and for the fans, in that they know when to expect to see a new face with the quartet. It’s not a restrictive timeline, either; this gives the Dixie Melody Boys a little under three months to find a new lead singer.

A move like this that promises the new singer’s “official” debut at an event like NQC also generates buzz for the group’s set. With the DMB, they already have a bit of buzz, since it’s their return to main stage, but this addition will add to that. Since the new vocalists will already have traveled with the group, they won’t be debuting at NQC completely cold to the group/material, which also helps.

All in all, this is a transition that I’m looking forward to seeing play out. Ed O’Neal is known for hiring “unknowns,” so it’s anyone guess as to who will get the job.

Donald Morris Departs The Dixie Melody Boys

June 16, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Dixie Melody Boys, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

Another group change has come down the pipe, as the Dixie Melody Boys announce their lead singer’s decision to come off the road. Take special note of the title of this press release:

Donald Morris Graduates The Ed O’Neal University

The Dixie Melody Boys have announced that lead singer Donald Morris has resigned from the group. Donald has been with the group for over 3 years. Donald’s incredible voice has made him a favorite to fans across the country. Donald has also risen as one of the top young song writers in Gospel music. His publishing company, True Testament Music has had success with songs recorded by the Inspirations, the Dixie Melody Boys and others. “It is common to hear that a guy comes off the road to be with their family. In this case it is true, Donald has made the tough decision to come off the road to be with his family. He has a beautiful baby girl at home and I’m sure he is looking forward to seeing her more. He will also be focusing on his songwriting and his publishing company. We are proud of Donald. He is one of the finest lead singers we have ever had. We will miss him.” said Matt Felts, tenor for the Dixie Melody Boys. “Donald will definitely be missed. We hate to see him go.” added Steven Cooper.

“The family of former members is very close. Donald will always have a special place in our family. We understand why he is coming off the road but we will miss him. He is a special talent. “ said Ed O’Neal.

The Dixie Melody Boys will announce plans to audition singers shortly.

I was not familiar with Donald’s voice before receiving a copy of the DMB’s The Call Is Still The Same project, but I was very impressed with both his voice and the songs that he brought to the group. I’m looking forward to seeing songs of his get picked up by more and more groups as time goes on, and I wish him well as he comes off the road.

News & Such 5/14

May 14, 2011 By: Aaron Category: Dixie Melody Boys, NQC, Promise, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, Statement of Faith

Several stories hit the Southern Gospel news this week. Here they are as they happened:

  • From a press release by the Dixie Melody Boys, their 50th Anniversary album is now complete:

Dixie Melody Boys Finish Historic Album

The Dixie Melody Boys were recently in Nashville finishing work on their 50th Anniversary album, “The Call Is Still The Same”. The monumental project is a long time in the making. “It’s been nearly ten years since we have done a project of this scale. It will be a milestone for the Dixie Melody Boys. “said Ed O’Neal, Hall Of Fame bass singer and owner. To honor the history of this legendary group, they have included two previous DMB songs on the album. The rest of the project includes new material written by Gospel musics top writers including Daryl Williams, Marty Funderburk, Greg Day and Rodney Griffen. The album also boasts two songs written by lead singer Donald Morris. The new album highlights the current groups new direction and sound. “We are excited to blend our traditional Southern Gospel roots with a fresh approach reminisant of the DMB Band era.” stated Donald Morris.

The Dixie Melody Boys will be joined on this historic album by many former DMB Alumni as well as a few friends. “When we started working on this, so many of our friends wanted to be involved. It evolved from there into having them lend their talents on several of the songs. It will truly be a special event for us.” said tenor Matt Felts. Jason Crabb, Ernie Haase, Ben Speer, McCray Dove, Rodney Griffen and Harold Reed are just a few of the guests appearing. This will be the debut album for the group since signing with Song Garden Music Group earlier this year. A release date of July 1st has been set. A “CD Release Event” will be announced soon. For more information on the new album or where you can purchase a copy of this years must have album, go to www.dixiemelodyboys.com or to www.songgardenmusicgroup.com.

If you’re going to celebrate such a monumental event in a group’s career, that’s the way to do it; bring in a lot of the more well-known alumni to sing on the project. It is interesting to note that this will not only mark the group’s 50th year of ministry, but it will also be tenor Matt Felts’ first recording with them. All in all, it is shaping up to be a project well worth the purchase

  • Speaking of the Dixie Melody Boys, it’s looking like they will be at NQC after all. In the first Singing News Showcase (the “straw poll” for the Fan Awards), the group will appear with both current members and alumni to celebrate their anniversary. It will be interesting to see exactly who will be on the stage among the alumni (the Ed O’Neal University has many graduates!)
  • Statement of Faith Trio has reorganized as Promise. Lead Joe Kitson and David Mann, along with TJ Evans starting in June, will make up the new group. Mann’s wife Jael will be filling in on tenor until Evans can join. Tenor Jacob Kitson’s plans are to be announced, so be looking for more on this story next week.