Aaron Swain's blog about Southern Gospel Music, News, and other items of interest in the SG world.
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Gaither Vocal Band Welcomes Adam Crabb; Still Seeking Fifth Member

January 10, 2014 By: Aaron Category: Adam Crabb, Gaither Vocal Band, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

In an email today, Bill Gaither confirmed what many had already speculated:

We are thrilled to welcome Adam Crabb aboard as the newest member of The Gaither Vocal Band!  Adam comes to us with years of musical expertise, including on-stage and studio work as a member of award-winning Crabb Family, and as a solo artist and worship leader.

Bill Gaither is grateful and excited about the future! He says, “For decades now, we have reinvented the Gaither Vocal Band again and again, and in the process we have found some of the most incredible male singers and wonderful human beings on the planet. Adam is a very exciting addition to this 30-year legacy of excellence.”

As for whether or not the GVB will maintain a five-man lineup, Gaither had this to say:

“We are taking our time and trying out some wonderful individuals during the next few weeks. You will see some very gifted guest artists out on the tour with us as we seek the perfect fit.  Trust me. You do not want to miss the chance to see what is about to happen as we enter this new season.”

Let the speculation continue! For now, here’s a look at how Adam fits with the group. This is a compilation of clips, and the whole thing is worth watching, but for the songs that directly feature Adam, skip to 1:07, 2:55, and 4:41:

Mark Lowry, Michael English Leaving The Gaither Vocal Band

October 28, 2013 By: Aaron Category: Gaither Vocal Band, Michael English, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

Talk started late last week that there may be changes for the GVB when it was noted that Mark Lowry was not listed on the roster for concerts in Spring 2014. This morning, Lowry posted a video announcing that he is departing the group, citing the reason as being a desire to slow down and focus on solo dates more. He says a press release will be sent out today and that he will remain with the group through the rest of this year, and will still appear at events like Family Fest.

Later update: I have updated the title of the post to reflect the news that just hit. Apparently, Mark is not the only one leaving the GVB. A press release has been posted on the Gaither website saying that Michael English is also leaving, effective immediately:

Nearly five years ago, when Bill Gaither created an all-star version of the Gaither Vocal Band, the returning GVB members were managing solo careers and added the Gaither Vocal Band’s tour dates, video tapings and recordings to their existing schedules.  Now, after trying to manage both solo careers and Gaither Vocal Band responsibilities, Mark Lowry and Michael English are ready for a new season of life that is not so demanding.

“When I rejoined the Gaither Vocal Band in 2009, I figured it wouldn’t be a long-term commitment since Bill was over 70 years old,” Mark says, adding, “That was nearly five years ago and Bill’s bucket list is wearing me out!  But the Vocal Band is a family.  We come and we go, but we never REALLY leave.  I could pop up anywhere at any time!”

Mark Lowry will fulfill his Gaither Vocal Band concert commitments through the end of 2013. Michael English has already concluded his last regular Gaither Vocal Band concert as the lead singer, but we look forward to having him join us for Gaither Fest in Myrtle Beach and other future events. We have confirmed Mark Lowry for the 2014 Caribbean Cruise and Family Fest 2014.  Besides those two events, if you want to hear the Gaither Vocal Band with Mark Lowry singing baritone, the concerts remaining in 2013 will be your last opportunity! Check www.gaither.com for upcoming tour dates and ticket information.  Check Michael’s website,www.michaelenglishmusic.com, for solo concerts in a city near you.  And check for Mark Lowry’s solo dates at www.marklowry.com.

Bill Gaither states, “I am grateful that we have had five bonus years with these incredibly talented artists. Thank you, thank you to Michael and Mark.  For those of you who have followed the Vocal Band for the past 25 years, you know that I have worked with some of the most talented male vocalists in our field, and I promise you we are not going to let that standard down in this transition. I am sad to see Michael and Mark leaving, yet I am so excited about the new possibilities we are considering.  So stay tuned for an exciting voyage in 2014!  We will update you when we have made final decisions.”

At this point, the future personnel of the GVB is anyone’s guess. While this chapter of the group’s history is drawing to a close, the “all-star five-man group” was an awesome period that I’m glad to have witnessed.

Update: Here’s a statement from Michael English:

Want everyone to know I appreciate all your love and support over the years. The last 5 years with the GVB have been very enjoyable for me and I will miss the guys.
Like Mark this was a very difficult decision but one I feel at peace with. I will be enjoying more time off and able to pursue other opportunities. It will be a new day for Michael English but one I am very excited about. Hope to see many of you at solo shows in the future!

NQC 2012 Thoughts: Thursday

September 14, 2012 By: Aaron Category: NQC, SG Artists, SG Music

Today was another busy day at NQC, and most of the evening found me in the exhibit hall visiting with friends. I will say that it was nice to finally meet Brian Crout in person! I thoroughly enjoy reading his blog and am looking forward to his notes on the week. Since I wasn’t in the audience for the evening concerts most the time, my thoughts on those are few, but I do have some observations from the day:

1. While Gaither still hasn’t successfully gotten every Gaither Vocal Band alum back together, it was nice to see Guy Penrod back. I appreciated the fact that the showcase wasn’t a rehash of the videos or last year’s reunion; there were plenty of moments that made it an event all it’s own. While I would have liked to hear Penrod featured more, it was nice to hear “Baptism of Jesse Taylor” again. Closing with “Glorious Freedom,” was a wise move; it’s a powerful song, and served as a sort of “teaser” for the GVB’s newest project, Pure and Simple.

2. In the “Things That Make You Wonder” department: did anybody else notice that Gene McDonald was on stage and singing for the Gaither Vocal Band Reunion? The wishful thinker in me wants that to be foreshadowing for something big…

3. While there were several repeated stories from last year, the “Funniest Stories” showcase is brilliant. The concept itself is great and well executed; it almost plays like sitting around a table at a restaurant somewhere swapping stories, except the audience is privy to the discussion. I would love to see a revolving cast each year, bringing in different artists with different stories each time.

4. Of the sets I did see in the evening concerts, two stood out. First, Tribute Quartet produced what was easily their strongest set since being on NQC Main Stage, and I don’t say that lightly. From song selection to the vocals, it was a testament to the group’s development. “Good News From Jerusalem,” in particular, was met with strong response.

The other set that stood out was Greater Vision’s, partly because of Gerald Wolfe’s generous move in bringing up an A Capella trio to sing the Doxology. Great sound, lots of potential, and very cool of Greater Vision to give up a portion of their time to spotlight a young group.

NQC 2012 News

February 15, 2012 By: Aaron Category: NQC, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

It’s about that time of year again: the time when there’s a new development in the upcoming National Quartet Convention’s schedule on a pretty much regular basis. Two news items have come down the pipe today:

1. The NQC has added the NQC Music Awards, taking the place of the Singing News Fan Awards. This will take place at a Friday afternoon showcase.

The Fan Awards have been at Dollywood the past couple of years and will continue to be held there this year. The absence of the awards show has arguably taken away much of the buzz that used to come with NQC, especially near the end of the week. The wrinkle that separates these new accolades from the old is that there are two divisions to the awards; one is voted upon by fans, and the other is voted upon by “music professionals,” which is defined as those who are exhibitors during the National Quartet Convention. Color me intrigued; perhaps this will help to fill in the “empty” feeling that has hung around NQC these past couple of years.

2. The initial draft of the Showcase Schedule has been posted. Notable additions include:

  • The Gaither Vocal Band Reunion Encore. This is intriguing. I’m hoping that there will be songs picked for this time that weren’t featured on the videos or in the showcase last year. The GVB catalog is broad enough that they can bring out the stuff that hasn’t been revived to death. I’m hoping this will also bring back some of the alumni who haven’t been present at any of the reunion events (Terry Franklin, Jonathan Pierce… heck, how about Lemuel Miller?) I noticed that Guy Penrod gets his own dedicated showcase the same afternoon as this one, but that is done in plenty of time for him to be able to attend the Reunion this year.
  • There’s another Crabb Family reunion showcase. I remember the last one being at NQC 2008, and I enjoyed it for the most part. I also remember it featuring most of their latter, more progressive material, and witnessed a large number of folks walking out on the showcase. Perhaps the Crabbs will play it safer this time around?
  • Tim Parton is reviving the Parade of Pianos. This showcase, originally done by Anthony Burger, then done by Roger Bennett, hasn’t been around in any capacity since Gerald Wolfe hosting it in 2008. The NQC Board wisely gave Dino his own showcase that year, saving the Parade of Pianos from becoming the Dino Show as it had in years past. I’m looking forward to seeing the collection of pianists that Parton puts together.
  • Lari Goss is getting a tribute showcase this year. Well-deserved, and it’s about time! The Hoppers, Greater Vision, Legacy Five, The Booth Brothers, and others will be a part.

NQC 2011: Thursday Observations

September 15, 2011 By: Aaron Category: NQC, SG Artists, SG Music

Some thoughts on the day’s events:

1. I caught the Gaither Vocal Band reunion on the webcast this afternoon. I largely enjoyed it, Penrod’s absolutely unmentioned/unacknowledged absence aside. Buddy Mullins and Marshall Hall split most of the duties for his parts; I’d forgotten how darn talented Mullins is as a singer. Larnelle Harris has got to be nearing or past 60 years old, and the dude can still bring it! Unfortunately, sound issues plagued the set. It took at least four songs for Lee Young’s mic to be properly turned up. Head over to Southern Gospel Back Row for a song list.

2. Set of the night, from a musical standpoint, probably could go to the Dixie Echoes. The newly revamped lineup with new tenor Michael Helwig and new bass Mike Jennings brought their A-game tonight, along with an expanded band with guitars, drums, and a harmonica in addition to the usual piano and bass guitar. Best song of the set came in the form of “Walk With Me,” highlighting a tenor sound that is fuller and more robust than previous tenors for the group have been. Truly a powerhouse sound. Though the baritone/bass mic seemed to not be mixed in correctly for the ensemble singing, the group still showed that they have come through these changes with a fine sound.

3. From an emotional standpoint, the award has to go to The Isaacs. They sang a new song, “I’m Gonna Love You Through It,” which the kids wrote in honor of their mother’s fight with breast cancer (which she has survived for a number of years.) Halfway through, different artists came on stage with large signs: Dean Hopper held one up with the number of years Connie Hopper has been cancer-free, and others held signs of their own to signify their cancer struggles: Scoot Shelnut, Jeff & Sheri Easter, etc. The one that got me? Ray Dean Reese’s sign: “Diagnosed in 2011. Would appreciate your prayers,” or something to that effect. He was, understandably, looking very emotional, and I had to wipe away a few tears myself. What a moment…

Heading out tomorrow to see the NQC for myself tomorrow and Saturday. Looking forward to a great weekend!

CD Review: Gaither Vocal Band – Greatly Blessed

August 13, 2010 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, Gaither Vocal Band, SG Artists, SG Music

Rating: 5 stars

Producers: Bill Gaither, David Phelps, & Michael English
Label: Gaither Music Group
Website: www.gaither.com

Buy Here

This project was purchased directly from the artist. This fact has no bearing on the final rating.

1. Better Day – The project starts off with a song that will be familiar to those who have seen the last DVD that the Vocal Band put out, as it was the title track. There are a few subtle differences in vocal arrangement and instrumentation from the live version, which make it more than just the studio version of a song that was previously introduced in a live setting. This track displays the smooth harmonies of the five-man lineup right up front and whets the listener’s appetite for the rest of the project, which makes it a good choice for an opener.

2. When He Blest My Soul – Like the previous track, this song was already featured on a DVD release. There’s added instrumentation here also, most notably the driving brass section that work with the organ and piano to inject energy into the song. The vocal arrangement is outstanding, most notably with David Phelps and Wes Hampton’s parts interchanging throughout the final chorus. While Gold City is the group that comes to my mind when this song is mentioned, the Vocal Band has a version that is just as good.

3. Love Like I’m Leavin’ – This is the third and final track that has already been introduced elsewhere. Nothing much differs between this take and the live one, but the studio version better highlights some of the vocal subtleties in the group harmonies.

4. You Are My All In All – In the first “new” song on the project, David Phelps’ arranging skills are brought to bear on this CCM classic. A cello brings in the start, and Pachelbel’s Canon in D is interwoven throughout the song with an acoustic guitar and violins. Phelps is featured on the verses, and keeps it pretty low-key for the most part before taking it up into classic power-tenor mode for the final chorus. Phelps’ arrangements are something the Vocal Band sorely missed, and this is a perfect example of why.

5. Please Forgive Me – This Crabb Family hit gets an orchestrated treatment and features Michael English. The emotion with which English sings is evident throughout the first verse and carries throughout the song. Some very smooth harmonies are sprinkled into the second verse, and then after the second chorus, an arpeggiated vocal lead-in brings in a powerful final chorus. This is one of the highlights of the disc, showcasing both the group’s power harmony and how much vocal strength English still has.

6. Greatly Blessed, Highly Favored – Right off the bat, you get the sensation you’ve heard this song before. That’s because, technically, you have. This Larry Gatlin and Bill Gaither cooperation takes the melody and rhythm of the Gatlin Brothers hit, “All The Gold In California” and changes the words to convey the message of being a “Greatly blessed, highly favored, imperfect but forgiven child of God.” Wes Hampton takes the solo on the verse, and while the song is a definite re-write of a popular country tune, it thankfully manages to avoid the cheesiness factor and stands on its own two feet.

7. He’s Alive – Fans of Don Francisco or owners of David Phelps’ rare pre-Gaither solo project, Journey To Grace, will recognize this track. David Phelps displays that he can tell a story with a lyric like few other singers can, and while the final chorus is half a step lower than his solo take, the wall of five voices give it extra punch, and his suspended high note is no less powerful.

8. Ain’t Nobody – This song displays one of the most unique sounds on the album. This Michael English feature features some very precise group harmonies to start out, with Bill Gaither singing half a beat in front of the group, making for an interesting sound. I can’t quite put my finger on how to describe this track, but funky would be the best term. It’s bouncy, progressive, and different.

9. Clean – David Phelps displays a smooth, soft delivery on this Bill Gaither & Larry Gatlin creation. Wes Hampton is above Phelps on the tenor line, giving the backup lines by the rest of the group a very full sound that really takes the track to the next level.

10. Muddy Water – It’s back to the funky, gritty sound on this one. English’s vocal riffs at the beginning are reminiscent of those of Guy Penrod on the title track of the group’s 2008 project, Lovin’ Life. Gordon Mote supplies some very nice piano riffs throughout, and Bill Gaither’s standout bass lines on the last lines of the choruses are probably the strongest on the project.

11. That Sounds Like Home To Me – This Goodman’s classic hasn’t been covered all that much, so this was a good choice for a song to update. The group gives it a swing feel and the vocals display a tight sound not unlike what you would find on a Booth Brothers project. Michael English takes the first verse (which is only fitting, since he was in the 1982 Goodmans group that sang the song), and Mark Lowry is featured on the second. David Phelps leads an almost-acapella final chorus before the instruments come back in on the last half and bring the song to a soft close.

12. I Know How To Say Thank You – Mark Lowry gets his first full feature on the album with this song that many may know from when it was sung on a Homecoming video by Sarah DeLane and Marshall Hall. Mark’s tones have become fuller and richer with time, and this is one of his finest performances to date. A powerful final chorus brings all five parts in before softening up again for a quiet finish.

13. He Is Here – Wes Hampton takes a song that Kirk Talley is well-known for writing and singing and puts his own spin on it. Wes was a good tenor when he first joined the Vocal Band, but has really come into his own in his time with the group, and even more so in the five-man lineup, and this track proves it. The soaring melody brings out probably his best solo feature in his tenure with the group. A subdued choir in the background closes out the project with a fadeout.

Final thoughts: The past couple of projects that the Gaither Vocal Band had recorded had many people, including this blogger, wondering if Bill Gaither was bringing in the twilight of the Vocal Band and planning to retire. Other than a couple decent songs, there just seemed to be something lacking in the music. A lineup change that led to an unprecedented five members in the Vocal Band and the return of Michael English, David Phelps, and Mark Lowry to the ranks injected new excitement in the group, and the sound was incredible. The first project by the new group, Reunited, was good, but it had people longing for the group to do something truly new.

Greatly Blessed is that something new. Every vocalist is at the top of their game here, and the song selection and arrangements hearken back to both the vocal prowess of Phelps’ days with the group and the creativity of both that era and English’s first run. Part of the beauty of having five people is hearing how the parts are structured on each song; Wes Hampton and David Phelps do their fair share of swapping the tenor part, which make for some interesting background harmonies on each song.

Bottom line: This Vocal Band’s first real product of new material is a breath of fresh air into their discography, as it gives the group a chance to explore with different styles and use the five vocal parts to create a unique sound. There is simply no reason that Greatly Blessed should not get 5 stars.

New Gaither Vocal Band CD

January 29, 2010 By: Jeremy Bell Category: Gaither Vocal Band, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

According to a Wes Hampton facebook post, the Gaither Vocal Band has completed vocals on 9 songs for a new CD. The untitled CD should have a total of 14 songs and is due out probably early summer. I am personally looking forward to some new material becuase I thought there would be more on the 2 CD / DVD combo that was just released.