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

Mark Trammell Quartet and The Whisnants To Release Christmas Project

October 10, 2014 By: Aaron Category: Mark Trammell Quartet, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Whisnants

It’s quickly approaching the time of year when many artists decide to release Christmas-themed projects. This year, it’s a team effort between the Mark Trammell Quartet and The Whisnants:

(Morganton, NC) October 10, 2014 – United Independent Artists (UIA), for the first time releases a Christmas CD combining the family harmony of the Whisnants with the traditional sounds of the Mark Trammell Quartet in a twelve track project titled “Home For Christmas.”  The CD’s official release date is November 3, 2014 and will be available for purchase on both group websites www.whisnants.com and www.marktrammellministries.com.

Home For Christmas features twelve songs recorded by the Mark Trammell Quartet and the Whisnants.  Selections on the project include the groups singing together and individually as well as featuring new songs and traditional carols.  “We decided to do this CD together,” Mark Trammell explains, “when Jeff Whisnant was looking to record a new Christmas project around the same time I was.  When folks heard we were doing this, they asked if we could put together a Christmas program as well.”  Jeff Whisnant adds, “I haven’t been this excited about anything in a long time as I am about the Home For Christmas project.  We are so pleased to collaborate with our friends the Mark Trammell Quartet; we love and appreciate what these men stand for.”

Pre-sales for this project will begin on October 10th, and can be found on both artists websites (links found above).  In addition to the pre-release, The Mark Trammell Quartet and the Whisnants are hosting a special online event in celebration of their first recording together.  This event will take place on the official release date, November 3rd, and will feature exclusive information and unique interaction for fans from both artists.  The event is open to the public – anyone who can access the internet via computer, smart phone or tablet can join for free.  To receive updates and join this online event, visit www.homeforchristmaslaunchparty.com.  Though the event does not begin until November 3st, those wishing to join are encouraged to do so now.

United Independent Artists (UIA) began in 1997 with Jeff and Susan Whisnant at the helm and consists of artists who record independently from recording labels.  Artists such as Greater Vision, The Mark Trammell Quartet, Booth Brothers, Taylors and others use UIA in radio promotions.  UIA is behind #1 songs such as Greater Vision’s “Preacher Tell Me Like It Is,” Booth Brothers “Look For Me At Jesus Feet,” Mark Trammell Quartet’s “I Want To Know” and other successful songs in the industry.     www.uiamusic.com

It is worth noting that this will be the first MTQ release to feature Randy Byrd on bass vocals.

Big News From IMC Concerts

April 15, 2013 By: Aaron Category: Ernie Haase and Signature Sound, Greater Vision, Legacy Five, Mark Trammell Quartet, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a steady buzz building on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter of a “big announcement” coming today from IMC Concerts. The announcement hits at 9:00 PM EST, but for now, the floor is open for guesses as to what the news entails.

My guess (and what seems to be a consensus among the posts I’ve seen) is that this is a Cathedrals Reunion event, and possibly even a full tour. The evidence is this: the groups that have been posting and hinting at the announcement include Legacy Five, Greater Vision, Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, and the Mark Trammell Quartet, at least (there may be more that I’ve missed). The common thread among all of those groups is that they each contain one former member of The Cathedrals.

For years, Legacy Five, Greater Vision, Mark Trammell Trio/Quartet, and Danny Funderburk have done select concerts under the name of “Remembering The Music,” which were Cathedrals tribute events, just without the group name. I remember attending one several years ago in Winston-Salem, NC that was entitled “Remembering The Cathedrals,” but the name changed shortly thereafter. I would guess that, with the addition of Ernie Haase’s group to the usual lineup, the Cathedrals name could be used again for these events, but I’m not privy to how that all works (who actually owns the name or has permission to use it, among other things). No word so far on whether other Cathedrals alumni will be a part of the event/tour, but it will be interesting to find out if the general guess is correct.

There are some silhouette pictures of the photo shoot on Facebook here and here.

Check back here around 9:00 for the official announcement, and feel free to leave your guesses in the comments section!

Update: In light of the tragedy in Boston, the announcement has been postponed until tomorrow at 9:00 PM Eastern.

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.

CD Review: Greater Vision – The Only Way

October 08, 2011 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, Greater Vision, SG Artists, SG Music

Rating: 4 stars

Producer: Gerald Wolfe
Label: Daywind Records
Website: www.greatervisionmusic.com

Song titles: He Didn’t When He Could’ve Passed By; Safe Within His Hand; No Longer Chained; I Know A Man Who Can; He’s The Only Way; Like I Wish I’d Lived; But God; We Still Have To Pray; Eternity’s About To Begin; Heaven Can’t Be Far Away; Another Child’s Coming Home

Buy Project Here

Since the release of Not Alone in 2008, the group has undergone a period of transition that saw the return of the trio’s original tenor, Chris Allman. Though Allman’s voice has been heard on the Jubilee 2 project, Welcome Back (a collection of studio re-recordings of recent Greater Vision songs), and a spectacular independent Christmas release, this is his first “true” mainline release since his return to the road. This is also the first mainline project in a number of years without Lari Goss producing; that task went to lead singer Gerald Wolfe this time around.

Unless you have been living under a rock since around April 2010, you’ve heard the buzz that Chris Allman has generated (and continues to generate) with his vocals, that have only improved with time. Those are a highlight reel all throughout The Only Way, with tenor features ranging from the prayerful “Like I Wish I’d Lived,” to the upbeat “Eternity’s About To Begin,” to the Kirk Talley signature that has gone over very well for Allman in concert settings, “I Know A Man Who Can.” Though the latter is usually done with just piano and bass guitar accompaniment when sung live, the studio version is no less spectacular. He also closes the CD with a song from his own pen that could go very far for him in terms of garnering attention for his songwriting skills, “Another Child’s Coming Home.”

Allman and Rodney Griffin got the lion’s share of songwriting done on this project; Griffin has four songs (one of which he co-wrote with Twila LaBar, “But God”), Allman has three, and the two co-wrote one. “He Didn’t When He Could’ve Passed By” could be a good radio single, and I predict that “No Longer Chained” will become another “Rodney Griffin signature” song. Gerald Wolfe revives “But God,” a tune that the late Roger Bennett of Legacy Five sang on his final project, Live In Music City, and though the delivery is different between the two, Wolfe’s emotion shows throughout and makes it an equally well-done rendition. While I prefer the original recording of “Heaven Can’t Be Far Away” (as recorded by the original Greater Vision), it is a nice inclusion here, though it could have been left off without a real gap in the music.

Greater Vision’s sound with Allman’s return is solid, and this project affirms that very well. Another thing this project accomplishes is giving a taste of what the production value will be when Lari Goss can no longer sit in the producer’s chair; Wolfe did a fine job with it on this effort. The Only Way receives a solid 4 stars.


CD Review: Promise – Promise

September 24, 2011 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, Promise, SG Artists, SG Music

Rating: 5 stars

Producer: Gerald Wolfe
Label: Independent Release
Website: www.promisetrio.com

Song titles: Don’t Try To Tell Me; Tell Me The Story of Jesus; New Wine; Land of Living; Whosoever Will; I’ve Got A Love; He Is Mine; On A Journey; There Is A River; Happy Tracks

When the Statement of Faith trio disbanded earlier this year after group founder Jacob Kitson’s departure, two of the members, baritone David Mann and lead Joe Kitson, teamed up with tenor TJ Evans to reorganize as Promise. Kitson soon left, however, and Mann and Evans called their mutual friend James Bell to fill the tenor spot as Evans moved down to lead. With the release of the trio’s debut project, the Southern Gospel music world gets a formal introduction to Promise.

This CD, produced by Gerald Wolfe, features ten Greater Vision songs from the 90s. Wolfe provided the original tracks to the group, and thankfully, they are all songs that haven’t been re-recorded to death. The real question is whether or not the trio is relying so heavily on the Greater Vision influence that they themselves are just becoming a “lesser Greater Vision,” so to speak. When a group does a project of this nature, they run the risk of producing copied versions of the earlier recordings that may or may not stack up. The fact that this is the group’s first project also gives them the challenge of defining their sound, and the combination of these factors makes for a tricky musical situation. Has Promise avoided the pitfall of becoming “GV Lite?”

The answer, thankfully, is yes.

While the tracks are indeed the ones used in the original versions, the singers deliver the songs in a way that very much makes them their own. To illustrate this, I’ll use one of the better known songs on the project, “He Is Mine.” On this song especially, the group will undoubtedly be held under close scrutiny because of the song’s popularity when it came out, and Mark Trammell’s great performance of it. While Mann has drawn comparisons to Trammell from a lot of bloggers and readers in recent months, he does not deliberately go for a Trammell-esque delivery, instead opting to put his own nuances into the song. On the final chorus, the group sings it pretty straightforward until the last notes, when the tenor takes it up, rather than giving the standout to the baritone as in the original. Little differences like that show up all throughout this project, and the versions stand on their own. Other highlights include TJ Evans’ take on a Gerald Wolfe signature, “Land of Living,” and James Bell singing “Whosoever Will.”

I know this seems like an awfully positive, optimistic review for a group’s first project, but honestly, there’s really nothing to complain about. You would be hard pressed to believe that this trio is entering their third month of existence with the blend that they possess. I’m sure it helps that they sang together in college, but there are enough years in between that it would be like starting over now. Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that the voices “click,” and the result is a project of covers that doesn’t sound like a project of covers. To use a horrible pun, Promise shows great promise with this first project. Time will tell whether a collection of original songs will continue their upward trend, but for now, they have a lot of things going for them and have a lot to be proud of here. Promise’s self-titled debut receives 5 stars.

CD Review: Greater Vision – Everything Christmas

December 24, 2010 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, Greater Vision, SG Artists, SG Music

Rating: 5 stars

Producers: Lari Goss and Gerald Wolfe
Label: Greater Vision Music
Website: www.greatervisionmusic.com

Buy Here

Track list: Everything Christmas (Overture); God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen; Do You Hear What I Hear?; A Cradle In Bethlehem; It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year; O Holy Night; Sleigh Ride; I Heard The Bells; Grace Has A Face; There’s No Place Like Home For The Holidays/I’ll Be Home For Christmas

I’m a pretty hard sell on Christmas music.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not the type that rages against the fact that we are bombarded with the stuff on the radio starting shortly after Thanksgiving and lasting till what seems like an eternity when Christmas rolls around. I will say, however, that I get bored with it really easily. After all, when all of your major radio stations in your car are blaring it, you tend to just go on autopilot and tune it out.

The same goes for Southern Gospel Christmas music. Every year, you’ll have at least a couple groups come out with a brand-new Christmas project, and most of them fail to stand out. In fact, they are downright lackluster. Needless to say, I was kind of wary about this particular project for that reason, but when I saw Lari Goss’ name in the credits, I knew that it couldn’t be that bad.

I’m glad to say my instinct was correct; the long-time team of Goss & Greater Vision have churned out a Christmas album that features classy arrangements of both Christmas classics and more recent songs. Most of the songs incorporate background vocals by the Voices of Lee, which further enhances the big sound of the album. The full-orchestra sound that Goss is famous for incorporating is in full swing here, even kicking off the project with an overture of music that includes “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year,” “Unspeakable Joy,” “Joy To The World,” “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” “Hark The Herald Angels Sing,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” “The First Noel,” “Gloria In Excelsis Deo,” and “Angels From The Realms of Glory.”

The first vocal performance of the project comes in the form of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” which features an arrangement not unlike the one The Cathedrals did on 1985’s A Cathedral Christmas A Cappella, although this one does have instrumentation. The trio takes a quartet arrangement and very ably makes it their own. The return of Chris Allman on tenor is made very prominent throughout the piece, and really kicks up on the last two verses. Speaking of Allman, if one has been under a rock for the past year, he need only listen to this project to hear that he has not lost a thing over the years; his feature on last verse of “Do You Hear What I Hear” is absolutely stellar. I can honestly say I did not expect that from a Greater Vision tenor, as they usually do not venture into that territory of high notes, but Allman handles it with aplomb.

Other highlights include Rodney Griffin’s take on a soft ballad with “A Cradle In Bethlehem” and Gerald Wolfe’s signature performance of “O Holy Night,” but really, there’s not a bad track on the project. Christmas projects usually have one or two “sleeper” songs, but I was pleasantly surprised with every single one here.

Bottom line: If you’re tired of the same boring Christmas music every year, let Everything Christmas rescue you from that. This project gets 5 stars.

NQC 2010 CD Review List

September 25, 2010 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, NQC, SG Artists, SG Music

As was the case last year, I came home from this year’s National Quartet Convention with a lengthy list of projects up for review. Here’s the lineup. This is not necessarily the order in which they will be reviewed; some I may try to review around the holidays or other events like the street release date, as will be the case with Ernie Haase & Signature Sound’s A Tribute to The Cathedral Quartet and Gold City’s Somebody’s Coming (once the pre-order comes in.)

1. Three Bridges – Refined
2. The PerrysBlue Skies
3. Triumphant Quartet – Love Came Calling
4. Brian Free & Assurance – Never Walk Alone
5. Ernie Haase & Signature Sound – A Tribute to The Cathedral Quartet
6. The Greenes – Hallelujah
7. Legacy FiveGive The World A Smile
8. Gold City – Somebody’s Coming
9. Tribute Quartet – Hit Replay
10. The LeFevre Quartet Encore
11. Gold City – A Collection of Favorites, Vol. 1
12. Booth Brothers, Greater Vision, & Legacy Five – Jubilee Two
13. The Inspirations – On The Sunrise Side
14. The Dixie Echoes – Golden Celebration
15. Mark Trammell Quartet – Testimony
16. Crystal River – Start A Revival
17. Greater Vision – Welcome Back
18. Greater Vision – Everything Christmas
19. Statement of Faith – Statement of Faith

CD Review: Mark Trammell Trio – Always Have A Song

September 20, 2008 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, Mark Trammell Trio, SG Artists, SG Music

Rating: 4 stars

Label: Daywind Records
Producers: Dottie Leonard Miller & Wayne Haun
Website: www.marktrammellministries.com

1. I Know That I Know – The album opens up a very standard SG-sounding song that, while probably not meaning to be, is an affirmative answer to the opening track of Greater Vision’s new project (a song called “I Want To Know That You Know”.) The track does a great job of displaying MTT’s great three-part harmony.

2. Loving The Lamb – Soft piano and orchestration open up this ballad, a song style that the group showed they are really good at on their last project, Once Upon A Cross. Mark Trammell gets the first solo of the project on the second verse. This track is a long one, clocking in at 5:10, but it does not drag at all; rather, the song builds to a majestic finish. I understand that this is the first single off of the album; this could very well be the next “Once Upon A Cross” for the guys.

3. Called In, Called Up, Called Out – This track’s chorus reminds me of “Moving The Hand Of God” on the group’s previous album, but the tempo is a bit faster. The second verse once again features Trammell.

4. What Good Would A Crown Be – Dustin Sweatman is featured on this song from the pen of Rodney Griffin. I like the perspective of the song; many times, an SG tune speaks of us getting to heaven and wearing a robe and crown, etc. Griffin gives us a different, thought-provoking point, asking the question, “What good would a crown be in the presence of royalty?” Dustin does a great job on the delivery.

5. Safe On The Glory Side – Tenor Eric Phillips sings this song that is one of my favorites of the project (and a hit at concerts nowadays.) A country-style instrumentation drives this toe-tapper, and Eric gets let loose near the end with some high notes. Very catchy, a different sound for the group, and would probably do well on radio.

6. If God Said It, I Believe It – This jazzy tune features the group in unison on the verses, with Dustin Sweatman’s solo lines interspersed. Nice little song, but nothing that sticks out immediately.

7. At The Whisper Of His Name – Eric Phillips steps out front for this slow song. I found myself hitting the skip button halfway through; the tempo dragged just a bit.

8. I Always Have A Song To Sing – The album’s title track is a fast track with some cool piano work at the beginning. Mark Trammell displays some of his higher range on the second verse, and the track sounds like something from Greater Vision’s songbook.

9. If Only Just A Few – This is my absolute favorite song on the album. Mark Trammell delivers one of his finest performances ever on this powerful slow song. I thought that he was displaying his higher range on the previous track, but I was blown away in the final moments of the track. Trammell hits some awesome notes that most other baritones only dream of hitting, getting into the low tenor range! He proves why he’s one of SG History’s best baritone singers.

10. Coming Out And Moving In – The project closes out with another standard SG sounding track. Once again, great harmony. Good choice to close the album.

Final Thoughts: The Mark Trammell Trio hit their stride in 2006 with Once Upon A Cross, and this project continues that trend. Sure, there’s one or two songs I didn’t care for, but that was the opinion I had of the last album as well. Every position in this group is filled with stellar vocalists, and Mark Trammell is only getting better with age! I was very pleased with this effort.

Next Review: The Mike LeFevre Quartet – Nothin’ But Good

CD Review: Greater Vision – Not Alone

September 16, 2008 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, Greater Vision, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

Rating: 4 stars

Label: Daywind Records
Producer: Lari Goss
Website: www.greatervisionmusic.com
Buy Here

1. I Want To Know That You Know – The album opens up with a song that quickly proves that this album sheds the stripped-down sound that the preceding album, Everyday People, had. This catchy tune from the pen of Marty Funderburk and Steve Marshall had me humming along in no time. It was a great decision to ship this to radio first.

2. You Were Faithful Yesterday – Unlike the first track, this track does have the stripped down sound, save for a lone fiddle in the background. The song has a standard, mid-tempo SG feel. Newcomer Jacob Kitson gets his first feature on the second verse, and lets the listener know that Greater Vision made a great choice for Jason Waldroup’s replacement.

3. Meet Him At Calvary – This country-sounding song features Gerald Wolfe showcasing his lower range on this slow track. I really like this track; the featured singer’s voice compliments the music track well, and it’s a great song by itself.

4. It Pays To Pray – Rodney Griffin wrote and is featured on this slow song about the power of prayer for your unsaved friends. This song may very well be the next “Faces”; a great message combined with stellar music make this song one of my favorites of the project.

5. Share It With Jesus – Yet another slow song that features Gerald Wolfe. A nice track, but not one that stuck out to me.

6. He Is Loved – The fourth slow song in a row, this time bringing Jacob Kitson out front. Good orchestration with sax provide the accompaniment, and Jacob proves that he can carry a ballad as well as any tenor out there. A quiet inclusion of a bit of the song “I Love You Lord” has some smooth blends, and the track ends very reflectively and quietly.

7. I’ve Been To The Bottom – The tempo finally picks up a bit to the mid-tempo range on this Rodney Griffin song and feature. Very jazzy track, and it works well for a song like this.

8. Born To Serve The Lord – The album slows back down for a song that has an intro similar to Legacy Five’s “In His Grip.” This style of song is one that GV pulls off very well. Jacob Kitson leads a throwback to “I Will Serve Thee” before the final bit of the track.

9. The Source Of My Song – The album speeds up again with this happy little tune about Jesus giving us a song to sing. The track is one I’ve found myself singing a lot. Good product of the pen of Rodney Griffin.

10. You’re Not Forsaken – The final song on the album is yet another ballad with orchestration backing the group. It gives the project a powerful finish that should do well for itself among Greater Vision’s repertoire of songs.

Final Thoughts: Greater Vision’s newest project proves that the trio hasn’t skipped a beat with the addition of Jacob Kitson at tenor. Oftentimes, he sounds like his predecessor, Jason Waldroup, while at the same time sounding much fuller and thereby giving the group a fuller sound as well.

My only complaint with this album is that the pace drags in it’s middle. As I stated earlier, GV pulls off the slow song like few other groups can, but having too much at once can make the listener grow bored with the album.

But boy, are there some great songs on here, which is why this album is a great addition to Greater Vision’s discography.