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

First Look: Michael Helwig with The Blackwood Brothers

October 10, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Brothers, First Look, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, Youtube

In the course of the week, Youtube user MannaAcres posted several videos of the new lineup of the Blackwood Brothers in concert. These are the first videos of the group since Jimmy Blackwood’s recent retirement. You can go to the link above to see the rest of the videos, but I’ll just post a few that highlight what Helwig brings to the table:

What strikes me about these clips is how seamlessly the transition has been pulled off. Michael stepped into a huge void left by Jimmy Blackwood, but has brought a voice that is very similar to a Blackwood lead, while being unique enough to carve his own niche. Fans of the group that lamented the Blackwood Brothers sound being completely changed will find a lot to enjoy with this lineup.

The Blackwood Brothers Announce Changes

September 28, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Brothers, Promise, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

This group may not have been at NQC, but here’s a lineup change that may herald the start of the “NQC Turnover” season. The Blackwood Brothers made this announcement early this morning on their Facebook page:

The Blackwood Brothers Quartet announced the retirement of lead singer, Jimmy Blackwood tonight at the Bartlett Performing Arts Center. New singer is Mike Helwig. He has a great voice and will be a great asset to the quartet.

Jimmy Blackwood has a long history in Southern Gospel music, starting with JD Sumner and the Stamps in the 1960s, as well as with his father James Blackwood’s group, the Blackwood Brothers, in the 70s and 80s. When I saw the group in concert a few weeks ago, I was struck with the energy and power with which he sang. While seeing an announcement about his retirement is somewhat of a shock, I wish him all the best, and am glad to know that the group will be carrying on under the leadership of his brother (and group baritone singer), Billy Blackwood.

That leads us to the new addition: Mike Helwig. Fans of Southern Gospel music will recognize him as the recent tenor of The Dixie Echoes, but his résumé also includes The Torchmen, The Stamps, The Wilburns, The Williamsons, The Blackwood Quartet, and, most recently, Promise. Helwig is leaving the tenor position with Promise to take the lead singing job for this quartet, and the group has picked a vocalist that fits their style and direction very well.

But why take my word for it? Hear for yourself! Here are two videos of the same song: “Jesus Is Coming Soon.” The first features Jimmy Blackwood with the current lineup of the Blackwood Brothers, and the second features incoming lead Mike Helwig during his time with the Blackwood Quartet (especially on the encore).