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

Woodsmen Quartet Welcomes Two New Members

February 20, 2014 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, Woodsmen Quartet

We all know about the big announcement this week with the Gaither Vocal Band. That’s been covered well, so I won’t rehash it. Instead, I’ll spotlight another group that has reconfigured.

You may have seen the Woodsmen Quartet in their brief appearances on main stage at NQC, or maybe you’ve heard of them because of some of their past members (Derrick Boyd of the Dixie Melody Boys, Carolina Boys, and others, or Jim Huston, brother to Bryan Hutson of the Kingsmen and Soul’d Out Quartet). They’ve recently had a shift in membership, with two faces that some might recognize coming on board:

The Woodsmen Quartet would like to announce the new additions to the group!

As you may have already heard, Josh Arnett, our lead singer has announced his departure and has decided to pursue other things. Josh is one of the best lead singers in the business and we will definitely miss him a lot as he was a huge part of the Woodsmen and always will be! We are thankful for Josh’s time with us and wish him the best! Coming back to sing lead for the Woodsmen is our own Jim Hutson, as you may have heard. We’re very excited to have Jim back with us and look forward to see what will happen in 2014!

Some of you may have heard but our tenor, Scott Joss has also announced his departure from the Woodsmen. Scotty has been a great asset and we will miss him and wish him the best! Coming in to fill in the tenor shoes is 22 year old Daniel Rivera from Merrillville, IN. Daniel is no stranger to Southern g=Gospel music. Having sung with The Toney Brothers, Blackwood Legacy, Promise, and The Hallmark Quartet, Daniel brings to the stage a sound of a seasoned southern gospel veteran. We look forward to this brand new lineup and can’t wait to see what God has in store! They will start together in March!

This has the makings of a quartet with a great sound. I’m not all that familar with Jim Hutson’s singing (just enough to know he’s good), but I actually got to hear Daniel Rivera when he filled in with Promise back in 2012. Here are a couple of clips from that concert:

It’s safe to say that these two men will be an asset to the Woodsmen Quartet.

First News Roundup of 2014

January 03, 2014 By: Aaron Category: Declaration, Omega, Promise, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

1. Promise disbands, TJ Evans joins Declaration

One constant in Southern Gospel music is change, but 2014 brought an announcement of transition on Day 1. Since the departure of group founder and baritone David Mann, Promise had been seeking a new singer. As of January 1, the trio has closed the book on their history:

Promise would like to thank all of you for your support and friendship over the last two years. The Lord has done some amazing things, and His impeccable timing has brought on a new chapter for us recently. As of today, Promise will no longer be traveling. Matt has decided that it is best for his family for him to cut back a little on the amount of traveling that he does. We have always said that family comes first! At the same time, another group was in need of a tenor vocalist. TJ has accepted that position, and will begin officially singing with them this weekend. We will post more information about that later today.

Matt said, “This last year has been such a wonderful experience in my life. I’ve grown more in my faith than ever before, and I watched God do some extraordinary things in our group in 2013. I am forever grateful to TJ and Dave for the opportunity to follow my calling, and I couldn’t be happier with his next step in his ministry. To all those who booked Promise at their church, those who came to see us, and those who offered a helping hand along the way, I personally want to thank you for your investment into our ministry.” Matt will continue traveling as a soloist. He plays piano, which makes him quite versatile, and his heart’s desire is to share the Gospel every time he sings. If you, or someone you know would like to book Matt for a special service, you can email him at: mattabaker425@yahoo.com

Later, TJ Evans announced his future plans on Facebook:

You may have heard of a fantastic trio called Declaration. I will be joining them as their new tenor, and my first official concert with them will be Thursday, January 2nd, in Bourbonnais, IL. I’m positive that this is where God wants me.

Please be sure to head over to the Declaration page and like it to keep up with our ministry. I would love for you all to get to know Kasey Kempand Jake Sammons, who will be traveling with me.

These developments come on the heels of a transition for Declaration, as tenor Josh Horrell has joined the Anchormen in that position.

Promise made a strong impression right off the bat with their debut project, which I gave a 5-star rating. While I hate that a group with such a bright future is ceasing to exist, I am glad that everyone has ended up in a place where they feel they should be, and I look forward to seeing the new Declaration lineup in action.

2. Omega signs with Morris Music Group

This group has had one thing after another happening for them. They have appeared as NQC showcase winners as a trio for a few years, but recently became a quartet with the addition of Rick Walls. They recently signed with Morris Music Group, which will hopefully continue adding to their growing presence in Southern Gospel music:

Morris Music Group is proud to announce the newest addition to their family of artists, Omega Quartet. Based out of Dahlonega Georgia, Omega Quartet is the first all male quartet signed to the Delta Sky division of Morris Music Group. Omega Quartet was formed in 2008 and has quickly garnered many honors in a relatively short time. “Omega Quartet is a great addition to MMG,” stated Kelly Morris, owner of Morris Music Group. “Producer Darren Morton and I are looking forward to working with this talented young group. Their dedication to ministry and perfecting their craft will win them new fans in southern gospel music.” Omega is set to begin their new project with producer Darren Morton of Gat 3 Midsouth in the upcoming weeks. Omega members include: tenor – Doug Pittman from Dahlonega, GA; baritone – Cody McCreary from Hartwell, GA; bass – Rick Walls from Myrtle Beach, SC; and lead – Kevin Harry from Dallas, GA. Visit www.morrismusicgroup.com or www.omegaquartet.com for more information about Omega Quartet.

Things I Missed (7/6/13 Edition)

July 06, 2013 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Quartet, Promise, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

It was a busy enough week that I didn’t have time to get to these stories when they hit, but here are some noteworthy news items that came about in the past few days:

1. The SG industry lost two men this past week that impacted it in various ways. The first was Harold Gilley, mostly known for his days singing bass with the Palmetto State Quartet and his impressions of various bass singers. I always thought he was grossly underrated, and I know that he had been in poor health for some time. The second is Furman Wilson, founding member of the Primitive Quartet. Although Wilson left the group in the late 1970s, there’s no question that the work he helped start has become a mainstay in SG, and that is not to be overlooked. Please keep the families of both men in your prayers.

2. David Mann, lead singer and co-founder of Promise, is stepping away from the group. It’s not often that you get a press release dealing with change that is this open and forthcoming, but David teased a change a couple of days ago on Facebook, and then posted this yesterday:

An Open Letter To Family, Friends, and Fans of Promise
By David Mann


“The only thing constant in life is change.” – François de la Rochefoucauld

The past two years have been a fun and exciting ride. It’s definitely had its ups and downs, but the progress we’ve seen, in spite of the obstacles we’ve faced, has always kept us optimistic. Because of that, making the decision to leave was one of the hardest ones I’ve ever had to make.

In August, I will be stepping down from my position as manager/lead singer for Promise. Starting a group, with next to nothing, is never an easy task. The past two years have taken a toll on me, both physically and emotionally. More importantly, the financial burden on my family has simply become too much. Everyone’s situation is different, but unfortunately, for me, it’s come down to choosing between my work with Promise, and the well being of my wife, and 3 young children.

The good news is, Promise is pressing on. TJ Evans will be stepping in and taking the reigns. I’ve known him for nearly 12 years now, and I have every bit of confidence that the group is left in good hands. Better hands. Promise will be keeping all it’s commitments, as well as continuing on. I’ve told the guys that, though I’m leaving, I still foresee a very bright future for this group. Please take a moment to show them your support. Encouragement goes a long way. My last date will be on August 4th, in Winona, Texas. This will be a special night for me, because my last date with Promise also happens to be where we held the very first concert we ever booked.

As far as my future plans are concerned, I will be taking a position, singing baritone, with the Blackwood Quartet. Most who know me, know I sang with Mark Blackwood and his group for a little over 2 years, from the fall of 2008 to the winter of 2010. I’m happy to be returning, and excited about the future. I’ll be starting with them, immediately following my departure from Promise.

Thank you for all your support and encouragement!

God bless,

David Mann

No real room for speculation there. I am excited that Promise will be continuing, as I have been impressed with them from their start and am looking for them to continue to rise in the industry from here. No word on a new singer for them yet, but be looking for a press release as August 4th approaches.

As far as the Blackwood Quartet, they are getting a solid baritone that knows the ropes. The first time I saw them was not long before David left, and even though it was the tenor’s first night and they had a fill-in bass, the sound was solid. Mark Blackwood has never had much trouble putting together a good quartet, and I look forward to seeing what plays out there in the future as well.

Side note: Be looking for a long overdue CD review on Monday. Hopefully I can actually get this thing finished!

Youtube Spotlight: Promise 2013

May 01, 2013 By: Aaron Category: Promise, SG Artists, SG Music, Youtube

It seems that Youtube is becoming ripe with videos to feature this week. Today’s feature comes to us from Promise, a relatively new trio that started back in 2011. Their debut release got a 5-star rating from this site. Since that time, the group has had several changes, and the lineup stands today at tenor TJ Evans, lead/baritone David Mann, and lead/baritone Matt Baker. Baker also plays piano on select songs. The videos are from Mann’s Youtube channel, and are taken from a recent concert that was broadcast on the Internet.


Promise Welcomes Matt Baker

January 01, 2013 By: Aaron Category: Promise, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

2013 brings a Southern Gospel news item right as the year kicks off! Promise has been “promising” (pun intended) big news on New Year’s Day. That came to fruition early this morning with the announcement of a new member for the trio. Here’s the press release regarding this hire:

Promise is thrilled to announce the addition of Matt Baker to their ministry. Matt is from Lenoir, North Carolina, has a lovely wife, and a beautiful baby girl. They are also expecting their second child next summer. Matt will be filling the baritone position, as well as bringing his piano playing skills into the mix.

“When Matt first stepped on stage with us, something clicked” says David Mann. “His pleasing voice and great personality make him a joy to have with us. And we found out that he’s not a bad piano player either!”

TJ Evans states, “We’re gaining both a great singer and a good friend in Matt. We’ve gotten to know him well over the last few months. He’ll bring a lot to our concert experience, and we’re very excited to see what the future holds.”


You can visit Promise online at www.promisetrio.com, or they can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

You’ll notice that the release mentions that Baker is the group’s new baritone. This effectively gives the group a new dynamic, as former lead singer TJ Evans is bumped up to the tenor position, and baritone David Mann steps in at lead. Such a shift will undoubtedly bring some changes to the group’s sound, while still building upon the foundation that was already in place.

I’m glad that Promise will be capitalizing on Baker’s talent at the piano, as that will give a fresh aspect to their concerts. While there have been no video clips of this configuration of the group yet, I did come across one of Matt a couple of years ago, showcasing both his singing and piano playing:

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).

This & That 7/7/12

July 07, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Blackwood Brothers, Dixie Melody Boys, Promise, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Dixie Echoes

Here’s a few items of interest from the past week:

1. The Dixie Melody Boys are offering a limited edition CD of Ed O’Neal’s first ever recording. A copy of the Gospel Harmony Quartet’s debut recording has been found and re-mastered, and is the first of many recordings with O’Neal’s bass vocals. This is being offered in a limited supply of one hundred CDs at the DMB website.

2. Promise has announced that their tenor search is over. Michael Helwig will be joining David Mann and TJ Evans in the trio. Helwig has been with groups like The Torchmen, The Stamps The Homesteaders (Williamsons), The Blackwood Quartet, and most recently filled the tenor position for the Dixie Echoes. I am looking forward to hearing the sound with this new vocalist.

3. Speaking of the Dixie Echoes, a number of videos have surfaced with fill-in members. It is unclear at this point if these men have gotten the job, since no announcement has been made, but here are a couple of those clips:

Those two videos feature Mark Cates on bass and Junior Shelton on tenor. Cates has been on every video uploaded, but Shelton was only at this particular date as far as videos are concerned. This was also one of Stewart Varnado’s last concerts with the group. A video entitled “Dixie Echoes’ new pianist” has popped up, featuring a guy named Ben Hart:

4. Finally, here’s a clip of the Blackwood Brothers featuring new bass singer Butch Owens:

Youtube Spotlight: Promise

May 22, 2012 By: Aaron Category: Promise, SG Artists, SG Music, Youtube

Last Sunday, I headed over to Amherst, VA to hear this new trio in concert. Just over a year old, the group’s self-titled debut project received favorable reviews around the Southern Gospel blogosphere, so I was looking forward to hearing them in a live setting. Since this service marked the beginning of a week-long revival at the church, the group did an abbreviated concert, but still managed to sing plenty of music. Take a look:



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.