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

CD Review: Gold Harbor – You Are My Song

March 21, 2014 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, Gold Harbor, SG Artists, SG Music

Rating: 3.5 starsGold Harbor - You Are My Song

Label: Nazareth Records
Website: www.goldharbormusic.com/

Song titles: Blessed; You Are My Song; Who Will Mend The Broken; Never; Rescue Me; If Grace Was Taken Away; Halfway; He Goes Before Us; Tis So Sweet; If Not For The Old Rugged Cross

Download Project Here

Gold Harbor has shown up on a couple of blogs around the SG world, including this one. The reviews have been differing and interesting, to say the least. Between those two projects, the group showed a dedication to honing their craft, so I expected an equal, if not greater, quality when I sat down to write this review.

Musically, the group’s voices work well together. When they are in their stylistic sweet spot (which seems to be ballads), they have a sound that just fits. One downside of having a ballad-heavy project is falling into the trap of the songs seeming to run together, which happens here a little bit. That being said, songs like the title track, “If Grace Was Taken Away,” and a cover of the hymn “Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus” provide some of the best songs of the project. In more up-tempo fare, this CD is all over the map, ranging from musical styles like 70s-pop (“Blessed”), peppy gospel (“Never”), jazz (“Halfway”), and bluegrass-country (“He Goes Before Us”). “Blessed” fits the group better than I would have imagined, and “He Goes Before Us” is a fine song and style for them to explore. Though I could have done without such a roller coaster of styles, it did break up the monotony of so many slower songs.

The tracks themselves are hit-and-miss as far as sounding “canned.” What I mean is, it is more obvious on some tracks than others that the instruments are artificial, like some string and brass sections. I did notice that on the songs that seemed stronger, this “canned” feeling was not prevalent, and that probably helped my impression of those songs a great deal.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, Gold Harbor works hard at what they do, and it has shown over the years as their music has crossed my desk. They are also unafraid to try their hand at differing stylistic choices, which I appreciate. Taking risks like that will help them to weed out what doesn’t fit them and move forward in their next effort. Though it does get muddled with similar sounding songs, there are a few tracks here that are well worth multiple listens, and as long as Gold Harbor can keep finding songs with strong lyrics and a sound fit for their voices, they will continue to improve what they do. You Are My Song receives 3.5 stars.

MTQ Blog Tour Stop #4: Pat Barker

January 15, 2014 By: Aaron Category: Mark Trammell Quartet, SG Artists, SG Music

ywtblogtour_fbcoverpatThe Mark Trammell Quartet has quickly become one of the finer quartets in this genre of music, with a journey that began before they added a bass singer. I started paying attention when they released the Once Upon A Cross as a trio, and I have continued to appreciate their strong song choices and their ability to hold that standard even through personnel changes.

I got the chance to catch up with the bass singer for the quartet, Pat Barker, and ask him about the group’s latest effort:

Aaron Swain: What is your favorite song from “Your Walk Talks,” and why?

Pat Barker: My favorite song is “Your Walk Talks.” I was on the Alaska cruise when Rodney (Griffin) and Babbie (Mason) went into the piano bar and wrote that song. They came out to the table and immediately pitched it to Mark. I loved the hook from the beginning and the arrangement is perfect. Mark does a perfect job on the solo, even throwing in a little Jake Hess just for fun.

AS: “Thanks To Calvary” was a signature song for George Younce, and your admiration for him is no secret. What went into the decision to include that song?

PB: “Thanks to Calvary” is a “George” song, no doubt. He is the greatest, and will always be the greatest.

I have had the honor of doing Remember the Music concerts along with Glenn Dustin and Matt Fouch the last few years. It has been a dream come true. More recently, I got to be a part of the Cathedral Family Reunion. At a RTM concert, someone in the audience requested “Thanks to Calvary.” I had never sung it, but I knew the song. Something special happened, and we literally didn’t know what to do next. It became a permanent fixture at the RTM concerts, and was added to the CFR concert as well. Gerald Wolfe was the one who suggested that we put it on the album. My testimony is the story in that song, so it is an easy one to sing. I love that song.

AS: Other than Mark Trammell, you are the only member that has been with the group from the beginning of their “quartet” days. With the other two parts changing over this time period, how do you think the sound has evolved, and do you feel that the change is reflected with this project?

PB: Lots of things have changed. Losing (Dustin) Sweatman was a tough loss. He brought a lot to the table with his piano skills and his ability to win the crowd over. He was also a big help in the studio and picking songs. I still miss having a piano on stage, but Nick (Trammell) has taken over beautifully on lead. He is also a great songwriter, which shows up on this new album.

With the loss of Eric (Phillips), we not only lost an incredible tenor, but I lost my buddy. We bonded very quickly, and that relationship continues, but not as much as I would like. When Dustin (Black) came on board, I knew it would be a challenge for him. I could not be prouder of someone musically than I am of him. There is no other tenor that he sounds like, and I, for one, welcome the change. His solo at the end of the project is one of my favorite cuts.

Thanks, Pat, for a great interview!

I’ll echo Pat’s sentiment about “Your Walk Talks.” At first listen, it just sounds like a bouncy little ditty, but there are very true and applicable lyrics in such a fun song. Another that has taken up residence on my “most played” list is “I’ll Take It To The Grave.” The team of Rebecca J. Peck and Dianne Wilkinson penned a great song with that one, and I’m glad to see it get a fine quartet treatment.

Head over to Musicscribe for the next stop on the MTQ blog tour as Diana Brantley interviews Dustin Black!

NQC 2012 Thoughts: Wednesday

September 13, 2012 By: Aaron Category: NQC, SG Artists, SG Music

I arrived in Louisville this evening just in time to settle in for the first group at 6:00, and stayed the rest of the night. A few thoughts from the evening:

1. If one were making a case for the comeback of live bands in SG, they could point to several of tonight’s sets as positive examples. The LeFevre Quartet’s set kicked off the night, and while a whole set of brand new songs by itself would be great to listen to, it grabbed my attention more when they hit the stage with a live band.

I also enjoyed seeing the Dixie Melody Boys with a band once again; while the “All-Star Quartet” that was scheduled never made it to the stage, the DMB brought the “All-Star Band” on stage: pianist Stewart Varnado, bass guitarist Scoot Shelnut, guitarist Madison Easter, drummer Michael Booth, and Adam Crabb on harmonica. It felt like going back in time hearing “When I Cross To The Other Side of Jordan” and “Ride That Glory Cloud” with a live band, complete with encores!

2. It was a night of debuts, with several vocalists making a first time appearance on Main Stage. The Dixie Echoes brought two new faces in tenor Craig Thomas and bass Jordan James, and the crowd enjoyed James especially, giving applause before the first line of “How Big Is God” was even finished. The Kingsmen presented lead Bob Sellers and tenor Chris Jenkins for the first time at NQC tonight as well, and the group got several standing Os in their set. To tie this in with the first note of the night, I sure wish the Kingsmen had put together a band!

Though not his first time on Main Stage (I believe he performed there with The Anchormen at least once), Paul Harkey made his first appearance there as the LeFevre Quartet’s bass singer. His vocals added to an already solid three other parts make for the best sound the group has had in their existence, and I thoroughly enjoyed their set.

3. Gold City’s “let the fans pick the set” thing that they did tonight made for one of the strongest sets of the evening. No talk, just singing. “Midnight Cry” especially got a big response, with most of the crowd standing at the end. The Jerry Pelfrey-Ivan Parker comparison was very strong.

4. This is usually the note where I would give my annual complaint about how awful the sound was, but I’m pleasantly surprised to say that I have no notes to that effect. Were there hiccups? Sure. However, the sound tonight was mostly an improvement over recent years, and I hope that this trend will carry throughout the week.

Look for more thoughts tomorrow night, and feel free to leave your own in the comments section!

Bonus note: Soul’d Out Quartet is AWESOME! (Rankin, I accept cash, checks, food, etc.).

CD Review: Vintage Quartet – Tell The Story

January 21, 2012 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, SG Artists, SG Music, Vintage Quartet

Rating: 3.5 stars

Producer: Danny Crawford
Label: Skyland Records
Website: www.vintagequartet.com

Song titles: I’m Gonna Tell The Story; I’ll Cast My Crown; He’s Been So Good To Me; Somebody Touched Me; I Can See The Hand; Freedom Still Flows; Lord Stir The Wind; The Cross Has Won Again; That Wonderful Day; Everything

Crossroads Music recently launched a new label, Skyland Records, to give up-and-coming artists a chance to have Crossroads production, marketing and promotion, and distribution. The first release of this label comes from a new quartet, The Vintage Quartet. By all accounts, this is the group’s debut project, though they have been singing since 2010. I hadn’t heard much about them until a friend of mine (that many know around the SG blogs as irishlad) started giving them some praise. I decided that, since he’s no slouch when it comes to critiquing SG music, it would be worth it to download the project. I ended up being pleasantly surprised.

Being a newer, regional group that has just signed to a component of one of the bigger record labels, it’s no surprise that their debut effort would be a fair mix of original songs and covers. In fact, after the opening track, the project has a streak of four cover songs. The first two, “I’ll Cast My Crown” and “He’s Been So Good To Me,” come from the Soul’d Out Quartet catalog. The former is nice, but doesn’t quite top the original, and the latter throws in some higher tenor harmony near the end to help put the group’s mark on it. The next two songs are both Cathedrals tunes, and both are tenor features. Tenor Chris Jenkins has a voice that reminds me of a mix of Jodi Hosterman and Jeremy Peace, and his rendition of both of these tunes are different from what you might expect because of the timbre and range he possesses. Other covers include The Kingsmen’s “The Cross Has Won Again” (a song that deserved a revival) and “That Wonderful Day” (another Soul’d Out Quartet song that has been widely recorded, but once again is made unique by the harmonies on the higher end).

The original songs on the project are well done. “I’m Gonna Tell The Story,” which also serves as the group’s debut radio single, is a straight-ahead quartet number that fits the group’s sound well. “Freedom Still Flows” is a slower song that the group won a talent contest with in 2011, and is one of the project’s stronger songs. My personal favorite of these songs is found in “Lord Stir The Wind,” an upbeat bass feature that gives Jim Albertson that really lets tenor Jenkins and lead singer Steve Bertaux shine on the choruses. “Everything” is a slower song that never really grabbed my attention.

Vintage Quartet has a lot to be proud of with this effort; it does a good job of highlighting their strong sound and the song selection is decent, though a couple of the covers could have stood to have the quartet put their spin on it rather than follow what was originally recorded so closely. The combination of voices found with Chris Jenkins, Steve Bertaux, Warren Kinney, and Jim Albertson are very good for any quartet, much less a regional one. I was especially impressed with Jenkins; with the power and range in his voice, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him end up with a group like The Kingsmen in the future.

You may be wary of buying a project from a quartet you’re unfamiliar with, but The Vintage Quartet has made a project is worth the purchase. Tell The Story receives 3.5 stars.

Pondering On Gaither Homecoming

November 29, 2011 By: Aaron Category: Gaither, SG Artists, SG History, SG Industry News, SG Music

Author’s Note: Yes, folks, I’m still here! As usual when there’s long periods of bloggerly silence on here, that “real world” stuff just got in the way! To be honest, I had hoped to get something up while on break from college last week, but in the midst of moving to a new house and having the Internet inaccessible until the latter part of the week, that didn’t happen. I hope to get back into the routine of commentary and project reviews soon.

While perusing Youtube yesterday for something totally unrelated to Southern Gospel, I happened to notice a new post from the official Gaither channel in my subscription feed. The description started with, “Look what Bill Gaither found in his Homecoming video vault!” That’s all it took to pique my interest; I had thought it would be a short clip of a special moment from older tapings that was previously unreleased, but as it turns out, it’s a full-fledged trailer for an upcoming video:

I can honestly say that I have not had this level of excitement for a Gaither Homecoming video in quite a while, and from observing the chatter around the SG corners of the web, many others are sharing this fresh anticipation. It got me to thinking; why is that? Why has there been a relative lack of excitement for recent Homecoming releases? The entire Homecoming franchise is certainly successful, and the concert tour is arguably the highest quality SG concert experience out there. The quality of recent videos is far from bad, as well.

Perhaps it’s because the original Homecoming releases featured the legends mixing with the “up-and-comings,” and now that most of the legends are no longer with us, the videos have become an “NQC lite” of sorts, gathering a lineup of artists not unlike what you would see on main stage. Count me in the number that got chills when Howard and Vestal came up in that trailer singing “I Wouldn’t Take Nothin’ For My Journey Now,” and was thrilled to hear Jake Hess sing again (I’d forgotten just how…. GOOD he was!).

My prediction is that sales for this video will surpass the recent ones, and that’s because they have that “spark” that made the franchise as big as it is today. Gaither will start to find more and more of these treasures from the vault and release them. I believe I read somewhere that they have hours of material that was never released from the tapings, so it is possible. In the meantime, I think I know a good use for an extra $15-$20 I may have laying around come January 24.

This & That

May 30, 2010 By: Aaron Category: Gaither Vocal Band, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Dove Brothers, Uncategorized

Here’s a couple interesting tidbits from the weekend you may have missed:

First, check out this video that David Bruce Murray blogged about last week and recorded at a recent Dove Brothers concert. The song is “I’ll Fly Away”:

A couple thoughts:
1. The low G that bass singer David Hester hits actually vibrates two Bose speakers right off the stage. Wow.
2. The Dove Brothers are a good quartet to begin with, but throwing a live band into the mix takes them to a whole new level. Look to see how that affects the arrangements on their recordings from now on.
3. Speaking of which, the group has a full preview of their upcoming release, Unstoppable, available on their website’s music player. It’s well worth the listen.

In other news, Daniel Mount has posted both the song list and cover art for the upcoming Gaither Vocal Band project, Greatly Blessed, on his site. The songs are as follows:

1. Better Day
2. When He Blest My Soul
3. Love Like I’m Leavin’
4. You Are My All In All – this is possibly the popular Praise & Worship song, and if so, it will be interesting to see how the group can present it to an SG audience without being too polarizing. Then again, the GVB has never been strictly SG. I can see this as a David Phelps or Wes Hampton feature.
5. Please Forgive Me – An interview I was fortunate enough to do with Michael English indicated that he would be out front on this Crabb Family classic.
6. Greatly Blessed, Highly Favored
7. He’s Alive – There is a song of the same title about Jesus’ resurrection that has been featured on a Homecoming video, and was also recorded by David Phelps on his very first solo project, Journey to Grace, that came before his time with the Vocal Band. A solo by Phelps with the whole group kicking in on the final choruses would be a powerhouse sound for sure.
8. Ain’t Nobody – if this is the same song by Soul’d Out Quartet, it would be one of the most unique sounds the GVB has ever adopted. Keep an eye on this one.
9. Clean
10. Muddy Water – The group has adopted a country flavor to several of their songs recently (Jesus & John Wayne, anyone?), so I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the tune made famous by Trace Adkins. A Michael English lead could possibly come from this, especially since the lyric is essentially the story of the prodigal son.
11. That Sounds Like Home To Me – This Happy Goodmans classic was mentioned in the interview. It will be interesting to see how the group arranges this song.
12. I Know How To Say Thank You
13. He Is Here – Michael English stated that this would be a big song for Wes Hampton, and I’m sure that Wes will do great on this Kirk Talley staple.

CD Review: Cross 4 Crowns – Turning Point

December 09, 2008 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, Cross 4 Crowns, SG Artists, SG Music

Rating: 4 stars

Producer: Arthur Rice
Label: Crossroads Music
Website: www.cross4crowns.com/

1. I Will Trade The Old Cross For A Crown – Right off the bat, the project features a classic SG song. The arrangement is pretty standard fare, but it showcases the group’s good harmony.

2. Things That I’m Seeing – The group definitely seems to be comfortable with the more traditional SG song. This is an old Kingsmen song from back in the 1970s. The quartet does the song justice, and bass singer Justin Terry’s standout bass lines on the chorus bring to mind a Jeff Chapman performance.

3. Greater Miracle – This ballad from the pen of Rodney features the group’s baritone, Allen Leath. For some reason, his feature here reminds me of a young Mark Trammell. This song would do well on radio.

4. I’m Going There – This is probably my favorite song on the project. It’s another “convention” style song. Justin Terry shines on the chorus, hitting a low G-flat multiple times after the final key change. I love a good bass, and he doesn’t disappoint here.

5. He’ll Never Forsake – Lead singer Davis McCammon, Jr. steps up on this slow song written by Ricky Atkinson. Nice harmony, but not a song that has me hitting the repeat button.

6. I’ll See You Home – (Former) Tenor Dallas Rogers is featured on this country-style song. Fans of his Dixie Echoes or the Archie Watkins style of singing will enjoy this song.

7. Tell Me Who – The bass singer gets his first true solo feature of the album. He does well in the bluesy style that the song is put in. I compared him earlier to Jeff Chapman, and he sounds even more so on this track.

8. Whenever, Wherever, Whatever – This is another slower song. Once again, nice, but nothing that caught my attention.

9. Take A Little Look – This track continues the traditional vibe of the project, with the bass once again getting standout lines. I like the bluegrass flavor of the tune.

10. Celebrating Resurrection Morning – This song is featured on the music player on the group’s website. A lot of people on different sites have commented on the “fake” string instruments used, but honestly, they’re really not all that distracting.

11. Hallelujah For The Cross – The album closes with another ballad. This is a nice way to end the project, showcasing the group’s ability to carry this type of song as well as they can a convention-style tune.

Final Thoughts – For a major label debut, this project is very, very well-done. This a great lineup of vocalists (although Dallas Rogers left the group recently, his replacement will fit right in.) Keep an eye on the bass singer, Justin Terry; at only 24 years old, he has a bass voice that has the ability to get into Tim Riley territory.

I expect to see these guys on the ballot for Horizon Group Of The Year 2009. Great project.

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