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

January 22, 2015 By: Aaron Category: Omega, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

It’s a new year, and in Southern Gospel music, that almost certainly means changes on the horizon, and the first of these comes from an up-and-coming group that has received attention on this blog before. Bass singer Rick Walls announced his departure from Omega Quartet yesterday:

After 16 months of touring with Omega Quartet as their bass vocalist, Rick Walls has made the decision
to leave the group.  Rick stated, “I just felt like the Lord was telling me it was time for me to step down.
I’m sure Omega will do great in the future and I wish them the best.”  Rick also stated that he was
excited to see what the next door was that the Lord would open up for him to minister in music.
To contact Rick you can call 843.450.2270 or catch him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rick.thebass
In tribute to Rick’s tenure with the group, here he is singing a classic hymn of the church:

Help Declaration Come Up With a New Name

October 28, 2014 By: Aaron Category: Declaration, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

Yesterday yielded some unique news from one of Southern Gospel music’s rising trios. The group has gone with the same name since their inception, but trademark issues have arisen and forced them to seek another moniker. They’ve decided to get the fans involved with the process:

Send in your suggestions to names@declarationtrio.com to help out.

Dixie Melody Boys Hire Doug Pittman

October 06, 2014 By: Aaron Category: Dixie Melody Boys, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

After the departure of Matt Felts to the Lesters, the Dixie Melody Boys began searching for a new tenor. That search came to a close when the group debuted their new singer at NQC. Here’s the press release from their email newsletter discussing the move:

Greetings friends! Fall is upon us and just as the autumn winds bring about changing leaves, so too have the winds of change swept through the Dixie Melody Boys. Following an extensive national search, Ed O’ Neal is pleased to introduce Doug Pittman as the new tenor vocalist for the Dixie Melody Boys. Doug made his debut with the group at the National Quartet Convention in Pigeon Forge, TN and wowed the audience with a rendition of the classic, “Little Is Much.” Following a thunderous standing ovation, Doug and the “Boys” brought the house down with “When I Cross To The Other Side Of Jordan.” If you missed the NQC, you can catch these performances on our Facebook page courtesy of some dear friends in the audience.

Doug Pittman is 28 years old and originally from the small town of Eastman, GA. He garnered several awards in the classical world during his high school and college years, including First Prize in the 2008 National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) Vocal Competition. Doug has performed both nationally and internationally, including a United Kingdom tour in 2007 and his Carnegie Hall debut in 2010. He only began singing Southern Gospel in recent years, however his roots are deeply tied to it. Doug grew up hearing Southern Gospel every weekend following his father, a drummer for several regional groups, in the early ’90s. While pursuing a degree in music at Brewton-Parker College, Doug formed a Gospel group with a few of his friends. He has sung with that group, Omega Quartet, since it’s inception in 2008 and was the remaining original member.

Ed O’ Neal states, “We auditioned several tremendous singers over the last few weeks, even took a few out on the road with us. I had never met Doug, but the first song he sang during sound check gave me chill bumps all up and down my arms. When we sang that night, it was as if we had all been performing together for twenty years. He’s a fine young man, loves the Lord, and can SING! I knew by the end of the trip I had found my man. Josh Garner is a pro and Aaron Dishman just thrills me with how he has matured as a singer and a performer in such a short time. Add Doug to that mix and I believe this is one of the strongest line-ups I’ve ever had with the Dixie Melody Boys.”

Be sure to keep a watch on our schedule at www.dixiemelodyboys.com or catch us on Facebook so you can come out and meet Doug and all the Dixie Melody Boys at a concert near you.

Here’s a video from Doug’s debut performance:

I’ve been impressed with Doug’s voice since the first time I heard it back when Omega was a college group. They sang a song called “You Are Holy,” and though Doug was using a completely different style and tone to his voice back then, I knew there was potential. A few years passed and I had basically forgotten about Omega until a trio by the same name got on the main stage at NQC 2011 as a featured artist from the showcases. That intrigued me, and then I was blown away by the tenor’s performance on a song called “I’m Coming Again.” As it turned out, it was the same group, and that was the same tenor. Doug’s sound fits the musical direction that the group has taken in their recent work, and just by watching him interact with the guys at the booth, I can tell he fits on a personal level, as well.

As a bonus, here’s the 2011 performance I mentioned:

Things I Missed (3/1/14)

March 01, 2014 By: Aaron Category: Gold Harbor, Legacy Five, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music, The Hoggle Family, The Inspirations

1. The Inspirations lineup has finally settled. The group has had a series of fill-ins lately, but it was announced this week that the new lineup sees the return of Dallas Rogers at tenor, Matt Dibler at lead, and Melton Campbell at baritone, with Jon Epley moving down to the bass part. The band remains the same.

Here’s a clip of the new Inspirations in action:

2. Legacy Five bass Matt Fouch’s “On The Couch With Fouch” has become a favorite series for Southern Gospel fans. Here’s the latest installment with guest Scott Inman of Triumphant Quartet:

Next week, I plan to have two CDs reviewed: The Hoggle Family’s self-titled release, and You Are My Song by Gold Harbor.

NQC 2013

September 09, 2013 By: Aaron Category: NQC, SG Artists, SG Music

It’s that time of year again; the National Quartet Convention, which seems to be unofficially considered the “kickoff” of each Southern Gospel music year. Here’s just a few things I’m looking forward to this time around:

  • The Old Paths’ debut on mainstage. They’ve had it coming for quite a while!
  • The revamped Skyline Boys and Freedom as a quartet.
  • The Dixie Melody Boys. Their lineup right now is one to watch.
  • For that matter, I’m looking forward to hearing several groups that have changed members since last year, like Gold City and the Dixie Echoes.
  • The fellowship in the exhibit hall, which is the best part of events like this.

I’ll be headed to Louisville on Wednesday and staying through Friday.

As far as “live coverage,” I’ve decided to take it easy in that department. It’s the NQC’s last year in Louisville, so I’m going to kick back (as much as you can “kick back” at NQC, anyway!) and take it all in. Who knows; I may have a video or two from different things after it’s all said and done, but as far as regular coverage, I encourage you to check out some of the other SG blogs; I’m sure discussions will be taking place there. Of course, the comments section is open here as well!

As always, I’m looking forward to the biggest event in Southern Gospel music, and here’s to a great final year in Louisville!

CD Review: Beyond The Ashes – Living In The Moment

April 01, 2013 By: Aaron Category: Beyond The Ashes, CD Reviews, SG Artists, SG Music

Beyond The Ashes - Living In The MomentRating: 5 stars

Producer: Wayne Haun
Label: Stow Town Records
Website: www.beyondtheashesonline.com

Song titles: So Amazing To Me; Living In The Moment; Oh, The Thought That Jesus Loves Me; No Sin Greater Than God’s Grace; Peace In The Midst Of The Storm; Walking With My Eyes On Jesus; I Can’t Do This By Myself; Where The Gold Begins; When Love Whispers Your Name; Your Love Comes Shining Through; Over For Good

Download Project Here

Beyond The Ashes is a trio that has been on an upward climb in Southern Gospel music for the past couple of years. Started by Anthony Facello, former tenor of groups such as the Heaven Bound, The Down East Boys, The Journeymen, and Mercy’s Mark, the group has steadily built a fan base since around 2007. The group started under the name Anthony Facello & Crossroad before changing their name to Beyond The Ashes in 2008. With their release on Vine Records, Treasures Unseen, the trio began to make a name for themselves with successful radio singles such as “Whenever We Pray.” After signing with Ernie Haase & Wayne Haun’s Stow Town Records, they released an independent project made of covers entitled Loving What’s Begun, which was also the first project to feature the current lineup of tenor Facello, lead Dustin Doyle, and baritone Kellan Monroe. This lineup gets their first real chance to show themselves with this release.

As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, I appreciate a group that has a distinctive sound. Facello’s is a tenor voice that is instantly recognizable, but Beyond The Ashes is comprised of voices that set them apart even from the other groups he has been a part of. Each voice has a similar soulful quality that meshes well with the others. This is used to good effect on close harmony songs like “So Amazing To Me” and “Oh, The Thought That Jesus Loves Me.” You may have guessed that the latter is a cover of a Collingsworth Family song, and BTA’s version holds its own in a way that doesn’t make it feel like a cover. Facello himself gets a standout track on the project with a song from his own pen, “No Sin Greater Than God’s Grace.”

Speaking of distinctive voices, this album is a highlight reel for new lead singer Dustin Doyle. Doyle gets the lion’s share of features here, and his singing style lends itself well to the “traditional Gospel with a twist” feel of “Peace In The Midst Of The Storm,” as well as the Jason Mraz pop tune “Living In The Moment.”

In reviewing this album, I discovered that Beyond The Ashes may have established a knack for picking catchy songs; I’ve had a harder time getting most of these songs out of my head than possibly any other project I’ve reviewed. Songs like the bouncy “Your Love Comes Shining Through” and the aforementioned “No Sin Greater Than God’s Grace” or the title track have a way of embedding themselves in your head, and you’ll more than likely find yourself humming them from time to time. For any Christian music, this can be a good thing; the message in these songs is important, and they’ll be grasped more if the listener catches on to the music well. If Beyond The Ashes can continue picking songs of that nature, it certainly won’t hurt.

Treasures Unseen may have put the foot in the door for Beyond The Ashes, but Living In The Moment has the all-around quality that can potentially solidify their place on the Southern Gospel map, and that’s why it receives 5 stars.

CD Review: Sounds of Jericho – The Story of His Grace

March 02, 2013 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, SG Artists, SG Music, Sounds of Jericho

Rating: 4 starsSounds of Jericho - The Story of His Grace

Producer: Mark Dowdy
Label: Independent Release
Website: www.soundsofjericho.com

Song titles: Deeper Journey; If The Lord Wasn’t Walkin’ By My Side; Living Testimony; Resting Place; Wayfaring Stranger; Spread It Around; Jesus Never Changes; Standing In The Storm; I’d Rather Have Jesus; Leave The Light On; Ten Thousand Angels; Operator

Every so often, I’ll have a project come across my desk that is the debut for a brand new quartet to hit the Southern Gospel scene. Such is the case with this CD from Sounds of Jericho, a quartet out of Flowery Branch, GA that contains a couple faces we’ve seen before. The group was formed by tenor Stephen Sigmon and bass Stacy Bragg, who were both charter members of the LeFevre Quartet. These two are joined in this new endeavor by lead Matt Tyler and baritone Ken Thomas. Since the release of this project, producer Mark Dowdy has joined as pianist.

Obviously, the challenge given to any new group is to establish themselves as a unique presence in the SG music world. A look at the history of this genre will tell you that the groups with a sound that sets itself apart have had a lot more staying power than a group that sounds like a carbon copy of what’s already there. Given that two of the group’s members were part of a well-known group already, I expected there to be a similarity to the sound of that era of the quartet. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was only a passing comparison.

With a project made of mostly original songs, Sounds of Jericho does a good job of establishing their own identity. Some of the arrangements are pretty ambitious for a new group, but it was a risk that worked. Among the “cover songs,” I enjoyed the brassy treatment of the Henry Slaughter classic “If The Lord Wasn’t Walking By My Side” and the Country-Western tinged treatment of “Wayfaring Stranger.” The latter is probably the best classic cover on the project; it’s certainly unique from any other version I’ve heard.

The original songs make up the majority of the project, and do a good job of highlighting the sound of the group. The anthem “Living Testimony,” from which the project title is derived, would make a good choice for a radio single. “Deeper Journey” is a good harmony song. A couple of songs, such as “Spread It Around” and “Jesus Never Changes” are strong save for “plugged in” bridges made of hymns; they seem unnecessarily thrown into the songs, but this is a minor quibble.

One particularly surprising choice that a new group doesn’t usually make is throwing in an a Capella track. “Resting Place” starts off sounding like it could be a lead-in to a country or bluegrass track, but turns out to be completely instrument-free. This is a bold move, especially with some of the places the arrangement goes, but the quartet has a sound that blends well. It’s refreshing to see a new group click like this right off the bat.

I appreciate the fact that no singer strays out of their range anywhere on the album. In the early LeFevre Quartet days, Sigmon and Bragg both had moments where they seemed to be out of their comfort zone. That improved even during their time with the group, and has carried over to now. This debut project by Sounds of Jericho makes me wish that they traveled more outside of their home state, and hopefully, this project will start something in that direction. The Story of His Grace  receives 4 stars.

Youtube Spotlight: Dove Brothers Band w/ Jonathan Price, Take 2

January 28, 2013 By: Aaron Category: SG Artists, SG Music, The Dove Brothers, The Dove Brothers Band, Youtube

If you’ve followed the Dove Brothers since they added the live band, you know that Jonathan Price was hired from the Dixie Melody Boys to join the group on tenor after Jerry Martin’s departure. After coming off the road for a little over a year, Jonathan Price made his return to the group. There have been videos floating around from his “second debut,” but that same Youtube user, DLPollard65, has posted more recent videos that show that the lineup has really settled:

It’s no secret that the Dove Brothers were adopting a country flavor before the live band was formed, but having the band has also allowed the group to branch out in other ways. Never in a million years would I have expected McCray Dove to cover “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” but here it is, and it’s good. According to several comments that have been posted on various sites, this was one of the moments of the concerts.

While the tenor singer in the interim, Keith Casstevens, is certainly a capable singer in his own right, his tenure took the overall sound of the group in a direction that seemed to stray too much from the group’s traditional quartet roots for many people’s liking. Price’s return has given the group the chance to more easily perform that style of Southern Gospel music again. This cover of an old Kingsmen song is solid evidence that the group can still “dance with the girl that brung them,” as the saying goes.

This compilation of four songs from the concert is a testament to the versatility that the Doves have achieved by adding the band. Here, we get a rendition of the group’s first #1 song, “I Can Pray,” a takeoff of the Oak Ridge Boys arrangement of “Just A Little Talk With Jesus,” the classic hymn “Amazing Grace,” and a cover of Rascal Flatts’ “I Won’t Let Go.”

In the SG blogging world, whether we are the ones blogging, commenting, or just sitting back and watching the back-and-forth discussions, it is sometimes lamented that the “excitement” in Southern Gospel music is gone, and that the raw energy, adaptability, and authentic vocals of live instrumentation and singers has given way to tracks and stacks. While I’m not going to down tracks (I personally see nothing wrong with them as long as the vocals are the actual live performance and not a lip-sync), I will pick a live band (or even just piano) any day if given the option, hands-down. The energy and excitement was tangible when I watched these Youtube videos for the first time, and I can honestly say that the Dove Brothers Band is one of the few groups I have been excited about in quite a while. No tracks, no stacks, just solid Gospel singing. That’s something we can all get behind.

Dan Keeton Departs Gold City

January 02, 2013 By: Aaron Category: Gold City, SG Artists, SG Industry News, SG Music

So far, 2013 has been a year of changes in Southern Gospel music, and the trend continued this evening when Dan Keeton posted this to his Facebook page:

An open letter to the friends and fans of the Gold City Quartet,

In march of 2011, I was afforded a dream come true, to sing tenor with Gold City. Most of you know my testimony of child abuse, the divorce of my parents and my daddy’s alcoholism. I have recently been given an opportunity to do something I have wanted to do for quite some time. I have wanted to start a non profit organization using music and the arts to inspire child victims of abuse. That opportunity has presented itself and I am so excited, but also heavy hearted. Opening this door means I will have to leave Gold City. I can honestly say, I love the Rileys so much. Tim and Danny are like family to me. Chuck, Bryan and Jerry are so easy going and fun to be around that I will dearly miss being on the bus with such fine Christian gentlemen. I will always be greatful for my time here.

As friends and fans of Gold City, please know, I love you all. I have never felt so much love as I have from you. Please pray that Gold City finds the best replacement and the transition is as smooth as possible.

Sincerely,
Dan Keeton

Daniel Riley later added:

We support Dan 100 percent in this new chapter of his life. We believe God has given him this opportunity to go into this new ministry. Dan has personally dealt with child abuse, and we believe his passion is for helping others in this area. He has our blessing and prayers as he leaves to encourage and enrich the lives of others in this special calling. Dan has agreed to stay on with Gold City and continue his role as our tenor until a replacement can be found.”

For those interested in applying for the tenor position with Gold City, demos and resumes will be accepted via email form to tenorauditions@me.com.

While this news is a surprise, I can respect the reasoning behind it. It is certainly not a common reason given for departure, and I wish Dan the best of luck!

The tenor position for Gold City is a demanding role that requires an ability to consistently sing a part that often is pitched higher than many other groups. It will be interesting to see who the group gets, as it is a tough part to fill.

In tribute to Dan’s time with the group, here is one of my favorite clips of Gold City during his tenure:

CD Review: The Diplomats: Joy in the Storm

June 19, 2012 By: Aaron Category: CD Reviews, SG Artists, SG Music, The Diplomats

Rating: 3.5 stars

Producer: Corey Pearson
Label: Song Garden Music Group
Website: www.diplomatsqt.com

Song titles: Grand Homecoming; Joy In The Storm; Buried My Sins In The Past; God Shall Wipe Away All Tears; If Not for the Blood of the Cross; The Other Side; Travelers Protected By Grace; He Still Takes Time For Me; We’re Gonna Rise; Sheltered in the Arms of God; I’ll Soon Be Gone

The Diplomats Quartet is a family group based out of Georgia that has been around in Southern Gospel music for years. The group made main stage at NQC a couple of years back, which was my first real introduction to them. I had been unfamiliar with their music before receiving this project, so I came to this review with no reference to their sound before they signed with Song Garden Music Group last year. This CD marks their debut with that label.

The Diplomats excel at the upbeat, country flavored style of Southern Gospel music. Tracks like “Joy In The Storm,” “The Other Side,” and “We’re Gonna Rise” attest to this fact, as the group’s collective harmony seems suited to such a style, which does not require quite as much polish as others do. This mixed quartet is one of those “let it fly” groups; what you hear is what you get, and while the blend may not be as “tight” as other groups, it works well as an ensemble.

A couple of the less up-tempo songs stand out as well. “Buried My Sins In The Past” is a straight forward SG tune featuring lead singer Corey Pearson, which shows off a bit of his range, and, once again, fits the group vocals well. Speaking of Corey, he delivers the best song on this album: “If Not For The Blood of the Cross.” A powerful ballad about Jesus’ sacrifice, the performance and lyrical content made me sit up and take notice. The Diplomats would do well to send this song to radio.

This project has its fair share of cover songs. The Florida Boys recorded “He Still Takes Time For Me” on their I’m Forgiven project in 2000, and while it was written by group leader Jim Pearson and arranged by Corey Pearson, the performance does not quite stack up to that of the Boys. Two Gospel classics are also covered with “God Shall Wipe Away All Tears” and “Sheltered in the Arms of God,” and while the latter does feature guest vocals by Darrin Vincent of Dailey & Vincent, neither track really sets itself apart from other renditions of each song. That is not to say they are bad recordings; I just like to hear a classic be done with a “spark” that at least differentiates that recording from any other.

The Diplomats have put together a solid collection of songs for their Song Garden debut that defines the sound they possess quite well. While not an all-around perfect recording, it is a solid effort, and I’m looking forward to see where the next step of this quartet takes them. Joy in the Storm receives 3.5 stars.