Sep 03

Album Review: Journey of Hope (Tribute Quartet)

journeyhopeTribute Quartet has been on a steady upward climb since its establishment eight years ago by former Wilburns members Gary Casto and Josh Singletary.  Tenor Riley Harrison Clark and bass Anthony Davis have rounded out the quartet for the past three years, providing the consistency in personnel needed for such a rise.  For the first time in 2014, Tribute garnered a Top 10 nomination for Favorite Artist in the Singing News Fan Awards, and their most recent mainline recording, Our Anthem (acclaimed here), received nominations for Favorite Album and Top Song, for “Good News from Jerusalem”.

For the next step in their journey, Tribute has moved from Crossroads’ Sonlite label over to Daywind’s artist roster.  Their debut with their new label is Journey of Hope, an 11-song collection that continues to charter new territory musically for the quartet.  Though they retained long-time producer Roger Talley, the musical vision is clearly not to do the same-old, same-old, but to forge ahead.

From the first notes of the opener “He Can Do It Again,” the listener knows this recording will be something a little different from Tribute.  It’s a Kenna Turner West/Lee Black composition with a progressive tilt, which suits Clark, the quartet’s most talented feature vocalist, well.  Other songs like the rollicking “Everything I Need” and the poignant “God of All My Days,” would seem equally at home on a Signature Sound or Assurance recording.  The most notable stylistic excursion is the Latin-infused “Those Who Know Me Know,” which is one of the album’s most memorable tunes.  It isn’t traditional quartet, but it is catchy and fun.

Of course, not every song is as “out there” as that, and Journey of Hope has enough to retain the interest of the more old-school fan.  Included is a fairly standard quartet rendition of the well-known “I Remember the Day” and an energetic Wilburns cover, “I Could Sing About Heaven”.  Though a dramatic orchestrated track introduces and envelops “I Am a Soldier,” only a few notes are sung before Kyla Rowland’s familiar touch is easily recognized.  The album’s first single to radio, it is a great vocal performance by Casto and a powerful arrangement by Talley.  Clark carries the recording’s other traditional ballad, “I Will Rise,” written by the dynamic tandem of Dianne Wilkinson and Rebecca Peck.  Baritone Singletary is featured on one of my favorites, “All Made It Ashore”.  I love a good Biblical narrative, and it is lifted expertly by Marcia Henry out of Acts 27.

With Journey of Hope, Tribute offers up a little bit of everything and does it, as they always do, with a little flair and a lot of class.  I have little doubt that it will be their most successful recording yet…until the next step in their climb.

Album rating: 4 stars

Song list:

  1. He Can Do It Again (Kenna Turner West/Lee Black)
  2. All Made It Ashore (Marcia Henry)
  3. I Am a Soldier (Kyla Rowland)
  4. I Remember the Day (Mary Spencer)
  5. Those Who Know Me Know (Marty Funderburk/Caleb Collins)
  6. I Will Rise (Dianne Wilkinson/Rebecca Peck)
  7. Everything I Need (West/Black/Michael Farren)
  8. Everybody Needs Jesus (Rowland/Sue C. Smith)
  9. In the Valley He Can Hear My Voice (Terry Franklin/Barbi Franklin)
  10. I Could Sing About Heaven (Larry Whitehead)
  11. God of All My Days (Ricky Free/Tony Wood)

Aug 04

Songs From Scripture #9: “I’m Living in Canaan Now”

One of the oldest and most often-used lyrical motifs in gospel music is death, symbolized by the crossing of the Jordan River, and Heaven, symbolized by Canaan.  It is not my intention to cast aspersions at songs or songwriters who use this motif, because I certainly think there are some spiritual applications we can draw from it.

That said, the most appropriate spiritual application for Jordan and Canaanland is not in death, but in the life of the believer.  The biggest reason is quite obvious when Canaan is considered.  When the children of Israel entered Canaan, they were most certainly not at rest!  There were still many battles to be fought with the enemies of God.  This is not a characteristic of heaven in the least.

Canaan, therefore, is not a type of heaven, but of a victorious Christian life.  The typology can then be extended to give spiritual application to the entire Exodus.  Egypt is a type of the world, which held us in the bondage of sin.  Deliverance from Egypt, and salvation from that bondage, came at the Red Sea, where God cleared a path of redemption.  But there were still many years of wandering left for Israel, as they had to learn to fully trust God.  We, too, are simply wandering through life as Christians, not fulfilling our purpose for Him, until we have learned to trust.  Once we have done that, we can cross into the wonderful land of Canaan, where God grants victory after victory over the trials of life.

Unfortunately, songs that use the Exodus in this most appropriate way are much more rare than the songs that use the lesser application.  My ears always perk up a little bit when a songwriter hits the nail on the head!  Probably my favorite such song is “I’ve Passed Over Into Canaanland,” written by Dianne Wilkinson and recorded by the Kingdom Heirs and Gold City.  That one is a grand slam home run!

But I’m choosing to highlight probably the most well-known song, in gospel music circles, based around this lyrical theme.  “I’m Living in Canaan Now” (page 287 in the red-back!) was composed by Claud H. Center and J.R. Baxter, and originally published in 1938.  It has been recorded by many gospel music artists in the decades since.  I won’t spend time going over the song line by line, as most readers probably are familiar with it.  The verses set the scene of the past life, under slavery to sin, in Egypt.  And the chorus gives the payoff of the Christian living in Canaan NOW!

Though many have recorded “I’m Living in Canaan Now,” probably the most iconic rendition, and deservedly so, is that of the Happy Goodman Family.  Enjoy this classic clip from the Gospel Singing Jubilee!

Jul 23

Quick Hits 8

PictureThisPicture This (11th Hour)

11th Hour’s sophomore release from Crossroads, Picture This, takes the next step in quality from their rookie recording on the label, Steppin’ Out, despite a change in two thirds of the trio’s vocal lineup.  Amber Eppinette is the group’s mainstay, and is once again featured with her pen as well as her voice.  This time she collaborates with Dianne Wilkinson on “How Will You Plead,” a strong and forthright lyric set to some bluegrass-tinged harmonies.  The title song is one a trained gospel music ear could easily identify as another Wilkinson composition, an energetic tune that links the past of Jesus’ life on earth to the future of His coming.  That is one of my favorites from this recording, as is “Waving on the Other Side,” an outstanding (and new to me) Ricky Atkinson/Jeff Steele power ballad drawn from Hebrews 12:1.  The most outside-the-box selection is the minor key groove, “Jesus Is in the House,” and it works extremely well.  Overall, Picture This features excellent vocal performances, solid song selection, and a variety of styles that should appeal to a broad spectrum of gospel music listeners.

 4 stars

Best tracks: Waving on the Other Side, Picture This, Jesus Is in the House, How Will You Plead

Might want to skip: None


OpenCarefullyOpen Carefully, Message Inside (Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver)

As readers of this blog have probably been able to ascertain, I have long been a fan of Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, even pre-dating my immersion into southern gospel.  So it always piques my interest when these bluegrass stalwarts release their biennial gospel recording.  Open Carefully, Message Inside is the band’s best gospel effort since Help Is on the Way in 2008.  Guitarist Dustin Pyrtle is the nephew of original Quicksilver tenor Lou Reid, and brings a powerful tenor voice reminiscent of Reid and fellow 80s Quicksilver alum Russell Moore.  He is featured heavily on this recording, with Lawson’s trademark tight harmonies filling in as beautifully as always.  My favorite cut is “O Far Country” a pretty, dobro-laced ballad on heaven.  “Climbing Upward” is the only real hard-driving barnburner.  With some weaving counterpoint in the chorus, it is another highlight.  A DL&Q recording wouldn’t seem right without some a cappella singing, and there are three such songs on Open Carefully, the best of which is “He’s in Control”.  If you like bluegrass and the gospel, it’s hard to top the Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver catalog, and this latest release is a worthy addition.

4 stars

Best tracks: O Far Country, Climbing Upward, Coming Soon, He’s in Control

Might want to skip: None

Jul 08

Album Review: A Journey in Song (Pat Barker)

JourneyInSongAs much as it saddened the gospel music world to learn of Pat Barker’s departure from the road and the Mark Trammell Quartet, it didn’t take long to see that the beloved bass singer would not be disappearing completely.  He has remained active promoting, singing, and even recording in the last couple of months.  Barker’s double-CD solo recording, A Journey in Song traces his path in gospel music to this point, and gives fans a chance to hear him as they may have never heard him before.

The first disc of ten songs is actually a recording Barker made 17 years ago, which here is released in CD form for the first time.  He is widely regarded as one of the best melodic bass singers in gospel music, but listening to these songs makes it clear that there is no need to qualify that compliment with a vocal part.  Pat Barker could, and can, flat-out sing, with skill and warmth on par with any “lead” singer in the business.

Some of the songs on this disc are in the typical bass solo range with which most fans likely associate Barker.  Highlights among these include the classic “For What Earthly Reason” and an outstanding number, “Victory Comes From the Master,” which I had never heard before.  But the best part of the listening experience is to hear this so-called “bass singer” climb into a rich baritone range.  He does this to great effect on the opening hymn, “Be Still My Soul” and the modern anthem “He’s Alive,” which is particularly captivating.  Barkers saves his highest notes for a sublime rendition of “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” which carries him to the D above middle C in full voice, and all the way up to B-flat in falsetto.  Seventeen years later, he still has those notes.

The second disc is primarily composed of songs previously recorded as features for Barker by the groups with whom he has sung.  The songs are arranged in chronological order, starting with two songs by a local quartet, the Crystal River Boys, one song from the Diplomats, three from the Dixie Echoes, and two from the Mark Trammell Quartet.  Among these are songs most everyone has heard Pat sing, like “How Big Is God,” and songs very few have heard him sing, like “Just One More Soul”.  The final two songs are the only brand-new recordings in the collection.  “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” and “Temporary Home” are far apart on the musical spectrum, but contain a very similar lyrical message, which provides context for the album’s theme.  Barker’s “journey in song,” like every Christian’s earthly journey, is but a brief preparation for and preview to an eternity in heaven.

Just in case anyone hadn’t realized it yet, God gave Pat Barker a beautiful instrument , and I am glad to report that it is still being used in a wonderful way.  Just as much as his vocal talent, Barker’s heart shines through when listening to these songs.  I highly recommend joining Pat on this Journey in Song; your heart will be better for it.

Song List:

Disc 1

  1. Be Still My Soul
  2. Victory Comes From the Master
  3. Beulah Land
  4. Quiet Time
  5. He’s Alive
  6. Life Will Be Sweeter
  7. The Day of the Lord
  8. For What Earthly Reason
  9. Maybe Tomorrow
  10. I’d Rather Have Jesus

Disc 2

  1. Just One More Soul
  2. At the Cross
  3. Thanks to Calvary
  4. Not in a Million Years
  5. How Big Is God
  6. Welcome Home, My Child
  7. I Thirst
  8. I’ll Have a New Life
  9. Poor Wayfaring Stranger
  10. Temporary Home


Jun 24

Songs From Scripture #8: “It’s the Blood”

ThisTimeFor the next entry in our Songs From Scriptures series, we return to the deep well that is the pen of Dianne Wilkinson.  And deep we must go to find “It’s the Blood,” a relatively obscure cut from the Mark Trammell Trio’s 2005 project This Time.  The song is a flawless expository message on salvation drawn from the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4.

Most people, Christian or not, are familiar with Cain and Abel.  Cain, quite infamously, committed the world’s first murder, of his younger brother Abel, no less.  But the fact that Cain killed Abel is not really what their story is about.  Jus tlike the rest of God’s Word, this story points to Christ and God’s plan of salvation for the human race.

Here is the passage, from Genesis 4:

1 And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord.

2 And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.

3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.

4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering:

5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.

In “It’s the Blood,” Wilkinson uses a verse-verse-chorus structure, in which each verse tells the story of one of the principal figures.  The first verse introduces Cain as “a farmer, a tiller, and a gardener,” and is careful to point out that he valued greatly the work of his hands.  The second verse describes Abel as a shepherd, who “tended to his sheep with loving care”.

Wilkinson utilizes nearly identical pairs of lines in the middle portion of both verses, to convey what Cain and Abel had in common: “He knew about religion, and how to be forgiven/For he heard the story of the coats of skin.”  This simple line points to the oft-overlooked fact that God’s plan of redemption didn’t start on Golgotha, or with the first Passover, or with Abraham and Isaac on Moriah.  It was in place from the very beginning.

From Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve had sinned:

 7 And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons…

21 Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.


It took no time after the fall for man to turn to false religion.  And just like all false religions, it was based on works.  Adam and Eve made themselves clothing from fig leaves, hoping it would hide their sin from God.  But God’s plan was not for man to earn their salvation; it was the blood sacrifice.  “Without shedding of blood is no remission.” (Hebrews 9:22)  God killed an animal, and clothed sinful man with the skins that He had made.  And God hasn’t changed His mind since: it takes the blood of God’s perfect sacrifice, his only Son Jesus, to save man.

And isn’t it sad that Cain and Abel, both raised in the same home, went such different directions!  Back to the song, we learn what they selected as an offering to the Lord.  In the first verse, Cain “brought the bounty of his field,” the works of his hands, his own righteousness.  In the second verse, Abel “knew to sacrifice a lamb,” and thus “learned about God’s saving grace.”

The chorus, sung twice, serves as the application of the story introduced by the verses, built around the title phrase “It’s the blood!”  This pair of lines to end the chorus is a perfect summation of the message of Genesis 4: “It takes faith in heaven’s perfect Lamb, mercy from the Great I Am, to do what Cain’s religion never could / It’s not by works of righteousness we’ve done, it’s the blood.”

I don’t believe there is anyone greater today at putting the doctrine of salvation into song than Dianne Wilkinson.  Though lesser known than some other selections, “It’s the Blood” is one of her finest examples.

 I like to include a video of the song whenever I write about one, but this number is obscure enough so that I couldn’t find one.  I so wanted you hear it, that I decided to record myself singing it.  Please bear with the not-so-professional quality, and let the message found in the words bless your heart!


Jun 03

Album Review: All Who Call (Jordan’s Bridge)

JordansBridgeThough a relatively new group, Jordan’s Bridge is not lacking in gospel music experience.  Both tenor Phil Barker and pianist Joe Lane are alumni of the Singing Americans.  Barker also sang with the Harvesters, while Lane had stints on the piano bench with the Anchormen and the Dove Brothers.  While baritone Rick Sheets and lead Kirk Henry may not be familiar names to fans nationally, they too have been around the genre for many years.  Their debut recording for Pathway Records, All Who Call, is composed mostly of familiar classics, with a few newer songs mixed in.

The project’s highlight is, not coincidentally, I’m sure, also the first single released to radio.  “All Who Call” is a fun Rodney Griffin composition lifted from Romans 10:13.  Mark Trammell Trio fans will remember this song from one of their early recordings, and it’s good to hear it brought back, and sent to radio.  Henry has the feature in the verses, while Barker carries the melody in the chorus.  Barker is all too often forgotten when discussing great tenors in gospel music history, and he is the strongest vocalist in this trio.  He sings the melody on several songs throughout the album, and turns in a strong feature reprised from his Singing American days, in “The Writer”.

The two other songs that would probably be least familiar to most gospel music fans are also two of my top picks from this CD.  “Great Day” (not the more familiar old quartet song) is another pull from the Singing Americans discography, while “He’s My Comfort” is a simply fun song written by Lari Goss.

The rest of the CD contains songs that have been recorded many times, which is fine for a group trying to establish a presence in the gospel music field.  All Who Call serves as an effective introduction for gospel music fans to Jordan’s Bridge, as well as a re-introduction to great talent not heard from in a while.

Song List:

  1. I’ll Be Ready to Go With Him (David Reece)
  2. All Who Call (Rodney Griffin)
  3. How Beautiful Heaven Must Be (A.S. Bridgewater/A.P. Bland)
  4. Just Over in the Gloryland (James W. Acuff)
  5. He’s My Comfort (Lari Goss)
  6. Far Above the Starry Sky (David Reece)
  7. Sweet Beulah Land (Squire Parsons)
  8. He’ll Hold My Hand (Henry Donohue)
  9. Great Day (David Harvell)
  10. The Writer (James Rogers)

Available: Jordan’s Bridge

May 23

Gospel Music Survey

surveyWe received this message from a reader in Kentucky (Chris Conver) this morning asking for your participation in an Online Gospel Music Survey.  I’ve already taken/tested it out, so it is a safe link for you to click on. Let’s help this teacher out with his research!

Here is the link for the survey:

Here is the original request in it’s entirety:

Good morning, I don’t want to bother your followers, but I would like to see if they could take a survey for me. Any assistance would be appreciated. I am hoping to have at least several hundred folks respond. (I did reach out to Daniel Mount, and he kindly took the survey. He noted also that he was closing down his blog, and could not assist me further.) I am a teacher at a Christian university in Kentucky. This survey is a part of a course on “The Role of Gospel Music in American Christianity.” Participation will aid in gathering data for a project in this course. One need not like Gospel Music to take the survey (If you do not, at question #5, answer “No,” and go to the end of the survey). However, if you do like Gospel Music, your answers as to your reasons will be very helpful. No attempt is made to discover your identity. The survey seeks to find out the reasons why Gospel Music is popular, and identify, if any, correlations with demographic information (region of the country, age, education, etc.). There are two pages to the survey, and please only take the survey once. If you know of someone who enjoys Gospel Music, but may not know yet of this survey, please pass the link along to them, too. The more who participate, the better the results will be of the survey. The survey will stop receiving responses on Sunday, June 15, 2014 at 8 PM. Thank you in advance for your involvement. See the link below:


Older posts «