Jan 28

Cruise Review: 2015 Gospel Music Celebration Caribbean Cruise

Last week, my wife and I had the privilege and joy to celebrate our anniversary on board IMC Concerts’ and Inspiration Cruises’ 2015 Gospel Music Celebration Caribbean Cruise.  For us, it was our first cruise of any kind, so we were equally excited by the “cruising” aspect of the trip, and the gospel music part.  The cruise took place on Holland America’s luxurious MS Westerdam, making stops in the ports of Grand Turk, San Juan, St. Maarten, and Half Moon Cay, Bahamas.  The gospel music artists on board were the Booth Brothers, Greater Vision, Legacy Five, the Mark Trammell Quartet, Triumphant Quartet, the Jim Brady Trio, 11th Hour, TaRanda Greene, Danny Funderburk, Tim Lovelace, and the Cathedrals Family Reunion.

MS Westerdam

This is a gospel music blog, so I will be focusing on the music here, but make no mistake: cruising the Caribbean is an incredible experience.  Being on the vast open sea, with no land in sight, is a stunning reminder of just how big creation, and creation’s God, are.  And God’s creation doesn’t come much more beautiful than in 80-degree weather on the pristine beaches of the tropical islands.

Beach

 

The music itinerary consisted of seven evening concerts (one each night of the cruise), six of which featured three or four of the artists on board.  The exception was Monday night’s concert, which was a Cathedral Family Reunion event.  There was also a Sunday morning worship service including music and and a message from Mark Trammell, and morning and afternoon showcases throughout the week, including a “Stories Behind the Song” songwriter event, a hymn sing hosted by Gerald Wolfe, a “Comedy & Piano” showcase, and the Christmas Jubilee, featuring the Booth Brothers, Greater Vision, and Legacy Five.  Finally, there were two morning chapel services and four separate “meet and greet” sessions with the artists.

Instead of going through individual concerts, I thought I’d provide highlights from each of the artists on the cruise, each of whom sang several times throughout the week.

11th Hour11th Hour

For most of the people on board, including me, it was the first time seeing this young mixed trio in concert.  I at least came in familiar with a good bit of their music, having given favorable reviews to each of their Crossroads recordings.  Amber Eppinette, Grant Gibson, and Jaquita Lindsey proved to everyone that they could flat-out sing, with powerful and tight harmony.  They also showcase the songwriting talents of Eppinette, singing several of her songs.  11th Hour surely left this event with many new fans.

Song highlights: Picture This, Waving on the Other Side

 

 

 

 

Booth BrothersBooth Brothers

Most cruisers, including me, were seeing the Booth Brothers for the first time with new baritone Paul Lancaster.  For me, it was the first time seeing them at all outside of a short NQC set.  I gained new appreciation for not only their music ability, but their exciting stage presence, and their sincerity as presenters of the gospel in song.  The Booth Brothers were absolutely dynamite during this event and provided several of the week’s most memorable musical moments.  Lancaster is an outstanding fit, and if this cruise is any indication, they will remain at the very top of the gospel music genre for some time.  They sang eight songs from their new album, Still, receiving standing ovations multiple times.  Look for more details on those songs when that recording is reviewed here soon.

Song highlights: Jesus Saves, Touch of the Master’s Hand, Then I Met the Master, Happy Rhythm

CFRCathedrals Family Reunion

It really goes without saying that the Cathedrals Family Reunion program was thrilling and memorable.  They sang most of the tracks from their recent studio recording, and also did an extended set of songs accompanied only by Wolfe’s piano and Trammell’s bass, including some they probably don’t do often or at all, like “I’m Gonna Live Forever” and “Sin Will Take You Farther”.  Call me old-fashioned, but the piano/bass portion was the best part, and I think a lot of the crowd (and participants) would agree.

Song highlights: We Shall See Jesus, Master Builder, He Made a Change, Boundless Love

 

 

 

FunderburkDanny Funderburk

Danny Funderburk is my all-time favorite tenor, so it was a thrill to get to meet him and to hear him sing in person for the first time.  He mostly sang during the Cathedrals Family Reunion sets, but also sang several songs on his own, including his father’s masterpiece, “Whiter Than Snow”.   Another highlight was Legacy Five bringing him on to help sing “For What Earthly Reason”.  In possibly the most memorable single performance of the week, Funderburk teamed up with Trammell, Scott Fowler, Pat Barker, and a young man with Down syndrome attending the cruise, and absolutely tore the place apart with “I’ve Just Started Living” on the last night.

Song highlights: I’ve Just Started Living, Whiter Than Snow

 

 

 

Greater VisionGreater Vision

If you are even an occasional reader of this blog, you probably can tell I’m a big Greater Vision fan, so it’s always a highlight for me to be able to hear their signature deliveries of some of the most meaningful songs in gospel music.  They were the only group on the cruise that I had heard elsewhere recently, so most of their sets were familiar.  That didn’t, however, make them any less enjoyable.  Chris Allman singing “I Know a Man Who Can” never fails to be exciting, and Wolfe’s rendition of “Until You’ve Known the Love of God” is a moving recent addition to their repertoire.

Song highlights: Until You’ve Know the Love of God, I Know a Man Who Can, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, I Could Never Praise Him Enough

 

 

 

Jim Brady TrioJim Brady Trio

I’m quite certain it was the first time for nearly everyone on the cruise hearing the brand new Jim Brady Trio, and anticipation was high.  Consider expectations exceeded.  They thrilled the audience with eight strong selections from their new recording throughout the week.  Tim Parton fits with Jim and Melissa like a glove, vocally and otherwise.  This group is not just someone’s bright idea…they already belong with the top artists in the genre.

Song highlights: Steppin’ Out in Faith, The Greatest of All Miracles, The Love of God

 

 

 

 

 

 


Legacy FiveLegacy Five

Legacy Five turned in their usual, consistently solid sets all week.  Much time is spent picking on young pianist Trey Ivey, but a lot of time was also given to showcasing his immense talents, and not only at the piano.  His vocal performance on “Getting Ready Today” is always a treat.  They delighted the crowd with several selections from their most recent recording, Great Day, and also by reaching back for some L5 classics like “I Found Grace”.  Their “Truth Is Marching On” closed out the week with a triumphant flourish.

Song highlights: Truth Is Marching On, Christ Is Still the King, Getting Ready Today

 

MTQMark Trammell Quartet

I can make the same comments here that I did about Greater Vision: I’m a Mark Trammell Quartet guy, so I obviously considered their sets a highlight.  It was the first time for me hearing them stage material from their Your Walk Talks recording, which was my 2014 Album of the Year.  It was also my first time seeing them with tenor Dustin Black and bass Randy Byrd, who are great fits with the group.  This quartet is just as solid as they come, and have a very strong stable of song material to work with nowadays.  Their performances of the big Lari Goss ballads from their Lifetime recording are always stirring, but I equally enjoyed their new, outstanding quartet songs.

Song highlights: The King Is Coming, Too Much to Gain to Lose, When the King Comes to Claim His Throne, I’ll Take It to the Grave, God’s Been Faithful

TaRandaTaRanda Greene

This was my first time seeing TaRanda sing in person, and I can say that yes, that voice is real.  She climbed into the rafters on several new songs, and a few selections drawn from her days with the Greenes.  Her inclusion on the cruise roster as a powerhouse soloist was an effective change-of-pace from all of the more traditional quartets and trios.

Song highlights: I Walked Today Where Jesus Walked, When God Has Another Plan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LovelaceTim Lovelace

The multi-talented musician and comedian showed up in various capacities throughout the week, always to the crowd’s delight.  I knew he was funny, but was further reminded about how talented he is as a musician, both with a guitar and piano.  Probably my favorite of his contributions was his story and performance of “Old Convention Song” during the songwriter showcase.

Song highlights: Old Convention Song, Away Fly I’ll

 

 

 

 

 

 

TriumphantTriumphant Quartet

Like the Booth Brothers, I had only seen Triumphant during short NQC sets.  This more extended listening opportunity showed me how effortlessly they seemed to excite the crowd.  I honestly can’t put a finger on specifically what it is, but something about the way they operate on stage is electric, and their extended reign as Quartet of the Year attests to that.  I very much enjoyed a set of four acoustic songs they did with Lovelace on guitar, but the highlights of their sets were the hard-driving quartet songs.

Song highlights: Saved by Grace, When the Trumpet Sounds, Because He Loved Me

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would recommend to anyone, if they get an opportunity, to go on a gospel music cruise.  And the Gospel Music Celebration does it right.  They will be heading to Alaska this summer, and to the Caribbean again next January, so think about it!  Visit IMC Concerts for more information!

Jan 12

The Best of Lari Goss

The gospel music community was shaken on Saturday by the passing of legendary performer, musician, producer, and visionary Lari Goss.  Goss’s contributions to gospel music go back to the 1960s, when he and his brothers were making some of the most innovative music in the genre.  I am sorry that I haven’t yet become familiar with those contributions personally, but I have gained the blessing of familiarity with much of his work as a producer and arranger from the past three decades.

Most of the biggest artists in southern gospel music in this period collaborated with Goss at some point, and he never failed to bring out the very best from them.  Indeed, when you saw Lari Goss in the credits of a recording, the result was typically an elevation of that artist’s sound, and a raising of their bar of excellence.  Though he was obviously brilliant in many different styles, his most indelible moments were those grand orchestrations, which time and again seemed to transport the listener straight to the throne of God.  He transformed songs into musical and spiritual experiences like none other.

I have only been a serious follower of southern gospel music for a few years, but it didn’t take long for me to catch on that there was a common name involved in many of my favorite recordings.  Even in those early days as a fan, I learned to anticipate the next Lari Goss production, and he never failed to deliver.  As a tribute to his work, I’d just like to post a few of my favorite recordings he produced and/or arranged.  It can be argued that all of the examples below represent the pinnacle of the discography of their respective artists, which is a grand testament to Goss’s ability.

Symphony1. Symphony of Praise, Cathedral Quartet (1987): It’s got to start here, right?  More than any other Goss production, this one turned quartet music on its head, and ushered in a new era of big ballads and soaring tracks.  This, his most impactful work, also happens to be my favorite gospel music album.  The most important song within is obviously “Champion of Love,” but the exquisite “God Himself the Lamb” and “For What Earthly Reason” are just as good or better, and rank among my personal favorite recorded performances of all time.  Those songs highlight the orchestrated half of the album, but the a cappella half is just as great, led by the awe-inspiring “Room at the Cross”.

 

 

 

 

hymnsages2. Hymns of the Ages, Greater Vision (2006): Just another hymn album?  Hardly.  This recording is perhaps the most powerful listening experience in my entire music collection.  With the opening notes of “All Creatures of Our God and King,” the listener is immediately whisked away on a journey through time, told through some of the greatest lyrics ever put to music.  It starts with Creator God, and ends with the Returning Christ.  I’d put the final four songs up against any group to finish an album: the bright and cheery Redeemed medley, the convention song-turned-power ballad “I Know He Heard My Prayer,” the anthem of the Church age “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” and the thrilling and transporting Second Coming medley.

 

 

 

declaration3. Declaration, Booth Brothers (2010):  For me, this recording is one of the best examples of Goss raising the bar for an already great group.  The Booth Brothers had never failed to record solid albums with meaningful songs, but this was just another level altogether for them.  The arrangements are magnificent and powerful, and draw out perfectly the talents of the individual singers.  It contains the most impressive rendition of the Mosie Lister classic “Then I Met the Master” I’ve ever heard.  The “In Christ Alone” medley is another standout cover, while “God Did It All” is simply breathtaking.

 

 

 

 

 

Lifetime4. Lifetime, Mark Trammell Quartet (2013): I’m thinking there was probably not much internal debate for Mark Trammell when deciding in whose hands to put his life story in song.  In one of Goss’s more recent efforts, he still managed to chart new territory for songs we already thought we knew.  There are some great toe-tapping quartet numbers here, but the highlights are certainly the big medleys.  The first song I thought of when I was shocked by the news of Goss’s death on Saturday was the “Golden City Tour” medley found here.  You’d be hard-pressed to find better renditions anywhere of “The King Is Coming” or “Too Much to Gain to Lose”.  It will always be a treat to hear the talents of Lari Goss matched up with two of the greatest vocal talents of this time in Mark Trammell and Pat Barker.

 

 

 

moreenough5. More Than Enough, Whisnants (2011): Here’s my personal “dark-horse” favorite on the list, that may not be as celebrated as some of the others.  The Whisnants never sounded better than on this recording, and it contains several of my favorite performances by the trio.  Probably the biggest highlight is the sweeping and inspirational ballad “All Is Well”.  “I’ll Trust the Potter’s Hand” is also very moving, and a signature performance by Susan Whisnant.  Speaking of signature songs, Aaron Hise on “I’m Trusting the Blood” is another standout.  “He’s Living Today” breathes new life into an older Whisnants tune and is exciting from beginning to end.

 

 

 

 

 

We will never be able to replace the contributions of Lari Goss to gospel music.  But we can celebrate them more than ever, and follow his example in striving for excellence in our work.  What are some of your favorite Lari Goss contributions?  I’d love to hear some ways in which he impacted your life!

Goss

Dec 31

2014 Year in Review: Top Albums

YourWalkTalks_CDI faced a very difficult decision this year when selecting my top album of 2014.  There was absolutely no debate in my mind what the two top recordings were, but which one should be “Album of the Year”?

The Kingsmen really made a huge comeback this year with the stellar Battle Cry.  The only recording this quartet has had on my year-end list in the last three years was Grace Says, which came in at #10 in 2011.  It was a great thrill to award them a 5-star rating for their tremendous collection of quartet singing.

But after much internal debate, it had to be #2, by the smallest of hairs.  The Mark Trammell Quartet’s Your Walk Talks, released in January, is Southern Gospel Critique’s 2014 “Album of the Year”.  They followed the same formula the Kingdom Heirs used to win the award in 2013, with Redeeming the Time: record a bundle of Dianne Wilkinson quartet songs with class and top-notch vocal ability.  The great songs are highlighted by several standout performances from bass Pat Barker, the impressive debut of tenor Dustin Black, excellent signing and writing by lead Nick Trammell, and the rock-solid dependability and skill of Mark Trammell.

Keep those great quartet albums coming!  Also near the top of the list in 2014 are the third Barry Rowland & Deliverance recording in four years to make my top list, and the highest-ranked solo recording in my four years of reviewing, the triumphant Welcome Home by Joseph Habedank.

Now, the complete list of my Top 10 albums of 2014:

 

  1. Your Walk Talks, Mark Trammell Quartet (review)
  2. Battle Cry, Kingsmen (review)
  3. A Family Affair, Barry Rowland & Deliverance (review)
  4. Welcome Home, Joseph Habedank
  5. Into His Presence, Perrys
  6. Picture This, 11th Hour (review)
  7. Journey of Hope, Tribute Quartet (review)
  8. God’s Word Will Stand, Inspirations
  9. Great Day, Legacy Five
  10. Open Carefully, Message Inside, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver (review)

 

I hope all of our readers enjoy a blessed New Year in service of the Lord!  See you in 2015!

Dec 29

2014 Year in Review: Top Songs

It’s that time of year again when we reflect on what has happened in the previous year, and anticipate what is to come in the next.  It’s always fun to do that here at Southern Gospel Critique and remember all the great music that has been created for our enjoyment and edification.  Today, I present my personal list of favorite recorded songs of 2014.

This year, unlike some years past, I legitimately had four or five songs I considered for “Song of the Year,” and it was a very difficult task to differentiate between those songs.  But in the end, I came back to a song from a recording released at the very beginning of 2014.  “When the King Comes to Claim His Throne,” written by Dianne Wilkinson and recorded by the Mark Trammell Quartet, is a great example of straight-up quartet singing, features a chorus with a fun bit of counterpoint, and has an exciting arrangement, including a false ending and turnaround.  But more importantly than those musical features, it is another outstanding Biblical exposition from Dianne Wilkinson, on an end-times topic that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as some others.  Drawing from Scripture in Revelation and Isaiah, it sums up most everything Christians need to know about the Millennial Reign of Christ.

“When the King Comes to Claim His Throne” is the second of back-to-back Southern Gospel Critique “Songs of the Year” for Wilkinson, and she has had at least one song in my Top 3 all four years I have been writing.  With five songs in my Top 20, I suppose it’s safe to say Dianne Wilkinson is my Songwriter of the Year for 2014!

Now, here is my list of Top Songs of the past year!

 

  1. “When the King Comes to Claim His Throne,” Mark Trammell Quartet, Your Walk Talks (Dianne Wilkinson)
  2. “I’ve Never Seen the Righteous Forsaken,” Kingsmen, Battle Cry (Rebbeca Peck)
  3. “I’ll Take It to the Grave,” Mark Trammell Quartet, Your Walk Talks (Dianne Wilkinson/Rebecca Peck)
  4. “Say Amen,” Brian Free & Assurance, Unashamed (Kenna Turner West/Lee Black/Michael Farren)
  5. “Never No Never,” Joseph Habedank, Welcome Home (Joseph Habedank/Lee Black/Tony Wood)
  6. “Glorious Night,” Kyla Rowland & Deliverance, Family Affair (Kyla Rowland)
  7. “Come and Dine,” Kingsmen, Battle Cry (Dianne Wilkinson/Daryl Williams)
  8. “Lord, I’m Thankful,” Perrys, Into His Presence (Joel Lindsey)
  9. “God’s Been Faithful,” Mark Trammell Quartet, Your Walk Talks (Dianne Wilkinson/Scott Inman)
  10. “A Family Affair,” Barry Rowland & Deliverance & Family, Family Affair (Kyla Rowland)
  11. “When the Lights Go Down,” Joseph Habedank, Welcome Home (Joseph Habedank/Matthew Holt)
  12. “Oh Yes I Am,” Kingsmen, Battle Cry (Regina Walden)
  13. “I’ve Found a Faithful Friend,” Inspirations, God’s Word Will Stand (Leonard Fletcher)
  14. “He Took Away My Burden,” Kingsmen, Battle Cry (Scott Inman/Daryl Williams)
  15. “Somebody Go Get God,” Barry Rowland & Deliverance, Family Affair (Kyla Rowland/Jessica Thomas Austin)
  16. “Your Walk Talks,” Mark Trammell Quartet, Your Walk Talks (Rodney Griffin/Babbie Mason)
  17. “I Am a Soldier,” Tribute Quartet, Journey of Hope (Kyla Rowland)
  18. “Christ Is Still the King,” Legacy Five, Great Day (Dianne Wilkinson/Rebecca Peck)
  19. “All Made It Ashore,” Tribute Quartet, Journey of Hope (Marcia Henry)
  20. “I’ll Keep on Running,” Hoggle Family, The Hoggle Family (Donald Morris)

 

Later this week, I’ll be posting my top albums of 2014!

Oct 29

Album Review: Battle Cry (Kingsmen)

HR15642Let’s just get this out of the way right off the bat: Battle Cry is the best recording the Kingsmen Quartet have released in at least 12 years.  The current vocal lineup of Chris Jenkins (tenor), Bob Sellers (lead), Randy Crawford (baritone), and Hall-of-Famer Ray Dean Reese (bass) have been at it for two and a half years, and this is our first opportunity to hear them on an album of new material.  Battle Cry is worth the wait.  With Jenkins’s seemingly effortless ultra-high notes and the big range of Sellers, the songs are keyed very high, and the sound is reminiscent of the Jerry Martin/Bryan Hutson/Parker Jonathan lineup, a personal favorite of mine.

Battle Cry kicks off with the title track, an energetic march and call to action for the Church.  For a lot of listeners, it should bring to mind the Cathedrals classic, “Bloodwashed Band”.  It is a very solid performance and a perfect opener.  That march is followed by a mid-tempo Rebecca Peck tune, “I’ve Never Seen the Righteous Forsaken”.  This Jenkins feature is a home run, and my personal favorite cut on the album.  Chris Jenkins was born to sing Kingsmen tenor, and he shows out here.  Hit repeat!

A new, but traditional-sounding, convention style song, “He Took Away My Burden,” is next.  It’s not a likely radio single pick, but it is high on my list of favorites, as a fan of old-school quartet singing.  The energy is cranked way up for the first barnburner on Battle Cry, “Oh Yes I Am”.  Another stellar performance by Jenkins, it is a great choice for the first single off the album, and serves as notice to the listener that the high-octane Kingsmen sound is back and as good as ever.  This recording contains two other excellent toe-tappers: warp-speed “Beautiful City” and my favorite, the infectious “Come and Dine,” from the pen of Dianne Wilkinson and Daryl Williams.

That’s not to say that the Kingsmen don’t slow it down, and even modern it up, at times on Battle Cry.  The recording contains three slower songs, all leaning just a hair in the progressive direction.  A Sellers feature, “Cross of Grace” is a fairly standard progressive ballad, and is executed very well.  “It Should Have Rained” is like most Dianne Wilkinson/Rusty Golden collaborations in that it’s just different, and in a good way.  That is a Crawford feature, as is a song from his own pen, “Here I Stand Amazed,” which closes the album.

There is truly no filler material on the CD, and even the deeper cuts are highly enjoyable.  “I Know” is an excellent Ila Knight composition that sounds like a Kingsmen or Inspirations song from out of the 70s.  The simply-titled “Faith” is a more modern mid-tempo number.  Even though it’s not one of my top seven or eight songs on the recording, it would be one of the very top songs on a number of other recordings I’ve listened to this year.  That’s how strong a collection Battle Cry is overall.

For me, Battle Cry is without a doubt one of the two best quartet recordings of the year, along with Mark Trammell Quartet’s Your Walk Talks.  It should appeal to a broad spectrum of gospel music fans just due to its execution.  Traditional southern gospel fans will count it as one of the best of 2014.

Album Rating: 5 stars

Song list:

  1. Battle Cry (Joel Lindsey/Sue C. Smith/Lee Black)
  2. I’ve Never Seen the Righteous Forsaken (Rebecca Peck)
  3. He Took Away My Burden (Scott Inman/Daryl Williams)
  4. Oh, Yes I Am (Regina Walden)
  5. Cross of Grace (Peck)
  6. Beautiful City (Ashley Franks)
  7. I Know (Ila C. Knight)
  8. It Should Have Rained (Dianne Wilkinson/Rusty Golden)
  9. Faith (Kenna Turner West/Belinda Smith)
  10. Come and Dine (Wilkinson/Williams)
  11. Here I Stand Amazed (Randy Crawford)

Oct 25

Really Southern Gospel Music (featuring Quarteto Gileade)

These guys are good….thankful for my four years of Spanish in college now ;)

disfrutar de la música

;

Oct 16

Norman Wilson (Primitive Quartet) passes away

0196d901937cb50e733bea033b58587f45f9f1ddfaIt’s been a sad day for me since learning about the passing of one of my friends and heroes in Gospel music.  Norman Wilson, the original and only tenor for the Primitive Quartet, went home to Heaven yesterday while on a hunting trip.

01a60640a9d7ab68344413d5189f9d5877918a0b27I became acquainted with Norman in the 1980’s, but it wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I really got to know this gentleman.  His smile was always his trademark and he was always full of wit and ready for a laugh.  There was never a dull moment with Norman around, but it was his love for The Lord that always astounded me.  It didn’t matter what manner of conversation we were having, we eventually would start talking about the Lord and just how good God had been to us.

01748d101208f35d893e1dbac64f9ba852dd0ad012I’ve been privileged to spend time with Norman at my home church and also on the road as well and he was always the same.  Heaven sure gained a treasure yesterday and I have no doubt that there he now is smiling like he never did before in the presence of Jesus.  Our hearts can’t begin to comprehend all that he is seeing now as he has finally made it to his eternal resting place.

As my tribute to this fine gentleman, I leave you with this signature song of his, “My Hope Is In The Blood”….amen!!!


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