May 27

Best of the Best: 2010

declarationSeveral years ago, I went through an exercise on this site of ranking my one hundred favorite albums.  That was truly an enjoyable endeavor, but like in all facets of life, things change.  Since that time, my music collection has grown considerably, and my tastes have also changed in some ways.  I’m not going to re-rank one hundred albums (at least I don’t currently plan to do so), but I thought I’d give an updated look at my favorites, in a different format.  This is the first post in a series that will rank my favorite songs and albums from each year, and from selected artists.

For the first post, I will look at the year 2010, since it is the year before I started blogging about this music.  My favorites from 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 can be found in the archives of this blog.

While not the strongest of years overall for me, 2010 is now dominated by an album I didn’t even own when I made my original Top 100, but has since gained a special place in my collection.  But first, my list of favorite songs recorded in that year:

1. “Then I Met the Master,” Booth Brothers, Declaration (Mosie Lister)

2. “God Did It All,” Booth Brothers, Declaration (Dianne Wilkinson/Rusty Golden)

3. “It’s Almost Over,” Mark Trammell Quartet, Testimony (Ann Ballard)

4. “I Want to Know,” Mark Trammell Quartet, Testimony (Big Chief Wetherington)

5 “In Christ Alone” Medley, Booth Brothers, Declaration (Keith Getty/Stuart Townsend)

6. “I’ve Never Known a Day,” Inspirations, On the Sunrise Side (Van Mitchell)

7. “I See Grace,” Booth Brothers, Declaration (Jim Brady/Tony Wood/Barry Weeks)

8. “Ransomed and Redeemed,” Mark Trammell Quartet, Testimony (Daryl Williams)

9. “A Higher Throne,” Booth Brothers, Declaration (Keith Getty/Kristyn Getty)

10. “I of the Storm,” Old Paths, A Wonderful Life (Ken Kuykendall)

11. Calvary Medley, Mark Trammell Quartet, Testimony (Various)

12. “Saved by Grace,” Triumphant Quartet, Love Came Calling (Carroll McGruder)

13. “Test of Time,” Kingdom Heirs, 25th Anniversary (Savana Foust)

14. “There’s a Record Book,” Primitive Quartet, He Lifted Me Out (Larry Whitehead)

15. “The More I Think About Heaven,” Inspirations, On the Sunrise Side (Rich Stevens/Tami Stevens)

16. “One Drop of Blood,” Mark Trammell Quartet, Testimony (Dustin Sweatman)

17. “River of Mercy,” Inspirations, On the Sunrise Side (Beverly Sexton/Kenny Sexton)

18. “That Sounds Like Home to Me,” Gaither Vocal Band, Greatly Blessed (Aaron Wilburn/Eddie Crook)

19. “Every Need Supplied,” Barry Rowland & Deliverance, Glory Burst Through the Darkness (Joel Hemphill)

20. “Sheltered,” Breakin’ Ground, Sheltered (Jonathan Davis)

 

Of the 57 albums in my collection recorded in 2010, here are my top ten:

1. Declaration, Booth Brothers

2. Testimony, Mark Trammell Quartet

3. On the Sunrise Side, Inspirations

4. Love Came Calling, Triumphant Quartet

5. A Tribute to the Cathedral Quartet, Ernie Haase & Signature Sound

6. Greatly Blessed, Gaither Vocal Band

7. Jubilee 2, Booth Brothers/Greater Vision/Legacy Five

8. He Lifted Me Out, Primitive Quartet

9. Something’s Happening, Hoppers

10. Glory Burst Through the Darkness, Barry Rowland & Deliverance

May 06

Songs From Scripture: He Never Even Looked at the Man (Whisnants)

It’s been far too long, but let’s look at the Scriptural basis for another great gospel song.  I set out to come up with a song from every book of the Bible in order, and I’m at Leviticus.  A gospel song from Leviticus may seem a little unusual on the surface, but the truth is that the Gospel is found in every part of the Bible, including in Leviticus.  A Christian may labor to get through the law books when studying the Word, but that labor will pay off when the reader looks at those books with the realization that every part of it points gloriously to Christ.  What better to teach us this than a gospel song lyric!

“He Never Even Looked at the Man” was written by Jeff Steele, Toni Clay, and Jeff Ferguson, and was recorded by the Whisnants on their 2007 project, Promises.  It is a beautiful power ballad with a great vocal turned in by Susan Whisnant, but more importantly, it is a lyrical masterpiece that sinks its teeth deep into the doctrines of atonement and justification.

The first verse sets an Old Testament scene of a man bringing his burnt offering sacrifice on the day of atonement, and lays down some doctrinal foundation: “The time of year had come for sin to be atoned…The law required a payment, only blood could satisfy…”  This scene is just what God outlined in the law for Israel in Leviticus 1:1-4.

1 And the Lord called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying,

2 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man of you bring an offering unto the Lord, ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock.

3 If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the Lord.

4 And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.

The key for the sacrifice was that it was to be without blemish.  Later in Leviticus 22:20, God commands:

But whatsoever hath a blemish, that shall ye not offer: for it shall not be acceptable for you.

The end of the first verse of the song presents a poignant contrast.  The man bringing the sacrifice is thinking about the greatness of his sin: “His sins had been so many, surely nothing could suffice”.  But the priest to whom the sacrifice is presented has a different view: “Then the priest fixed his eyes on the sacrifice”.  That leads into the chorus, with the song’s key lyrics:

He never even looked at the man

He only examined the lamb

Carefully, deliberately, judging its acceptability

But he never even looked at the man

If you’re a Christian with a fairly basic understanding of Scripture, you’re probably already rejoicing about what this means for us.  Every sacrifice outlined in the Old Testament is a picture and preview of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, on the cross of Calvary.  Just like the levitical sacrifice, our sacrifice had to be perfect and without blemish.  Pontius Pilate examined Jesus and said it better than anyone ever could: “I find no fault in this man” (Luke 23:4).  Because Christ, the one sacrifice for the sin of the entire world, was perfect, the quantity and quality of my sin does not matter ONE SINGLE BIT in the eyes of God!  He never even looks at the man!

The second verse of “He Never Even Looked at the Man” brings home this application.  The parallel to the man coming to the temple in the first verse is the sinner coming to the altar for salvation in the second verse: “Wanting to come forward, many in the crowd…Focus on the altar, they’d like to come, but how?”  Again, the contrast is presented between the sinner and the sacrifice: “Their sins are overwhelming, and works cannot atone…But the Father in His mercy has made a way back home…it’s only through the sinless blood of Christ alone!”  The chorus repeats, but this time, we know the Lamb being examined and accepted is not some animal, but the Son of God.  Oh, how hopeless we would be if we were the ones being examined by God for entry into heaven!  But we have a sacrifice that we can bring to God, that meets the necessary qualifications.  His name is Jesus!

If the song stopped there, that would be plenty enough.  But just for good measure, there is a bridge and chorus to hammer home one final point.  Christ’s sacrifice is not just good enough at the moment of salvation, but it forever JUSTIFIES the believer.  Sins past and future cannot change God’s view of us, because He only considers the Lamb!

He never even looks at the man

He only considers the Lamb

Carefully, lovingly, knowing His acceptability

But He never even looks at the man

He only sees the Lamb!

If you don’t know this song or have forgotten it, you need to download it or give it another listen!  What a message!

Apr 16

‘Happy Rhythm’ from The Ball Brothers featuring new bass vocalist, Jon Epley

I am looking forward to hearing all of the new project from the Ball Brothers. This clip from the recent tour in Ireland gives us a small taste of good things to come. These guys have a great sound!

Be happy today! Here's a clip from Belfast, Northern Ireland. Featuring our newest member Jon Epley on bass. Proverbs 15:13 Feel free to SHARE. :)

Posted by The Ball Brothers on Thursday, April 16, 2015

Apr 15

The Inspirations – First Look At New Vocal Lineup

Here’s an extended video of the new lineup for the Inspirations Quartet.  The Inspirations welcome Harold Reed as their new tenor and Joe Brown singing Bass.  They join Melton Campbell and Matt Dibler, their baritone and lead singer respectively.

Apr 13

Album Review: As We Speak (Greater Vision)

AsWeSpeakAs Greater Vision embarks on their 25th year in gospel music, fans have come to expect a high level of quality in their music.  Time and again, they meet those expectations, and they remain at the pinnacle of gospel music, with no descent in sight.  As We Speak is the latest album from one of gospel music’s most acclaimed groups, another collection of meaningful songs with rich harmonies.

The album opens with a blaze, an exciting Rodney Griffin-penned song that sounds like a slam-dunk number one hit.  “Put Out the Fire” places us at the Jordan River with John the Baptist, proclaiming the coming of the Lamb of God.  The lyrics relay the stirring implications of that name for Christ, who was the universal and perfect sacrifice for the sin of the world.  What I didn’t realize until listening to the song and going back to the Scriptures, was that John’s proclamation was the first time recorded in the Bible that Jesus was referred to as the “Lamb of God”.  What a striking statement that must have been to the Jews gathered around Jordan that day!  “Put Out the Fire” lays it all out, and I haven’t stopped singing it for days.

As We Speak contains a few other strong uptempo songs, and not all written by Griffin.  It’s been seven years since Greater Vision recorded a new song not written by Griffin or Chris Allman, but they picked out a good one with “Never Will I Ever Again,” from then pen of Regina Walden (whose “Oh Yes I Am” just went to #1 for the Kingsmen).  A fiddle-laced country style number, it contains a catchy and slightly tongue-twisting lyric, the likes of which has been a Greater Vision hallmark over the years.  Griffin’s “Toes in the Water” is a more hard-driving song with a practical message of commitment to God’s service.  “The Sandals of Daniel” has a more easy-going sound and is another in a long line of Biblical narrative and self-examination lyrics from Griffin.

Of course, Griffin’s not the only great songwriter in the group.  Chris Allman’s songs, like “Another Child’s Coming Home” from The Only Way or “I Can Trust You” from For All He’s Done, tend to bring something a little different to the table musically for Greater Vision.  Such is the case for “He Does,” a slower song with a gradual melodic lift that corresponds with a lyrical lift about Christ’s love for us.  Allman teamed with Griffin to write “Saved by the Same Grace,” which tells the story of two seemingly opposite sinners, backed by by a B3 organ and electric guitar.

As We Speak contains two more songs from “outside” the group.  “We Can’t Tell It All” is the first new Phil Cross song Greater Vision has recorded in a decade.  It is a mid-tempo number with a very strong country flavor and a simple lyric of God’s greatness, which is beyond description.  The album’s one “old” song is a brilliant, even if obscure, pull from the Hemphills’ discography, “Let the Blood of Calvary Speak for Me”.  What a lyric it contains, against an exquisite orchestrated backdrop by the late, great Lari Goss, who also co-wrote the song.  Griffin turns in a great vocal feature on this one.  He seems to be one of those singers who gets better with age, and in my opinion, he’s never sounded better than he does on As We Speak.  I don’t think I’m the only one who notices, because he is featured on six of the album’s ten songs.

Goss provided the orchestrations for the project prior to his passing earlier this year.  Greater Vision paid a classy tribute to him on the album’s artwork, dedicating the recording to his memory.  These arrangements on As We Speak are not the majestic and epic variety that is so well-associated with Goss, but the more understated and poignant type.  One such example is “I Do Know,” a soothing song of heaven written by and featuring Griffin.  The album’s closer and title song is its most moving, with a tender lyric expressing a desire for close fellowship with the Father.  Much like “Seeking for Me” on the group’s last major recording, it is the sole feature for Gerald Wolfe.  It is a tremendous, delicate vocal performance, one that I can see being a staple at the end of Greater Vision concerts this year.

As We Speak doesn’t contain any memorable, high-flying vocals, or any dramatic power ballads with eight key changes.  But that’s not why we listen to Greater Vision, is it?.  It does contain what Greater Vision recordings always contain: substantive and Biblical lyrics, and musical excellence.  Hearing their music is a constant reminder that the main thing is the quality of the song, and what the song is telling us.  You will enjoy what these songs have to say, as they speak to us.

Album Rating: 4.5 stars

Song List:

1. Put Out the Fire (Rodney Griffin)

2. We Can’t Tell It All (Phil Cross)

3. Toes in the Water (Griffin)

4. He Does (Chris Allman)

5. In the Sandals of Daniel (Griffin)

6. Let the Blood of Calvary Speak for Me (Joel Hemphill/Candy Hemphill Christmas/Lari Goss)

7. Never Will I Ever Again (Regina Walden)

8. I Do Know (Griffin)

9. Saved by the Same Grace (Allman/Griffin)

10. As We Speak (Griffin)

Mar 26

“I’m Praying For You” – concept video from the Troy Burns Family

Take a few moments and watch this video from Inspirations’ alumni, Troy Burns, and his precious family.  What a message!

Mar 24

Album Review: Stay (Old Paths)

StayIt’s been said here and elsewhere in the gospel music world over the last few years that the Old Paths were one of the best up-and-coming quartets in America.  Let’s go ahead and remove one of the modifiers and call the Old Paths, simply, one of the best quartets in America.  They’ve had four songs reach #1 on the Singing News chart since December 2012; no artist can claim more.  They are reaping the rewards of consistency in their vocal lineup, working on three and a half years of Jeremy Peace at tenor, Tim Rackley at lead, Doug Roark at baritone, and Daniel Ashmore on bass.  With their third major Crossroads release, Stay, the Old Paths are no longer out to show their worth among the top quartets in gospel music, but to continue providing the quality of music and songs that already put them on that tier.

With the fantastic radio success the Old Paths have had, they are sure to draw the attention of gospel music’s top songwriters.  And as songwriters go, there are none better right now than Dianne Wilkinson and Rebecca Peck.  They wrote, individually and together, six of the ten songs featured on Stay.  The three co-writes are three of the strongest songs on the recording.  The opener, “Have You Ever,” is a bluesy number that sounds right out of the Kingdom Heirs playbook.  It’s a sort of new sound for the Old Paths, but it works very well.  “Washed in the Blood” busts out the fiddle for a fun country-style tune.  Ashmore has one of the very best features of his young career on this song that declares the one true method of salvation.  Finally, “How Great the Debt” is an outstanding big ballad feature for Rackley, out of the same stylistic mold as the hit, “Long Live the King”.  After “racking” my brain, I can’t think of five lead singers in gospel music right now as good as Rackley, and he delivers again on this one.

The Old Paths are always strong on the hard-driving quartet songs, and this recording’s best example is Wilkinson’s “What Did They Call Him”.  If you’ve heard “It’s Jesus,” which Wilkinson wrote and the Mark Trammell Trio recorded more than a decade ago, you’ll find this song’s pattern familiar, but still enjoyable.  A Peck composition found at the end of the album, “Out of the Grave” brings a much different type of high energy, trumpeting the victory of Christ’s Resurrection. Jeremy Peace is one of southern gospel’s singular talents, and he delivers this song in a way only he can.  Peace also shines brightly on “You Never Cease to Amaze Me,” a worship ballad from Peck’s pen.

Two names I’ve seen on lots of quality songs in the last couple of years are Rachel McCutcheon and Karen Gillespie, who co-wrote “Just Can’t Get Over,” Roark’s lone feature on Stay.  With a memorable hook and an easy melody, it’s the kind of song that easily rings in the listener’s mind all day.

Despite the large number of contributions from songwriting giants, the Old Paths still make sure to go back to the well of songwriters with whom they had previous success.  Rodney Birch, most impressively, has written three of the quartet’s #1 hits: “Battle Stand,” “God’s Great,” and “Love Them to Jesus”.  On Stay, he contributes “Ordinary People,” which bears a strong musical kinship to “God’s Great”.  Would you believe they are releasing it as the first single from the new project?  You can’t argue with that kind of success.

The recording’s most poignant lyric comes from the title song, written by Ray Scarbrough (whose “He’s My Song” and “I’m Saved” the Old Paths have recorded).  It illustrates the setting found in John 13 and 14.  Jesus has just conducted the Last Supper, washed the disciples’ feet, and told them that He would be betrayed.  The heaviness of chapter 13 gives way to the comfort of chapter 14, when Jesus promises both Heaven and the Holy Spirit to the grieving disciples.  “Stay” will be sure to resonate with listeners with its touching message the Lord’s enduring closeness to His children.

The main thing that keeps Stay from being one of my very top favorites, like the most recent efforts from the Kingdom Heirs, Mark Trammell Quartet, and the Kingsmen, is that there aren’t any strong convention-style quartet songs.  That’s more of a personal stylistic preference than anything.  The closest song to that on the recording is “Oh, What a Happy Morning,” which is another good bass feature for Ashmore.

By now, the Old Paths shouldn’t be surprising any southern gospel fans with the quality of their music.  They deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Triumphant, the Mark Trammell Quartet, Legacy Five, the Kingdom Heirs, and the other top quartets in the industry.  Stay will help keep them on that level, and they don’t appear to be letting up any time soon.

Album Rating:  4 stars

Song list:

1. Have You Ever (Dianne Wilkinson/Rebecca Peck)

2. You Never Cease to Amaze Me (Peck)

3. What Did They Call Him (Wilkinson)

4. Just Can’t Get Over (Rachel McCutcheon/Karen Gillespie)

5. Washed in the Blood (Wilkinson/Peck)

6. How Great the Debt (Wilkinson/Peck)

7. Ordinary People (Rodney Birch)

8. Stay (Ray Scarbrough)

9. Oh, What a Happy Morning (Larry Petree)

10. Out of the Grave (Peck)

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