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

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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!!!


Oct 13

Album Review: Family Affair (Barry Rowland & Deliverance)

FamilyAffairKyla Rowland has impacted five decades of gospel music not only with her renowned songwriting, but through the singing ministry of herself and her family.  Today, the Rowland banner is primarily taken on the road by her son and his group, Barry Rowland & Deliverance.  This trio’s fourth recording for Crossroads, Family Affair, is actually a joint effort of three Rowlands generations.  Barry’s Deliverance is joined by the “original,” Kyla Rowland & Deliverance, consisting of Kyla and her husband Bob, and family friend Robin Rogers.  Also featured is New Deliverance, a trio of Kyla’s granddaughters.  All three groups bring something quite different to the table vocally, which adds to the enjoyment of this twelve-song collection.

Barry Rowland & Deliverance are featured on five of the twelve songs.  The CD opener, “Our Third Day,” is a straight-ahead barnburner looking forward to the final resurrection of God’s people at Christ’s return.  “I Think I”ll Just Go With God,” featuring Barry’s wife Tammy, has always been a favorite of mine from Kyla Rowland’s pen, and fits this group’s sound well.  One of the highlights of the CD is “Somebody Go Get God,” a powerful, mid-tempo plea for revival.  This song finds the trio doing what they do best: turning lead singer Shawn Rupert loose on a shout-‘er-out lyric.  It would be a strong candidate for a radio single, one that God’s people need to hear.

Kyla Rowland & Deliverance brings their unique and robust sound to three selections.  Mrs. Kyla leads “How Blessed,” which readers may remember was a hit for the Bowling Family a few years ago.  My favorite song on Family Affair is “Glorious Night,” a whale of song that melds together the night of Christ’s birth with the salvation experience.  I can’t put it better than Barry did to me in a conversation, when he said that soprano Robin Rogers “absolutely plowed it”.  This one got a few repeats immediately.

Finally, New Deliverance, with youthful and pure-toned bluegrass-tinged harmonies, is featured on three tracks.  Among them is the only song not written by Kyla Rowland, a cover of the classic hymn “Tell Me the Story of Jesus”.  They also treat the listener to a pretty, meditative ballad, “Purpose,” and the energetic CD closer, “This Jordan”.

The entire Rowland clan comes together for one song, and that is the recording’s title track.  The first verse and chorus brought tears to my eyes the first time I listened to it, as it takes the listener to the scene in Acts chapter two, when the disciples were in the upper room at Pentecost, waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit.  They would have never been able to claim that promise if they were not all there, “with one accord in one place”.  This song, and this CD, isn’t just about the Rowland family.  It’s about God’s family, coming together for one purpose and goal: to love and to serve the God who saved us.

I suppose this is becoming an annual tradition at this point, but I once again highly recommend this new album from Barry Rowland & Deliverance, and the rest of the Rowland family.  Their music never fails to bless my heart, and I believe it will do the same for you.

Album Rating: 4.5 stars

Song List:

  1. Our Third Day (Kyla Rowland)
  2. How Blessed (Rowland)
  3. I Think I’ll Just Go With God (Rowland)
  4. A Family Affair (Rowland)
  5. Somebody Go Get God (Rowland/Jessica Thomas)
  6. Tell Me the Story of Jesus (Fanny Crosby/John R. Sweney)
  7. Glorious Night (Rowland)
  8. Purpose (Rowland)
  9. Telling the Story (Rowland/Thomas)
  10. Because (Rowland)
  11. Heaven Is Waiting (Rowland)
  12. This Jordan (Rowland)

Available at: Barry Rowland & Deliverance, Crossroads

Oct 10

Whisnants and Mark Trammell Quartet to Release Joint Christmas Recording

goldTwo of the best loved groups in southern gospel have joined forces to bring a little extra cheer to the Christmas season.  The Whisnants and the Mark Trammell Quartet will release Home for Christmas, a twelve-song collection, on November 3rd, complete with an online release celebration.  Here is the press release from United Independent Artists:

Whisnants and Mark Trammell Quartet Release NEW Christmas CD TOGETHER.

(Morganton, NC) October 10, 2014 – United Independent Artists (UIA), for the first time releases a Christmas CD combining the family harmony of the Whisnants with the traditional sounds of the Mark Trammell Quartet in a twelve track project titled “Home For Christmas.”  The CD’s official release date is November 3, 2014 and will be available for purchase on both group websites www.whisnants.com and www.marktrammellministries.com.

Home For Christmas features twelve songs recorded by the Mark Trammell Quartet and the Whisnants.  Selections on the project include the groups singing together and individually as well as featuring new songs and traditional carols.  “We decided to do this CD together,” Mark Trammell explains, “when Jeff Whisnant was looking to record a new Christmas project around the same time I was.  When folks heard we were doing this, they asked if we could put together a Christmas program as well.”  Jeff Whisnant adds, “I haven’t been this excited about anything in a long time as I am about the Home For Christmas project.  We are so pleased to collaborate with our friends the Mark Trammell Quartet; we love and appreciate what these men stand for.”   

Pre-sales for this project will begin on October 10th, and can be found on both artists websites (links found above).  In addition to the pre-release, The Mark Trammell Quartet and the Whisnants are hosting a special online event in celebration of their first recording together.  This event will take place on the official release date, November 3rd, and will feature exclusive information and unique interaction for fans from both artists.  The event is open to the public – anyone who can access the internet via computer, smart phone or tablet can join for free.  To receive updates and join this online event, visit www.homeforchristmaslaunchparty.com.  Though the event does not begin until November 3st, those wishing to join are encouraged to do so now.                

United Independent Artists (UIA) began in 1997 with Jeff and Susan Whisnant at the helm and consists of artists who record independently from recording labels.  Artists such as Greater Vision, The Mark Trammell Quartet, Booth Brothers, Taylors and others use UIA in radio promotions.  UIA is behind #1 songs such as Greater Vision’s “Preacher Tell Me Like It Is,” Booth Brothers “Look For Me At Jesus Feet,” Mark Trammell Quartet’s “I Want To Know” and other successful songs in the industry.     www.uiamusic.com

With the caliber of the artists involved and their close friendships through the years, this collaboration is sure to be a great match.  Home for Christmas should definitely be on any southern gospel fan’s Christmas wish list.

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Oct 07

DVD Review: Gospel Music Hymn Sing

Hymn-SingEvery once in a while someone will come up with an idea that seems so obvious, you wonder why no one had thought of it before.  Such is the case with the Gospel Music Hymn Sing concert event and video recording, spearheaded by Gerald Wolfe.  Then again, maybe someone had thought of it before, but didn’t have the motivation, means, and ability to execute it.  That is certainly not the case for Wolfe, who has long been one of gospel music’s greatest champions for the preservation of the hymns of the Church, and who possesses an unrivaled combination of musical and business acumen.  The result speaks for itself: a large gathering of gospel music’s most beloved artists, a beautiful venue packed with people and enthusiasm, and a sparkling video product that does justice to songs that are among the greatest ever written.

Though dozens of southern gospel’s best take their place on stage, Gospel Music Hymn Sing features a wonderful role reversal: the artists on stage spend more time singing along with the audience than they do singing on their own, and their excitement over that fact is highly evident.  All but a couple songs are carried primarily by the congregation, with an assortment of professional singers featured on verses here and there.  In this format, Wolfe doubles as emcee and song leader, with a heavy dose of “kid in a candy store” added.  A band including Stan Whitmire, Mylon Hayes, and Mike Hopper keeps the music simple and classy.  The source of song is the legendary “redback” Church Hymnal, with page numbers called throughout the evening to guide the congregation.  (I’m not sure if they were placed in the pews, or if people brought them, but it seemed like most of the audience had one.)

Every song over two hours is enjoyable, but I’ll list my main highlights, in chronological order:

  • “Blessed Assurance” – It is Fanny Crosby’s most triumphant work, and people absolutely love to sing it.  Wolfe does a great job showcasing the congregation’s power and ability, ending with a mighty flourish.
  • “I Know He Heard My Prayer” – The Vep Ellis classic is sung note for note out of the redback by a combination choir from the host First Baptist Church in Morristown, TN and neighboring Alpha Baptist Church.  They absolutely bring the house down.  Watching this performance makes one wonder how it is possible that churches could be doing away with their choirs.
  • “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” – The Cathedrals a cappella arrangement of Haldor Lillenas’s masterpiece is delivered by Chris Allman, Mark Trammell, Rodney Griffin, and Pat Barker.  Though I’ve heard it many times, this song and arrangement never get old, and the audience gives a thunderous standing ovation.
  • “Jesus Spoke to Me” – No one in gospel music does the convention style better right now than the fantastic Mylon Hayes family, and Wolfe brings them up to do page 76 in the redback, complete with a verse of do-re-mi’s.  With weaving counterpoint, it is a pure delight and big crowd-pleaser.
  • “Leave It There” – Toward the end, the video takes a tender turn when Connie Hopper, cancer survivor and queen of southern gospel, is featured on this hymn.  There isn’t a dry eye in the house, or in my living room.  That tenderness carries forward with “Haven of Rest,” featuring Mark Trammell and Kim Hopper, and “Amazing Grace,” featuring Karen Peck.  After a poignant set-up from Wolfe, “Just As I Am” is the hymn of invitation and wraps up the evening perfectly.

I am blessed to be a member of a church that still has hymnals and a song leader, so I don’t have much knowledge of what I often hear from those whose churches are trending toward projector screens and praise teams.  So I’m not going to get on a soap box or cast aspersions.  But I do believe that there are a large number of Christians who are craving the opportunity to participate confidently in worshiping the Lord in song.  I believe that many desire to hold a hymnal in their hand and sing the harmony notes written there.  I also believe that encouraging Christians to sing, play, and read music is essential for the future of gospel music.  The electricity in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church in Morristown is palpable during the Gospel Music Hymn Sing, for all of these reasons.  I say this with as much sincerity and conviction as anything I’ve written here: we need more of this.  The Gospel Music Hymn Sing is a must-have for any gospel music fan, and is sure to encourage your soul, and put a song in your heart.

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)

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