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.


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)

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

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