Oct 07

Album Review: Full Sail (Mark Trammell Quartet)

full-sailFull Sail is the Mark Trammell Quartet’s first major recording of new material with bass Randy Byrd and tenor Blake Buffin.  Father and son Mark and Nick Trammell continue to round out the vocal lineup, of course.  Full Sail is a typical MTQ mix of traditional quartet songs and orchestrated ballads, with five new (or almost new) songs, and five older songs that cover a nice spectrum of styles.

Most of the new songs are of the uptempo variety, and they come from the best of the best of gospel music songwriters.  Full Sail kicks off with a rousing traditional quartet number, “All the Way Home,” a Dianne Wilkinson/Rebecca Peck composition.  A quartet can always score bonus points with me for tossing in some counterpoint in the chorus, and it is executed well here.  It sounds very much like something the Kingdom Heirs of the last few years would record.  The same can be said for “Go Show John,” which is a touch more country in style, but still quartet all the way.  “Go Show John” is the first ever songwriting collaboration between Wilkinson and Rodney Griffin, my two all-time favorite writers.  Is it any surprise that their first song is a Bible narrative and application?  I’ve heard these two have more in the works, and I personally can’t wait!

Griffin has one more song on Full Sail, a catchy number entitled “Already in Canaan Land”.  It is a happy song about those times when it seems like God allows a little heaven on earth in the life of a Christian.  The catchiest of all the songs on the CD is “Treasures in Heaven,” from the pen of Peck.  You may remember this song being recorded by the “Jubilee” gang a few years ago.  It is almost a completely different song here.  It is midtempo and jazzy, as opposed to the much faster Jubilee version.  On first listen, when the song started at the much slower pace, I worried because I usually like ‘em as fast as they can sing ‘em.  But by the end of the song, the great arrangement had me hooked.  This one should go over well live.

Mark Trammell and his team made some very interesting and effective choices when pulling older material for Full Sail.  First is a tremendous rendition of the hymn, “He Hideth My Soul,” as recorded by the Blackwood Brothers in the 1970s and arranged by Tommy Fairchild.  Indeed, Fairchild is credited in the liner notes as directly teaching the quartet his arrangement.  Performed only with a piano and bass, it is a real highlight of the recording.  Then there are two Imperials covers, from two different Imperials eras.  Mark picks up the mantle of Jake Hess and turns in a fun rendition of Henry Slaughter’s “God Takes Good Care of Me”.  Then we fast forward a decade or so in the Imperials discography and hear “More Than You’ll Ever Know,” which is a very different sound for the Mark Trammell Quartet.  Blake Buffin turns in a fantastic performance of this beautiful song originally featuring Jim Murray.  This is a must-listen, if only for the fact that we’ve never heard this quartet sing a song like this.  The more I listen, the more I like it.  Also included is the classic “Led Out of Bondage,” featuring Randy Byrd.  It’s pretty typical in arrangement, but, as usual, MTQ sings it better than most.

It wouldn’t be a Mark Trammell Quartet recording without a couple of orchestrated ballads featuring Mark.  Trey Ivey is the man behind the orchestrations on Full Sail.  This talented young man shows himself worthy of helping to carry on the legacy of Lari Goss.  One of the big songs is a new one from Wilkinson and Peck, “Redeemer of My Soul”.  This is a hymn-like anthem, with lyrics rich in the doctrines of salvation and redemption.  There was a time when hymns were used to teach and rehearse Bible doctrine, when having a personal copy of the Bible was not as common.  This song is worthy of that era, and we need more like it.

Mark Trammell is in his mid-50s now, and sounds better than ever.  What a testament to his talent and dedication to his craft, that he seems to somehow get better every time his quartet records a new CD!  Some of the greatest singers to ever pick up a microphone have sung gospel music, and Mark Trammell takes a back seat to none of them.  That’s just my opinion, and you have the right to disagree and be wrong.  I don’t know if I’ve ever heard Mark sing better than he does on the Gaither classic, “My Faith Still Holds”.  This song is the biggest highlight of Full Sail.  Ivey’s orchestration paired with Trammell’s vocal will have audiences everywhere on their feet.

The music of the Mark Trammell Quartet always seems to have an extra dose of class. The tracks just seem to fit like a glove with the lyrics, staying mostly simple and letting the message shine.  The singers stay in their range (in Mark’s case, approaching infinity), and don’t over-perform anything.  This is due to the leadership and vision of Mark Trammell and those talented individuals, like co-producers Trey Ivey and Jeff Collins, whom he enlists to create the music.  Full Sail is yet another collection of top-notch songs sung by top-notch singers.  This is some of the best that gospel music has to offer today.

Album Rating: 4.5 stars

 

Song List:

1. All the Way Home (Rebecca Peck/Dianne Wilkinson)

2. My Faith Still Holds (Bill Gaither/Gloria Gaither)

3. Go Show John (Rodney Griffin/Dianne Wilkinson)

4. Treasures in Heaven (Rebecca Peck)

5. Already in Canaan Land (Rodney Griffin)

6. He Hideth My Soul (Fanny Crosby/William Kirkpatrick)

7. Led Out of Bondage (Bob Prather)

8. More Than You’ll Ever Know (Dave Crawford/Roy Lee Johnson)

9. God Takes Good Care of Me (Henry Slaughter)

10. Redeemer of My Soul (Rebecca Peck/Dianne Wilkinson)

 

Available at: Mark Trammell Quartet

Jun 29

Steve French Passes Away

Steve-French-681x1024Today is a tough day.  It’s tough because the news broke that one of the greatest influences in my music ministry is gone.  The news of Steve’s passing broke yesterday (June 28, 2016), and I’m just in shock.

I first heard of Steve and the Kingdom Heirs back in 1995 and it was the music of the Kingdom Heirs that sparked my love for Southern Gospel & Quartet Style Music.  It was this very video that caught my eyes (and ears) and really got me through some tough times in my life:

For a couple of years in the late 1990s, I probably averaged a day a week at Dollywood listening to every show the Kingdom Heirs did and talking with them afterwards.  I know they would never remember me, but this group will never know how they have impacted my life and helped start me down the path of a music ministry with my family.  All the memories from those days keep flooding my mind.  What an honor it was for me to know Steve and the Kingdom Heirs.

Many years later, I would have the opportunity to share the Kingdom Heirs’ music with my girls and Steve quickly became my oldest daughter’s favorite singer.  Because of the travel schedule of my family’s ministry, we didn’t get to see them often, but when we did, Steve always had time to talk and have his picture made with Keanna.

The news of his passing has cut deep and it hurts today.  This song was the last that I remember Steve recording with the group.  I want to always be able to remember Steve, his singing and his kindness that he showed to a young boy with no direction, that was searching for meaning in life.  It was Jesus that gave my life meaning, but it was this man and his vision and music with the Kingdom Heirs that helped give me direction in my life.

I pray that God will comfort all of Steve’s family and friends who are hurting.

Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Jun 13

Album Review: Something Worth Saving (McKameys)

imageWe certainly live in troubled times, and the future often seems murky at best.  In times like these, we need somewhere dependable to turn, a place tried and true.  Thankfully, for the Christian, we have that perfect refuge in Jesus Christ.  I believe that need applies to all areas of life, even music.  I find it comforting to know that there are some places I can go for music that I can depend on, that are tried and true.  There may be no greater example of this in gospel music than the McKameys.  No matter what’s going on, I know I can put in a McKameys CD and get simple music with a simple, but oh, so needed message of Biblical truth.  The McKameys are back in 2016, their 51st year, with another strong collection of new songs, Something Worth Saving.

My favorite songs on Something Worth Saving just happen to feature the patriarch and matriarch of the family.  Peg McKamey Bean, one of gospel music’s greatest treasures, is featured on two traditional southern gospel tunes.  “I’ve Been in the Book,” from my favorite songwriting tandem, Dianne Wilkinson and Rebecca Peck, tells of a love of Scripture, with an upbeat convention-style lean.  A little more on the country side is “Back to Bethel,” which uses the Biblical example of Jacob to encourage us to remember the time and place of salvation when troubles come.  “Something Worth Saving” features Ruben Bean on perhaps my favorite lyric on the album, set to an old-fashioned Appalachian 6/8 rhythm.  Thank the Lord that “He must have seen something worth saving when He saved me!”

As has been the case the last few years, each of the male members of the McKameys gets one feature song, and each one on Something Worth Saving is very different.  Ruben has the aforementioned mountain gospel song.  Young Eli Fortner sings “I Believe,” which might be described as “rockabilly”.   Roger Fortner is featured on “A Few Things,” which is country, country, country…positively dripping with steel guitar.  The gentlemen McKameys can always be counted on to toss some variety into the mix.

The remainder of the songs feature the “second-generation” McKamey ladies, Sheryl Farris and Connie Fortner.  As usual for the group, these songs span a wider stylistic spectrum than many might think, all the while maintaining the family’s signature instrumental simplicity, letting the lyrics stand out.  On the more modern end are the worship song, “Christ Is Able,” which opens the album, and the album closer, the prayerful “Come to My Rescue”.  On the more traditional side are “Days Gone By,” with Connie singing of the faithfulness of the Lord, and “That’s Why There’s a Cross”.  The latter is probably the recording’s most powerful performance, with a building chorus that proclaims the power of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary.

If you buy the physical CD of any McKameys recording (at least all the ones I have), you’ll find my favorite attribute of the group within the album insert.  You’ll see the lyrics for every song printed, and right at the top of each lyric, you’ll find a Biblical reference for the song.  Folks, that’s what gospel music is about.  No matter who’s singing or who’s playing what instruments, it’s about God’s Word put in a vehicle that delivers it to the ear, the mind, and the heart.  The McKameys understand this, and demonstrate this as well as anyone.  When your troubled heart is seeking for a comforting song, you won’t go wrong with the McKameys and Something Worth Saving.

Album Rating: 4.5 stars

Song List:

  1. Christ Is Able (Tommy Walker/Mike Harland)
  2. I’ve Been in the Book (Rebecca Peck/Dianne Wilkinson)
  3. Bring You Glory (Leigh Parsons Sexton)
  4. I Believe (Sheryl Farris)
  5. That’s Why There’s a Cross (Farris)
  6. A Few Things (Rodney Birch)
  7. Back to Bethel (Larry Whitehead)
  8. Days Gone By (Peck/Wilkinson)
  9. Something Worth Saving (Whitehead)
  10. Come to My Rescue (Farris)

 

Available: McKameys

Mar 18

Album Review: The Light (Barry Rowland & Deliverance)

the-light-CD-300x298This is my fourth review of a Barry Rowland & Deliverance recording in five years, and it’s always a recording I look forward to.  With The Light, Barry, his wife Tammy, and Shawn Rupert return with another collection of (mostly) Kyla Rowland compositions showcasing their signature Appalachian gusto.

If anyone out there still isn’t familiar with Shawn Rupert, they continue to miss out on one of gospel music’s most powerful voices.  Barry Rowland & Deliverance are at their best when they turn Rupert loose on a song with some juice to it.  The album opener, “God Delivered Me,” is an example, as is “He’s Still on the Throne,” which has always been one of my favorite songs in Gold City’s catalog.  Deliverance’s version gives Rupert the lead throughout, as opposed to handing it off to a higher voice in the chorus, which I think gives a more energetic effect.  Rupert also has an outstanding feature on “The Light,” another excellent pull from Kyla Rowland’s vast bank of songs.  This one has a slower tempo, but probably the most powerful delivery on the album.

“The Light” is just one of a handful of mid- to slow-tempo songs in 3/4 or 6/8 time (how do you tell the difference anyway? Ha.)  This is, of course, Mrs. Kyla’s staple.  These include excellent features for Tammy (“Looking at a Risen Lamb”) and Barry (“God’s Word Will Stand”).  The latter is a particularly well-executed lyric on the supremacy of Scripture, which is always a worthwhile song subject.

The slower songs are broken up by a couple of quality uptempo numbers.  “That Tomb Is Empty Now” is, obviously, a Resurrection lyric, and one I gladly found stuck in my head quickly.  “Holy, Glory to the Lamb” tells of the new song we will be singing in Heaven.

In a day where many groups are trying to make their music sound shiny and slick, I always love the contrasting quality of Barry Rowland & Deliverance, who just rare back and SANG.  (Where I’m from, SANG is a present tense verb.)  With Shawn Rupert’s power, the group’s straight-ahead harmonies, and mama Kyla’s Spirit-saturated songs, Deliverance always delivers.

Album Rating: 4 stars

Song list:

  1. God Delivered Me (Kyla Rowland)
  2. Looking at a Risen Lamb (Rowland)
  3. The Light (Rowland)
  4. That Tomb Is Still Empty (Harvey Gene Smith)
  5. God’s Word Will Stand (Rowland)
  6. So, I’ll Tell Jesus (Rowland)
  7. He’s Still on the Throne (Rowland)
  8. God Understands (Claude Ely)
  9. Holy, Glory to the Lamb (Rowland)
  10. Marching in Victory (Rowland)

Available: Crossroads

Jan 19

Album Review: Pray for Me (Inspirations)

Prod.Pray_Did the year 2015 seem different to you, but you couldn’t put your finger on why?  I figured it out for you: best I can tell, it was the first calendar year in over two decades that the Inspirations did not release a new recording of exactly 10 songs.  Never fear…the boys from Bryson City decided instead to kick off 2016 with Pray for Me, their new CD of, you guessed it, 10 songs in their singular traditional quartet style.

After nearly a decade with the same vocal lineup in the 2000s, this is now the sixth different vocal configuration to record for the Inspirations in the last seven years, with multiple changes coming at all four parts.  On this CD you’ll hear Harold Reed for the first time on tenor, Joseph Brown for the first time on bass, and longtime Inspirations both on their second tour of duty, Matt Dibler and Melton Campbell.  While Campbell’s vocals are on the CD, he has left the quartet since recording, replaced by Roland Kesterson.  I hope that they will give Kesterson the baritone features and keep them in concert rotation, since they are very good.  “God’s Already There,” written by Joseph Habedank and his mother Leah Sandlin, is a beautiful and tender ballad out of the same mold as the outstanding “I’ve Found a Faithful Friend,” which featured Campbell on the last Inspirations recording.  On the other end of the spectrum, Campbell shines on “What All the Shoutin’s About,” a fun and fast-paced number.

You can’t have an Inspirations recording without an assortment of uptempo quartet songs.  If you want those, where better to turn than Dianne Wilkinson and Rebecca Peck?  They contribute the aforementioned “Shoutin,” and  “Onward to the Goal,” featuring Reed.  Wilkinson flies solo writing “Surely I Come Quickly,” which also features the tenor.  The latter two are more of a light convention quartet style, Inspirations all the way.  They also throw in a cover of the classic “Daniel Prayed,” which will likely be a concert staple.

Matt Dibler has always been one of my favorite lead singers in gospel music.  His clear and solid voice are perfect for what the Inspirations do.  There may be no greater match between singer and song this year than Dibler and “It’s Under the Blood.”  I love the combination of Pastor Leonard Fletcher’s writing with this quartet, going back to the truly great “I’m Not Ashamed”.  “It’s Under the Blood” is not a brand new song, but I am not aware of any national groups recording it until now.  It’s the highlight of Pray for Me, and should also be a shout-‘er-out highlight of the Inspirations’ concerts this year and in the years to come.  I hope the Inspirations will record Leonard Fletcher songs ’til Jesus comes!

If you have been reading here for a while, you know that I always “root for” the Inspirations.  I have a personal attachment to their music going back to my childhood unlike any other group, and I feel they occupy a much-need space in gospel music.  Though these days you may not be exactly sure what singers you will hear, you will always know what the Inspirations will sound like, and I find that comforting.  With a batch of quality new songs on Pray for Me, there is no reason to stop anytime soon.  Keep on keepin’ on, Inspirations.

Album Rating: 4 stars

Song List:

1. Daniel Prayed (G.T. Speer)

2. God’s Already There (Joseph Habedank/Leah Sandlin)

3. Pray for Me (Dottie Rambo/Jimmie Davis)

4. Child of the King (Cindy Walker/James Wills)

5. Surely I Come Quickly (Dianne Wilkinson)

6. It’s Under the Blood (Leonard Fletcher)

7. Onward to the Goal (Wilkinson/Rebecca Peck)

8. What All the Shoutin’s About (Wilkinson/Peck)

9. Jesus Picked a Rose (Peck)

10. Sweet Beulah Land (Squire Parsons)

Available at: Crossroads Music

Dec 30

2015 Year in Review: Top Albums

MHF-devotedIt seems impossible that it was a year ago that I was debating whether to name the Mark Trammell Quartet or Kingsmen CD as my favorite album of the year.  But here we are again, looking back at all that 2015 offered us in the gospel music world.  I’m obviously not a professional “critic” or qualified to be anything more than a fan, but I still love to bestow upon someone an “Album of the Year” title, for whatever my little opinion is worth.

This year, the decision was not difficult.  One album clearly stood out among the others, and it was from a group that had never before appeared in my year-end rankings.  When I bought the Mylon Hayes Family’s Devoted, I fully expected to enjoy the recording, because of exposure I had to their music online.  But I did not expect to be blown away like I was.  Because I believe so much in what the Mylon Hayes Family is doing, I’ve never been more pleased to put a CD at the top of my list of favorites.

Devoted has it all: fantastic convention-style singing, orchestrated ballads, hard-driving uptempo songs, and quieter meditative numbers.  Mylon, Wendy, Conner, Bailey, and Kennedy execute those songs with a talent clearly honed through expert training and hard work.  A lot of the credit also goes to Rebecca Peck, who penned more than half the tracks on the album (four co-written with Dianne Wilkinson).  It was my only 5-star album reviewed this year, and was as close to perfection for me as you can get.

With that, I give you my list of top ten albums of the year.  Thanks for reading this year, and I hope you’ll continue to honor me with your presence on the blog in the year to come.

 

  1. Devoted, Mylon Hayes Family (review)
  2. That Day Is Coming, Collingsworth Family (review)
  3. As We Speak, Greater Vision (review)
  4. A New Chapter, Jim Brady Trio
  5. Still, Booth Brothers (review)
  6. A New Look, Kingdom Heirs (review)
  7. All That Matters, Edwards Family (review)
  8. Walk of Faith, Whisnants
  9. Ready to Sail, Erwins
  10. Stay, Old Paths (review)

Dec 29

2015 Year in Review: Top Songs

dayiscomingI have not been able to write as much this year on the blog as in years past, due to church and job obligations occupying more of my time than ever.  I hope in 2016 to be able to return to the frequency of posting as in years past.  But I still listened to gospel music as much as ever, and found a lot to like.  Once again, I’d like at the end of the year share with you my favorite songs and recordings that made their way into my collection this year.  If last year was the year of the quartet, with the Mark Trammell Quartet and the Kingsmen dominating my favorites, this year is the year of the family groups.

There is no doubt that the Collingsworth Family is at the top of their game, setting the bar for excellence in gospel music very high.  The honor for my Song of the Year goes to the majestic ballad “When He Carries Me Away,” from their outstanding That Day Is Coming recording.  Written by Rachel McCutcheon and Adina Bowman, the lyric, melody, and soaring Wayne Haun arrangement combine to give the listener the feeling of being “carried away” to a truly heavenly place.  Kim Collingsworth delivers one of her best vocal performances, which is saying a lot, and the rest of the family produces that signature wall of sound that sets the Collingsworths apart from most other groups.

McCutcheon had a strong showing on my favorite song list, with three selections out of the twenty.  Dianne Wilkinson, who had the most on my list in 2013 and 2014, also had three.  But they were both bested by Rebecca Peck, who, mainly due to the stellar Mylon Hayes Family recording Devoted, composed five songs in my year-end list.  Therefore, Rebecca Peck is my 2015 Songwriter of the Year.

See below for my the full list of my top 20 songs of the year.

*I am counting the Booth Brothers’ Still recording in 2015 for the purposes of this year in review, since it came out so late in 2014, and I didn’t get it until late January.

 

  1. “When He Carries Me Away,” Collingsworth Family, That Day Is Coming (Rachel McCutcheon/Adina Bowman)
  2. “Jesus Saves,” Booth Brothers, Still (Travis Cottrell/David Moffitt)
  3. “What an Anchor,” Mylon Hayes Family, Devoted (Dianne Wilkinson/Rebecca Peck)
  4. “Put Out the Fire,” Greater Vision, As We Speak (Rodney Griffin)
  5. “It’s Not a Problem for the Answer,” Mylon Hayes Family, Devoted (Rebecca Peck)
  6. “It’s Just Like Heaven,” Mylon Hayes Family, Devoted (W. Oliver Cooper)
  7. “Touch of the Master’s Hand,” Booth Brothers, Still (John Kramp)
  8. “Grace Happened Here,” Mylon Hayes Family, Devoted (Rodney Griffin/Natalie Harp)
  9. “Gotta Get to Jesus,” Collingsworth Family, That Day Is Coming (Rachel McCutcheon/Karen Gillespie/Helga Kaefer)
  10. “I’ll Take It Like It Is,” Mylon Hayes Family, Devoted (Dianne Wilkinson/Rebecca Peck)
  11. “Let the Blood of Calvary Speak for Me,” Greater Vision, As We Speak (Joel Hemphill/Candy Hemphill Christmas/Lari Goss)
  12. “I Choose to Be a Christian,” Erwins, Ready to Sail (Rachel McCutcheon)
  13. “Steppin’ Out in Faith,” Jim Brady Trio, A New Chapter (Jim Brady/Melissa Brady)
  14. “Ever Faithful,” Collingsworth Family, That Day Is Coming (Joel Lindsey/Jeff Bumgarner)
  15. “How Great the Debt,” Old Paths, Stay (Dianne Wilkinson/Rebecca Peck)
  16. “One More Opportunity,” Mylon Hayes Family, Devoted (Rebecca Peck/Allen Guyer)
  17. “What the Bible Says,” Collingsworth Family, That Day Is Coming (Wayne Haun/Randall Garland/Val Dacus)
  18. “I’m Not Going to Hell,” Edwards Family, All That Matters (Stacy Pearcy)
  19. “There’s Still Power in the Blood,” Collingsworth Family, That Day Is Coming (Kirk Talley)
  20. “I Love You This Much,” Whisnants, Walk of Faith (Sandy Blythe)

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