Mar 31

Quick Hits 7

UnashamedUnashamed (Brian Free & Assurance)

Brian Free & Assurnace have had a rare (for them) personnel change since their last recording, welcoming new baritone Mike Rogers, but Unashamed is another in a line of recordings of consistent quality for the quartet, in their signature progressive style.  Brian Free and Bill Shivers make up one of the best tenor/lead combinations in gospel music history, and as usual, this album’s high points feature those two.  ”Say Amen,” featuring Shivers, is one of my favorite songs Assurance has recorded in recent years.  The titular imperative in the chorus is sure to invite participation and worship from audiences across America.  Free is featured on a pair of very progressive, but lyrically strong, ballads, “Unashamed” and “He Still Saves”.  Brian Free & Assurance always manage to find and record songs of lyrical depth, and I appreciate that, even if the musical style is not always my personal preference.  The guest appearance from Lauren Talley on “When There’s a Will, He Has a Way” is a hit for me, and makes for a fun song.  If the modern, “sonic wall” kind of sound is your preference, I would recommend no group more highly than Brian Free & Assurance, and this project is typically strong work.

4 stars

Best tracks: Say Amen, Unashamed, He Still Saves, Where There’s a Will He Has a Way

Might want to skip: A Little Bit of Me and You

 


HoggleThe Hoggle Family (Hoggle Family)

The self-titled debut of the Hoggle Family is one of my pleasant surprises among albums of 2014.  Former Dixie Melody Boys lead Donald Morris anchors the sound and wrote all ten songs on the recording.  That’s an impressive feat for anybody, much less a relative newcomer to the art.  WIthout question, the highlight of the album to me is a conventional straight-ahead barn-burner, “I’ll Keep on Running”.  It is the perfect choice for the group’s first single, and is a pure delight, with weaving step-out lines for different group members and an exciting arrangement.  Most of the rest of the album leans in a more progressive direction, with a strong modern country lean.  The second-most memorable performance is “God Always,” with a creative lyric setup and an infectious chorus about the unconditional goodness of God.  The most poignant performance is found in the acoustic-heavy ballad, “I’ll See God Smile,” which is sure to touch the hearts of those who have a loved one go to Heaven.  Morris is the strongest and most seasoned vocalist of the group, and as you would expect from such youthful singers, there is room for vocal maturation.  When that happens, and with more songs of this quality, I expect big things from the Hoggle Family after this excellent debut.

4 stars

Best tracks: I’ll Keep on Running, God Always, I’ll See God Smile, Blessed Be His Name

Might want to skip: Rolling Away

 

Mar 27

An Old Convention Song: “Rock of Ages Keep My Soul”

Composer(s): Luther G. Presley

Published: 1939

Church Hymnal Page: 144

Notable recordings: Don’t know of any in the southern gospel realm; in bluegrass: A School of Bluegrass (Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, 2004); Hymns From the Hills (Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers, 2011)

This red-back gem from one of my favorite convention writers, Luther Presley, has gone mostly untouched, as far as I know, by southern gospel artists.  I wish that weren’t the case!  It has step-out lines for the alto, tenor and bass, making it a great pick to spotlight an entire group.  A fermata at the end of the verse ushers the alto in to kick off the chorus, and another one in the middle of the chorus does the same for the tenor.

Here’s a video of the fantastic Mylon Hayes Family singing “Rock of Ages Keep My Soul” at the National Quartet Convention’s Red-Back Singalong showcase last year.  Complete with shape-note singing, this is how it’s done!

Mar 21

The LeFevre Quartet – Put It Right There

This group has gelled their sound nicely and this song is an excellent sample of their new album. Thomas Nalley (Tenor) is featured and does a great job on this song!

Mar 18

An Old Convention Song: “Sing Me a Song About Jesus”

In an effort to do my part to preserve and celebrate the classic convention gospel genre, I’ll be highlighting some of my favorite convention songs in this series.  Feel free to share your thoughts and memories about these songs, and let me know if you have a recommendation!

Composer(s): G.T. “Dad” Speer

Published: 1956

Notable recordings: Golden Anniversary (Speer Family, 1958), Sing Me a Song About Jesus (Master V, 1987), 20 Southern Gospel Favorites (J.D. Sumner & the Stamps, 1993), Jubilee Two (Booth Brothers/Greater Vision/Legacy Five, 2010)

This Dad Speer classic has one of the most fun melodies you’ll hear, and features strong bass and alto step-outs in the chorus.  Though it was not in the redback Church Hymnal (it was published five years after the hymnal), it was used as an opening song at a recent Redback Church Hymnal singing in Cumming, GA.  The video below is the full singing, over two hours, but it starts with “Sing Me a Song About Jesus”.

Feb 25

“Preacher, Tell Me Like It Is”: Behind the Song with Rodney Griffin

GriffinEven during my first listens to Greater Vision’s most recent recording, For All He’s Done, one song began to stand out among the others.  ”Preacher, Tell Me Like It Is” is a fun listen musically, and also contains a forthright lyric pointed right at the preacher man.  Even though it’s sung “to” the preacher, its message should be convicting to any Christian: do I recognize my need for preaching from the “whole counsel of God”?  Do I desire a message that convicts, even at the expense of my pride?  ”Preacher, Tell Me Like It Is” really spoke to me, and I placed it #2 on my list of favorite recorded songs of 2013.  Even better, it has become a smash hit on gospel music radio, reaching #1 on the Singing News chart for the month of March.  It has been a great encouragement to me to see the success of this song, and this message.

The man behind this Greater Vision song, as is often the case, is Rodney Griffin, recipient of the Singing News Fan Award for Favorite Songwriter for an amazing fifteen years running.  ”Preacher, Tell Me Like It Is” is his 14th #1 song, second-most of any writer.  And this is a song that deserves to be remembered among his finest.  Griffin graciously agreed to share with me and the readers of Southern Gospel Critique the story behind “Preacher, Tell Me Like It Is”.  Enjoy!

 


Did the idea for the lyric come from something specific, or a general observation about the state of preaching today?  What was your goal for the message of the song?

I was out mowing my yard one day, and for some reason I began thinking about the growing timidity in our church pulpits.  Some of the largest churches seem to hear the smallest dose of conviction from the pulpit.  These days, it seems you’ll draw a larger crowd if you don’t “offend”.  I believe, however, that you can present truth without a mean spirit.  Even with a calm tone of voice you can relate the holiness of God, and its demands, to a listener.  These professional “speakers” seem to stay away from any confrontation of sin.  That goes against biblical principle.  My goal was to encourage those pastors who desire to speak truth, to not be afraid to do so.  When this life is over, we will be thankful that someone told us like it “was” and not like we “wished it were”.  There is a Holy God, human sin, a wondrous cross and an eternity somewhere.  We can’t get around it.  That’s the way it is. Why shouldn’t we be honest about that and try to help people find the cross before it’s too late?

 

Musically, the cut has a distinct country sound, quite different from many of your songs.  Were you trying to go “country” with it, or did it just come out that way?

When we recorded the track, at first, we wanted to stay away from the “country” sound.  But, the more the studio instrumentalists played the song, the more “country” it sounded.  It felt natural, so we went with it.  I’m glad we did.  It’s definitely a different musical sound for us and works well in concert.

 

Was this a song you felt you would be featured on from the start?  Is it typical to write with yourself, Gerald Wolfe, or Chris Allman in mind as a featured vocalist?

I thought all along that it was a song that I would enjoy singing, but I wasn’t thinking of us when I wrote it.  I was thinking more of a slower, progressive ballad sound, musically.  In the end, I was glad that I got to sing the song.  Every night, I just imagine sitting across from a pastor at his desk.  If I could say anything to him, what would it be?  This song is exactly what I would say.

Yes, I do write with certain singers in mind, but rarely do they end up recording the song.  Haha!

 

The song has risen to #1 on the Singing News chart for March, which many consider to be a measure of success.  And rightfully so, to an extent.  As a songwriter, what makes a song a success to you?  How has “Preacher, Tell Me Like It Is” measured up according to those personal standards?

Every artist and writer enjoys it when a song goes to #1.  But, that excitement quickly passes as a new month comes, and a new song is named #1.  To me, the greatest measure of success for this song is when a pastor comes up to me to personally and thanks me for writing the song.  That’s success.  To think that something I wrote helped a pastor to be more bold in the pulpit last Sunday….Wow.  What could be more fulfilling?

Feb 11

An Interview With David Ragan

RaganDavid Ragan has been a familiar face in gospel music for several years, as lead singer for the Inspirations, one of the greatest quartets in gospel music history.  Now he has found a new home with one of gospel music’s greatest mixed groups, the Perrys.  With the Perrys, David has had the opportunity to showcase his outstanding vocal ability like never before, and he’s also been able to endear himself to a new legion of fans.  His talent is undeniable, but more importantly, he is one of the genre’s most solid Christian gentlemen.  On a personal note, no one I have had some interaction with in gospel music has been more friendly, and more enthusiastic about serving the Lord through music.  David Ragan is one of my favorite singers, but I also consider him a friend, and I’m sure many others can say the same.  I had the opportunity to sit down with David after a recent Perrys concert, and he agreed to share with me and the readers of Southern Gospel Critique about his experiences with the Perrys as a singer, a new father, and a Christian.


I remember when it was announced that the Perrys had an opening in the lead singer position, the very first person I thought about was David Ragan.  And I don’t think I was alone.  Was that position something that immediately piqued your interest as well?

Actually, no!  When I heard they had an opening, I was initially surprised.  I figured a group like that would already have someone waiting in the wings.  I was just working part-time at home, and honestly hadn’t given a second thought to singing again.  Libbi texted me just a few days after Joseph [Habedank] announced he was leaving and asked if I would be interested in filling in.  I needed part-time work bad at the time, with a brand-new baby.  It was just to be for a week, out to Colorado and back.  That week turned into two weeks filling in, and at that point she had put it out that she was auditioning.  Originally I had no intentions of coming on full time, but after the third night, I called home and told my wife, “This is something we need to think about,” because it was just a fit.  Libbi and I didn’t talk much about it, because Libbi was there the first two nights, then she was home, since she couldn’t leave Tracy much at that time.  But there was just something about the group, a unity I just couldn’t explain.  I started to hope that they would ask me, you know? [laughs]

We got closer to audition time, and she asked me, “Are you interested?”  I said, “Yes.”  She said “Well, I’ve already said I’m going to do an audition, so I’m going to do it.”  I asked if she wanted me to audition, and she said no, not unless I wanted to.  I told her I’d rather not.  They had about 30 guys, and there was just not that fit.  She called me and said, “Let’s give it a couple of weeks and pray about it.”  I don’t think she was settled on it yet! [laughs]  Looking back, you can see the hand of God in everything.  He was working that whole time.  I’ve never been happier in my life!

 

You sang with the Inspirations for several years prior to the Perrys, and those are two very different groups, musically.  What adjustments did you have to make as a vocalist?

The Inspirations sing a very unique style of southern gospel; they call it mountain gospel, or Appalachian.  The best way I can put it to you is the tones I used with the Inspirations were thin.  Part of it was the live music element, but they’ve always sung really hard.  One of the best ways to save your voice is to place your tones in a certain spot, and mine were placed very thin.  We’d sing 30 to 35 songs a night, with encores, and that was how I could last.  The Perrys have had big, full lead singers, guys like Loren Harris, Mike Bowling, and Joseph, obviously, with a real thick texture in his voice.  Libbi’s concern was, “I want your tones to get fatter.”  I’ve had to work on that, and some of it is just doing those songs.

Stylistically, the Inspirations, obviously, are extremely conservative, and not in a bad way.  They do new music, old style.  For example, I had never sung a ballad before.  We just didn’t do those.  Coming here, it wasn’t hard in some ways, because I’m such a fan of this music, I listen to it all. Singing with a track was a challenge a little bit.  I feel like I’m getting there.  I still don’t feel completely confident all the time, and I guess that will come with time, but Bryan [Walker] and Libbi have been great and encouraging.

 

The Perrys have a great catalog of songs for lead singers, especially from the last 10 to 15 years.  What is your favorite Perrys song that you have gotten the feature on since you joined?

My regular feature has been “Calvary Answers for Me,” and I like that one a lot.  Honestly, my favorite song to sing is “I Know It Was the Blood”.  It rides in a very comfortable spot for me, vocally.  I’m a team guy, so I don’t have to be out front.  I get to have a couple of pick-up lines, but I still feel like it’s a group song, and I like that.

 

A year ago this week, Tracy Stuffle had his stroke, and I believe everyone is familiar with his story.  A year ago, your perspective was much like ours, from the outside.  Now you have perspective as a part of that story yourself.  What have you learned from Tracy, Libbi, and their son Jared in watching their journey?

Genuineness, sincerity.  A lot of this industry is all about putting an image out there, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  It’s professional music, and there’s an image you want to portray.  With them, even from the outside, you see a situation like this unfold, you see a test of character, a test of faith, and a test of your testimony, really.  I have seen first-hand that that is not a front; that is not something they’re just putting out there.  I’ve seen Libbi getting Tracy ready for bed, and I’ve seen her deal with everything.  I can see the reality of the faith she lives out.  That’s an inspiration to me, and to Bryan, as younger guys.  I’ve heard Tracy say, and I’ve heard him pray this, “I don’t understand why this is happening to me, but if this is what you want for me, I’ll take it.  Just give me the strength to get through it.”  And that’s convicting to me.  Would I be willing to do that?

 

The situation you stepped into was not easy for you, but you and Bryan Walker have been faithful to carry the banner of the Perrys in these months with great grace.  What has Bryan meant to you and to the Perrys during this period?

Bryan has been invaluable to me personally.  When I came, he was the guy feeding me lines, helping me.  Bryan’s been here through the whole thing.  Having to take hold of the emcee duties, it’s not easy.  I will say this about Bryan: he is a man of character.  He is a phenomenal vocalist, probably underrated.  But he is the real deal, all the time.  We’ve become like brothers, honestly, and I can’t say enough about how good he’s been to me.  I love the people I sing with, and everybody else feels the same way.

 

You were recently in the studio, while tracks were being laid down for the Perrys’ first recording with Stow Town Records.  [The group has since worked on vocals, too.]  What was that like, to be in the studio with Wayne Haun and all the other talented musicians?

That was awesome.  We went to Nashville, and recorded at SonyTree Studios.  They had a wall with all the country groups that had been in there, and I’m saying, “What am I doing here?!” [laughs]  I watched them put the music down, and I got emotional, actually.  I realized this is what fits me, to be a part of what I call very balanced southern gospel music.

 

Can you give us any “sneak-peek” information on the upcoming CD?

The title is “Into His Presence”.  That’s actually an old Cathedrals song, and we’re going to cut that song.  Wayne Haun wrote several songs, Rachel McCutcheon wrote a couple.  Kyla Rowland, of course has one.  It’s mainly all new stuff.   Wayne said that “I’ve been a part of the Perrys for a long time, and this is as good as anything you’ve ever done.”  He knows what he’s talking about!

 

Your job with the Perrys wasn’t even the most important thing that happened to you last year, right?  You became a father of an adorable little boy last April.  What’s it like to be a Dad?

When Bradley was born, I had never experienced something like that before.  I had never instantaneously loved someone before.  I remember vividly holding him for the first time, and crying.  And I’m not a weepy guy.  I’ve just met this guy, but he’s a part of me, I can feel it.  And I would die for him right now.  I felt for a second, maybe this is what God feels like.  There’s absolutely nothing Bradley can do for me, to make me love him.  But God loves us.  I saw so many correlations in the first five minutes I held him.  That blew me away.

That’s the biggest difference with having him in my life.  He’s cute as all get out, and he’s a great baby.  He’s helped my perspective in life, to take a more serious approach to things.  There’s the huge responsibility we have to raise him to love the Lord, and to acknowledge God in everything.

 

You’re five months younger than me, 28 years old, but you’re already somewhat of a veteran in gospel music.  Sum up how you feel about where you are in your gospel music career today.

I felt very blessed to come into this industry in the first place.  I had every intention of just being with the Inspirations.  I don’t take change very well, and moving.  But since coming here, I just know I’m going to sing.  I know this is what I’m supposed to do.  Coming here is almost like validation for me; it validates that I can be.  I seriously think there are so many people who could be here instead of me.  I’ve never thought I was good enough to sing professionally.  I’ve learned a lot, and I know I’m better than I was, but I never want to get to a point where I feel like I’ve arrived.  A lot of singers in this industry, people like Mark Trammell, Arthur Rice, Bill Shivers, are guys who have truly mastered their craft, and yet they continue to learn.  And that blows my mind.  I see guys like that, and I don’t feel like I’ll ever be there, and that humbles me.

I’m humbled to be a part of this industry, and I always want to be a part of it.  I want to promote it, and I want it to flourish.  I believe that we’re in an interesting transitional time in this industry.  We’ve got people that are my age and a little bit younger, and we’re going to be the veterans before too long.  It’s going to be in our hands.  I have a passion for this music.  Things will change, but I want it to stay focused on the important things.  I think this industry is more about people than it is about music.  We do more good at our table, talking with people and showing the love of Christ.  That’s where you’re doing a lot of your ministry.  I feel that for us to be Christ-like, and to really perpetuate this industry, we need to have that mind.  And I want to set the example.  We need to be studied up, full of the Word, full of Him, so we can give it to other people.  I’m just sold out to it, and this is where I want to be!


And we’re glad that’s where he is! Thanks to David Ragan for being gracious enough to provide a window into his life in gospel music. Tell him how much you appreciate him in the comments!

Feb 01

The Edwards Family – My Lord Is Taking Good Care Of Me

I’ve had several people ask where I have been. Just wanted to let everyone know that I am still around and doing well. I am traveling a full schedule with my family ministry these days and time is hard to come by to write in depth anymore. I miss being involved in the SG world, but I love being on the road singing and telling the world about Jesus. Below is a small sample of my family’s music…I hope you enjoy it!

Sincerely,
Adam Edwards

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