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Mar 27

Neotraditional Southern Gospel

I know there are folks out there who tire of the constant need to attach a “genre” to everything, and they have a good point. Good music should be enjoyed without trying to place it in a box.  I have to admit I’m not one of those people.  If you knew me a little, you would know that I have some obsessive-compulsive tendencies.  If you knew me lot, like my wife does, you would say I’m a full-blown nutcase.  But I digress…

I’m always thinking about what to call the music I like.  I like southern gospel, but I don’t like all southern gospel.  I sometimes say I’m a fan of traditional southern gospel music.  But that’s not exactly the whole truth.  To me, traditional southern gospel is the Statesmen and Blackwoods, and modern groups like the Dixie Echoes who make similar music.  While I like those groups, they aren’t my top favorites.

Neotraditional is a term used often in country music to refer to artists, many of whom came along in the 1980s, who brought back the sound of classic country, but with a fresh production and presentation.  In my country music listening days, I was a huge fan of lots of these artists, including George Strait, Randy Travis, and Ricky Skaggs.  Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that this is exactly the kind of music I now am attracted to in southern gospel.  I love music that has roots in that southern gospel tradition, but sounds fresher and bigger.

So who are these southern gospel groups who we might consider to be carrying the neotraditional banner?  It’s basically a rundown of my personal favorites: Mark Trammell Quartet, Legacy Five, Kingdom Heirs, Perrys, Greater Vision, and many more.  It’s no secret that southern gospel fans tend to be generally older and conservative, so it stands to reason that the neotraditional groups are some of the most popular groups on the road.

When I think about neotraditional southern gospel from a historical perspective, two groups pop into mind immediately.  Gold City’s music of the 1990s and the earlier part of this century is to me the very definition of neotraditional.  Plenty of convention songs and hard-driving quartet singing kept it firmly rooted in traditional gospel music, but boy, was it big and bold.

The more I think about it, the more I think that the Cathedrals were the “founding fathers” of neotraditional southern gospel.  Throughout their earlier years, they could definitely be called a traditional quartet, but they were always putting in some modern twists.  Think of albums like With Strings, which looking back, seem ahead of their time.  But it was the 1980s when, in combination with Bill Gaither, and then Lari Goss, they helped to launch the big quartet sound that now dominates the southern gospel landscape.

Let’s not forget that at the same time, Gold City was doing similar things with the Parker/Free lineup.  So nobody did all of this by themselves.  But there is little doubt that in terms of legacy in that style of music, the Cathedrals left a wider footprint.  Mark Trammell Quartet, Legacy Five, and Greater Vision are all Cathedrals legacy groups, and represent some of the best of neotraditional southern gospel today.

So let’s hear from you.  What do you think about the “neotraditional” term?  What groups does the term bring to mind for you?  Were the Cathedrals the first neotraditional group?  Or am I just a nutcase?

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  1. yankeegospelgirl

    You’re a lot like me! Except I ask myself that for artists like Sting… ha! 🙂

    I like this idea, even though in this particular area I’m not picky at all. I’m willing to call Greater Vision “traditional” and be done with it. But you raise interesting points about groups like the old Gold City. They definitely had a fresh sound even though though you never had to ask “Is that Southern Gospel?” No assume you would draw a distinction between a group like Gold City and a group like, say, the GVB? Probably they would be just plain “progressive,” right?

    1. Brian Crout

      Yes, GVB would definitely be what I call “progressive”. I thought about today’s Gold City, and they are not easily categorized. They’re more progressive than the groups mentioned above, but they came back a little towards traditional on the “scale” with the latest album compared to their last two mainline releases. And they have that strong modern country influence, too.

      1. yankeegospelgirln

        Whoa, there were some misprints in there! That almost NEVER happens to me. Sry. 😉

  2. quartet-man

    The Vocal Band can be tough to pigeonhole as well. They have been all over the map style-wise. They might do a little less jumping per each album than say the Martins who seem to possibly have more styles on a particular album, but nonetheless.

  3. JSR

    The GVB is absolutely a lot more progressive than a lot of groups…which may be why they appeal to a much larger audience and don’t beg for toilet paper, gas money, and other supplies at their concerts. They are talented and produce music that appeals to a wide audience.

  4. Patricia

    I have to say something in this post. How does one define Neotraditional groups ? Because yes GVB is progressive but so could be BFA and they need help with their Ministry and people asked what they needed that goes for the toilet paper ,gas money,and other supplies.I grew up in the 1980s and listened to the Cathedrals ,the old Gold City,the Kingsmen,and the Nelons .And I would say the Nelons were considered progressive for that time frame.I loved the Nelons and Gold City back then brings back great memories.But Traditional to me is Greater Vision ,the Inspirations ,Mark Trammell Quartet. And Triumphant Quartet can do traditional I would consider them Neotraditional .And I guess Traditional does not just mean piano and no tracks but that is what my parents consider Traditional is piano and four guys singing. And I’m a nut too because I like Point Of Grace,Casting Crowns,Avalon and I also like Booth Brothers ,Sisters,BFA ,and the Isaacs so I can go all over the map when it comes to music .And my parents also say true country music is Loretta Lynn ,Buck Owens ,Patsy Cline.So I find this whole post interesting to say the least but is there even really a so called Neotraditional group in SG? I guess it would all depend on what people consider that to be.For all SG groups can do old traditional songs plus more progressive too take the Love Of God by GVB to me that is Traditional.

    1. Brian Crout

      Patricia, my definition of “neotraditional” is groups who take “traditional” southern gospel as their foundation, but then add some modern stylings, and bigger production. The more modern stylings are added, the closer the group gets to progressive, so it’s not a solid line. To me, “traditional” southern gospel is that kind made during the golden age of the Statesmen and Blackwoods, which is really a classic piano-and-four-voices sound.

  1. Neotraditional Southern Gospel | SouthernGospelBlog.com

    […] Crout has an interesting column up this morning, proposing the term “neotraditional Southern Gospel.” He points out […]

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