Welcome! I’m Yankee Gospel Girl (formerly Southern Gospel Yankee), but you can call me Esther O’Reilly. I’m an old soul with many interests, and I promote southern gospel music along with everything else good, true and beautiful. If you’re a first-time visitor, thanks for reading! Check out my “About” page, follow me on Youtube, and browse around in the filing cabinet for my musings on all genres of music, movies, faith & culture, and old stuff. Whether you’re a fan of gospel music or just another old soul like me, I hope you like what you find! God bless.
Rachel McCutcheon is quickly becoming one of my favorite current songwriters. Discovered by writer/producer Wayne Haun, she has been contributing a plethora of well-penned fresh tunes to new releases by some of southern gospel’s best artists. Recently, she graciously agreed to answer some interview questions from me. I hope you enjoy this conversation!
When did you first begin to write songs? Were there any particular writers or musicians that you admired?
I first remember writing songs at six or seven years old, but I was twelve before I ever dared to let anyone hear them. :)
Growing up, I remember particularly liking songs with “out of the ordinary chords” in them. Two writers that influenced my writing in this way are Jim E. Davis and Wayne Haun. It has been a special treat to co-write with both of them these last few years.
What kind of music inspires you to write? What sparks creative inspiration generally?
I like a variety of musical styles. Usually whichever style I am listening to at the moment tends to spark inspiration in that vein.
Pretty much anything can spark creativity for me…..a conversation, a song, a sermon, simply living life. Inspiration is everywhere! I just try to keep my ears open for that new hook line or idea.
How long did it take to get your first professional cut? You seem to have really burst on the scene in the past few years!
I got my first cut in May of 2010, so 9 months after meeting Wayne Haun. The song was “Daddy’s Little Girl” on Ryan Seaton’s first solo project.
How did you connect with Wayne Haun and Stowtown Records?
I met Wayne in August of 2009, at an Ernie Haase and Signature Sound concert in Little Rock, AR. A friend of mine approached Wayne at the product table, told him I was a songwriter, that I loved his productions and asked if he would give me a moment of his time. He graciously agreed, so we met and chatted about songwriting and producing for a few minutes. My friend insisted on showing him a lyric to one of my songs, “Whenever We Pray” and my sisters and I sang it for him A cappella. He totally surprised me by giving me his personal contact information, along with an invitation to send him songs. I started doing that, and in 2010 I signed as a staff songwriter for Sunset Gallery Music, a publishing company co-owned by Wayne Haun and Joel Lindsey. Wayne is also my connection to Stowtown Records, which was founded in 2011 by Wayne Haun and Ernie Haase. So, Wayne is my publisher, and also the producer for the majority of the Stowtown recording artists. I’ve been blessed to have a number of my tunes land on these Stowtown projects.
The Collingsworth Family is putting out a new project with eight of your songs on it. Which of them was your favorite, and can you talk a bit about the writing process?
I’m honestly not sure which is my favorite, but I am particularly fond of “Saints Love To Sing About Heaven”. I love writing about Heaven . . . it intrigues me. The Bible contains some amazing text painting about it, but as the song’s opening line says, “It’s hard to describe somewhere I’ve never been”. So rather than focus on the incredible beauty there that I haven’t seen yet, I wrote about what heaven means for me personally. “It thrills my heart to know there is a place, reserved just for me at the table of grace . . . The old will be young and the weak will be well”. . . What a place, this “sweet land of all the forgiven”! I can hardly wait to experience it for myself!
Now, name an all-time personal favorite song that you did NOT write.
Champion Of Love by the Cathedrals on their Symphony of Praise project.
Of the artists who haven’t recorded your work yet (and their number is shrinking!) who would you be most thrilled to get a cut with?
The Gaither Vocal Band! They were one of my all-time favorite groups growing up and I still enjoy listening to them.
What is your most memorable co-writing experience?
This past July, I was writing with Tony Wood at Word in Nashville. Tony said, “I have this idea that I love and I’ve tried three times to write, but I just can’t get it to fit in the pocket.” He had a few scratches on this tiny blue sticky note stuck to his legal pad. When he told me the hook, “Unexpected Places”, I couldn’t help but smile. I had been working on a song with that same title a few months earlier and had taken some notes on it, but hadn’t finished. We were maybe five minutes into working on it together and Tony said, “This is it. This is gonna fit in the pocket.” The song came together very quickly and both of us absolutely love it. It hasn’t been cut yet . . . but I plan to demo it this weekend so we can pitch it!
Any final words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Songwriting is a process . . . enjoy it. Learn all you can about the craft . . . but allow yourself to be creative. Every songwriter’s story is different, so don’t compare your songwriting journey or success with anyone else’s. Work hard, trust God and let Him take you on the journey of His choice. He knows where you need to be, who you need to work with and He is able set it all up in His time. Continue reading
It has come out in the wake of the mass shooting at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College that the murderer specifically targeted Christians in his rampage. According to several different eyewitnesses, he began lining people up and asking them what their religion was. Avowed Christians were shot in the head, while non-Christians or people who didn’t answer were shot in the legs. (Of course, had he done the same thing for Muslims or homosexuals, there would be a national outrage even as we speak, while as it is, the media is collectively ignoring or shrugging off this small detail.)
On Facebook, I saw a woman who had an interesting response when one of her friends expressed admiration for the martyrs who answered “Yes” and wished for herself that she would be able to give the same answer. This woman said that although she was a Christian, she would have refused to answer because an arbitrary test by a gun-wielding lunatic is meaningless, and God knows what’s in her heart. She argued that it was far more important for her to stay alive for the sake of her children, one of whom has Down’s Syndrome.
It’s an interesting question: Is there only one right answer in this sort of situation, or did those martyrs die for nothing? If a test set by a madman would be meaningless for her, was it meaningless for them also? Her implication seemed to be that any one of those people could have refused to answer with a clear conscience.
To be fair, the situation isn’t strictly analogous to the persecution of Christians under the Roman Empire, when the only options were pour out a libation or become kindling for Nero’s garden party. It seems as though this murderer was letting people off the hook if they wouldn’t answer definitely, which is technically not an act of idolatry. That’s where this woman saw her loophole—not proclaiming Christ before men, but not exactly denying him either. Her conscience is satisfied, the gunman passes her over, and her children still have their mother alive. Surely this would be the best choice, the wise choice?
Maybe… but maybe not.
I sense a defensiveness in this woman’s response, and in the fact that she gave it unsolicited. I think she feels, as all of us do, an unspoken challenge in the deaths of these Christians in Oregon, and it makes her uncomfortable. So she begins to rationalize. “I’m a wife and mother. It’s only an arbitrary test. God would know what’s in my heart anyway.” And so forth. I wonder if she would have tried to talk Saint Felicity out of going to the lions, because she had a newborn child. I wonder if she would even have told her “God knows you don’t really mean it when you pour out that libation, so just give them what they want and go back to breast-feeding your baby.”
I’m not saying I would condemn this woman for making her choice. But I wonder. I wonder if this is not a failure to recognize a moment of truth. When the hypothetical becomes reality, when the far-fetched scenario is no longer far-fetched, but a physical gun to your head and a question asked with everything at stake, what should our answer be? I wonder.
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
— T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding
This year, I will regrettably not be live-blogging the webcast of the National Quartet Convention. Real life is finally getting in the way. But, I would love to hear thoughts from any southern gospel fans who are either going in person or watching the webcast. I know that several new groups will be making their debut, including Jim Brady’s new trio. So, consider this an open thread to discuss groups you’re looking forward to, thoughts or highlights of any of the sets, even disappointments (I won’t censor you for it!), and suggestions for improvement.
To make up for this (at least partly!) I do have an interview with one of my favorite new songwriters in gospel music coming soon, so stay tuned for that.
In case you saw the Buzzfeed video where a bunch of latte-sipping millennials in skinny jeans informed us that we’re doing Christianity wrong, here’s a brilliant parody of it by the Lutheran Satire guys. (It’s even funnier if you watch the original video first.)
“Actually, a lot of creationists are really well-educated, intelligent people…”
“Uhhhh, not according to Bill Nye, MORON. And he should know, because he has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, and he used to pretend to be a scientist on television.”
Presidential candidate Ted Cruz made a somewhat uncomfortable appearance on the Stephen Colbert show this past week. I say “uncomfortable” not because Cruz was caught off guard or unsure of himself, but because the studio audience was pretty loudly, audibly hostile to him. In fairness, Colbert asked them to stop actually saying “Boo” at one point, but his own sympathies are in fact pretty liberal, so he tried to get in his share of cutesy zingers during questioning (some of which actually fell embarrassingly flat, not that the audience would have admitted it).
Still, Cruz handled himself in a relaxed, gracious manner that I think came off well. The biggest “joke’s on you” moment for Colbert came when Cruz was laying out a list of principles he stands for, like economic stewardship and respect for the constitution. Colbert interjected, “And no gay marriage.” Cruz decided to say that he believed according to the Constitution, marriage should be left to the states, whereupon Colbert showed his ignorance of the 10th Amendment by interrupting again, “Yeah, the Constitution doesn’t say anything about gay marriage.” “Exactly,” replied Cruz. See Amendment 10. Oops.
But I confess that I came away a little bit disappointed with Cruz overall, which surprised me. While Colbert eventually asked him point-blank on the marriage issue, “I’m asking what you want,” he didn’t really answer the question directly. This would have been a perfect opportunity for Cruz to state plainly that marriage is between a man and a woman and that it would in fact be disastrous even on a state level to re-define it. He chose instead to focus on the “5 robed men in Washington can’t make fiat law” angle, which is certainly a good and important point to make, but it’s not sufficient to address the whole issue.
This rhetorical reserve is connected to another little exchange, where Colbert questioned him about political civility. He asked whether Cruz would agree that it’s important not to call his political opponents “the devil” or “diabolical,” in the interests of bi-partisan collaboration. “Absolutely. There’s nothing diabolical about you,” said Cruz equably. He also agreed that his Democratic opponents aren’t “diabolical.”
I realize this was the rhetorically suave path to take, but I would have liked to see Cruz give some push-back on this point as well, especially in the aftermath of this ongoing Planned Parenthood scandal. The evil on display in these videos truly is diabolical, and yet every Democrat in the House and Senate has voted against a bill to cut funding for the organization. I’m sorry to say Rand Paul voted against it too, though he said it was because some other aspect of the bill would create more debt, not because he disagreed that Planned Parenthood should be shut down. I’m still disappointed. However, it’s safe to say that the Democrats are pretty much universally pro-abortion. And at this point, I think it’s also safe to say that they are doing the devil’s work by banding together in support of Planned Parenthood. I think it’s been safe to say it for decades, but all the more so now that the light is being shone on even deeper layers of evil, lies and corruption.
What Cruz should have said is this: “Well, Stephen, I don’t know. Why don’t you give me an example, and I’ll tell you if I agree or not?” Instead, he talked about not responding to “insults” in kind, which isn’t even the same thing. It’s one thing to make an inappropriate, petty attack on somebody’s person, as has doubtless happened to Cruz. It’s another thing to make a pointed, accurate accusation of evil.
If there was ever a time to take the kid gloves off and put the boxing gloves on when it comes to the rhetoric of political discourse, this is it. Yes, I realize Colbert framed these questions by asking Cruz to make the case for why non-conservative voters should consider him, and a truly hardball answer like what I’ve sketched out would most likely alienate such voters. But so what? Non-conservative voters will never consider a conservative candidate anyway, no matter how much his policies align with what’s actually in their own best interests morally, economically, etc. Pigs will fly before that happens. So why bother being suave?
I’m still happy with the idea of a Cruz primary win, and I have hopes that he might still go all the way. But this is the wrong socio-political moment for him to pull his punches. It’s okay Ted, you can say it out loud: The enemy is diabolical.
I love reading about how the great hymns came to be. For some hymns, one writer sat down and composed lyrics and music. Others were collaborative, like the work of Fanny Crosby and Philip Bliss (wouldn’t it have been something to sit in on one of their songwriting sessions?) But some, like today’s hymn, came together more slowly. Originally, it was written as a poem by a young Methodist preacher named Robert Robinson, in the year 1757. But it wasn’t set to music until roughly 1813, when the tune is commonly attributed to John Wyeth. It also appears that he tweaked a couple of the lyrics to make them flow more smoothly with the music. Even today, you can encounter several lyrical variants depending on which hymnal you’re using.
The story of the hymn is fascinating, and I hadn’t heard it before looking up its provenance. Robinson was apparently a rather delinquent lad, but he was much struck by a George Whitefield sermon at the age of 17. Three years later, he sobered up and set out to become a Methodist preacher. A couple years after that, at 22, he penned “Come Thou Fount.” A helpful hymn collector has created sheet music with the closest thing to the original lyrics he could find.
Sadly, it appears that Robinson “wandered” from orthodoxy in later years, ultimately straying into Unitarianism. It was said that towards the end of his life, a lady riding with him in a stagecoach starting humming it and asked him what he thought of the hymn. He answered that he had written it, but he no longer felt the passion in his own words, though he “would give a thousand worlds” to feel as he did then. The obvious problem with this story is that there wouldn’t have been a tune for the lady to “hum,” since the melody wasn’t written until after Robinson’s death. So, there is good reason to believe that it’s apocryphal. Certainly, it would be a tragic ending indeed to the story of one of hymnody’s finest.
The version I’ve selected comes from Fernando Ortega, who can always be counted on to deliver a classy take on an old hymn. The way he starts quietly and builds the dynamics with the cello is excellent. Take a listen:
I must say that I am equal parts shocked and disgusted with the inexplicable surge of popularity that Donald Trump has been enjoying among alleged conservatives. And not only conservatives, but Christian conservatives no less. A recent NPR story had a photo of an Alabama rally that drew 30,000 fans, some of whom held a banner saying, “Thank You, Lord Jesus, for President Trump.” You think I’m making this up? Click here. The letters were hand-drawn in red and blue marker on a white background. If you look at the faces of the people in that photo, you can see they’re ecstatic, overwhelmed, overjoyed.
Why? Conservative America, Christian America, why? I can’t hope to write more eloquently on this topic than Matt Walsh already has in several articles for The Blaze, but I must still add my voice to the chorus of “Whys.”
People say, “Well, he tells it like it is!” Or “He won’t take junk from Iran!” Or “He’s not afraid to criticize other Republicans?” Okay, who else can we think of in the current Republican field who might fit that bill? Bonus points if he’s been married to the same woman and didn’t bribe Hillary Clinton to come to the wedding. Extra bonus points if he actually understands the gospel. This, by the way, is not the gospel, just so we’re all clear: “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.” Oh, one more thing, if he can take criticism without whining like a 3-year-old and lobbing crude insults at women like a 13-year-old, that would be really terrific.
What’s that you say? There are several candidates who make the cut? Well then what in the red, white and blue blazes are people thinking?
But “He says his favorite book is the Bible”! And one guy “heard” he was going to make America a Christian country again! “Thank you Lord Jesus,” for men who tickle the ears of gullible people with just the words they want to hear.
The saddest part about all of this is that even if Donald Trump doesn’t manage to win the nomination, there is no way he will not keep riding that attention train on a third party ticket. And he will know full well that he is essentially handing the keys to the Democratic party once again by doing so. But then, beating the Democrats has never been his real goal. Being the center of attention is. And if he can’t be the absolute center of attention, he’ll be as distracting a sideshow as possible. This is a man who can compare himself to Ronald Reagan and Billy Graham while keeping a straight face.
Christian conservatives ought to be ashamed of themselves. This whole farce is nothing less than a national tragedy.
America, please, get behind a real man. I’m not even going to dictate which man you should get behind instead. You have options. You have one of the best Republican fields we’ve seen in years, and you have nearly a whole half-year to get to know them before the primary. You have half a year to straighten out your priorities.
If you still don’t have it together come election season, the only advice I have left for you is to be careful what you wish for.
Last year, I did a post on southern gospel singers with doppelgangers in the entertainment world. It was quite popular and prompted a number of great suggestions from my readers. Since then, I’ve collected a few more myself. Enjoy!
Kirk Talley and young Ron Howard:
Val Kilmer and Dean Hopper:
Michael Keaton and Wayne Haun:
Paula Deen and Gloria Gaither:
And, my personal favorite of the suggestions from last time, Pastor John Hagee and gospel pianist/journalist David Bruce Murray. (Wait, is Pastor Hagee in the entertainment world? Better not answer that question…)
Many of you are probably familiar with the Christian movie productions of Sherwood Pictures. They’ve had great success with limited budgets on films like Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous. Each of their films covers a particular theme, like faith, marriage, or fatherhood. The other week, they released a new project entitled War Room, focused on prayer. It was a box office smash, vying with hot Hollywood releases like Straight Outta Compton. However, like the church’s other projects, it’s come under criticism for being poor quality and perhaps even presenting a distorted view of Christianity.
These criticisms are sometimes coming from other Christians, not just jaded mainstream reviewers. I recently read one article by John Mark Reynolds that was particularly unsparing. He called it “Genie Jesus and the War Room Problem.” He argues that all the Kendricks’ movies have the same theological flaw: They give Christians the impression that any problem a Christian has can be solved by the appropriate amount of faith and prayer. In other words, he’s accusing them of presenting a prosperity gospel. He points out that for many people, living out the Christian faith will involve unanswered prayers, suffering, and sad endings. In War Room, a wife is urged to remain in a bad marriage and pray for her nasty, philandering husband, who ultimately repents. Reynolds cites the examples of many women like her who will pray fervently and see no change.
Okay, so we know happy endings aren’t universal, but is it fair to accuse Sherwood’s films of generally presenting a false gospel? Do they really preach a “genie Jesus”? Will Christians walk away with a false idea of what faith, prayer and provision really mean? I think a more careful look reveals that while Reynolds raises interesting concerns, he’s being disproportionately harsh. (Full disclosure though: I haven’t seen War Room yet, just previous Sherwood movies.)
Apologies for my lack of contentful columns in the past week or so as I ramp up for a hectic semester. Several posts are brewing, including some thoughts on the Kendrick Brothers’ latest movie and a new Glen Campbell documentary. But for now, enjoy a little slice of comedic gold from everyone’s favorite Odd Couple. In this episode, Oscar is trying to cure Felix of agoraphobia. The results are, shall we say, less than optimal.