Welcome!

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.

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Nearer, My God, To Thee

The other day we had friends over to our house to sing hymns together, and someone requested this hymn. Someone else pointed out that we were coming up on the anniversary of  the Titanic sinking (April 15), and that the ship’s string quartet played the hymn while they went down. While there are a couple of contradictory accounts, we do know that  a number of survivors reported this. From Wikipedia:

George Orrell, the bandmaster of the rescue ship, RMS Carpathia, who spoke with survivors, related: “The ship’s band in any emergency is expected to play to calm the passengers. After the Titanic struck the iceberg the band began to play bright music, dance music, comic songs – anything that would prevent the passengers from becoming panic-stricken… various awe-stricken passengers began to think of the death that faced them and asked the bandmaster to play hymns. The one which appealed to all was “Nearer My God to Thee.”

I’m not a fan of James Cameron’s (in)famous film adaptation of the tragedy, but this is one scene he got right:

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Create Your Own Caption Contest: David Phelps’s New Album Cover

Okay everyone, I’m counting on you. Here is the album cover for Freedom, the latest solo record by Gaither Vocal Band tenor David Phelps. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to come up with an awesome caption for this manifestly ridiculous photo.

Here’s mine: “Iiiiiiiit’s Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friday!”

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CD Review: Happy People, by Ernie Haase & Signature Sound

Everyone’s favorite hip retro southern gospel quartet is baaaaack with another CD/DVD, coming soon to a Christian bookstore near YOU (pre-order). This is me NOT commenting on the album cover’s color scheme! Spoiler: I couldn’t resist forever, but you’ll have to read the whole review to get to the part where my will breaks.

So… what are you waiting for?

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Special Guest Movie Review: Beyond the Mask

This week, I took my youngest sister to the theater for a screening of a new family adventure movie called Beyond the Mask. It was produced by brothers Chad and Aaron Burns, homeschool alumni who are now working to make Christian films together. Set at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, it boasts some scenery-chewing star power with John Rhys-Davies as the villain (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lord of the Rings) and contains more special effects shots than blockbusters like Inception and Pirates of the Caribbean. (When I showed her the trailer, her reaction was, and I quote, “Ooooh, sword fights and stuff on fire. I want to see this!”) The premise is that a former British spy migrates to America and becomes a masked vigilante for the cause of liberty, hoping to redeem himself from his shady past. Along the way, he discovers true love, strong hate, harsh revenge, and all that fun stuff.

Our theater captain was the effects coordinator for the film, as well as the 2nd assistant director. The town showed up in force, and Littlest Sister and I had a high old time together, though we did note some things that could have been improved. Among other things, we discussed the film’s historical accuracy, and our conclusions may surprise you! So instead of having me write a typical review, I thought it would be fun to change it up and interview her instead. I simply hit record and transcribed our entire conversation, with very entertaining results.  As you’ll see, the family resemblance is quite strong. Enjoy this special guest appearance. (My questions are in bold, and her answers are in normal type.)

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Youtube Find: Vintage Cathedrals Music

Some of us don’t have the space to amass a vinyl collection or the vinyl players to enjoy it on, but we still love vintage music. The other day, I found a goldmine of Cathedrals music on Youtube, including albums from the 60s/70s/80s that you still can’t purchase digitally. The music has been digitized from the user’s collection, and while the quality varies from record to record, it’s better than a through-the-air recording like some other vintage Cats uploads. The user hasn’t gathered most of them into playlists, but if you go to his channel and click “See more” enough times, from a certain point on it’s nothing but vintage Cathedrals records. Better yet, here’s a link to all the songs at once, generated by searching “Cathedrals” on the channel, though this doesn’t group songs from the same album all together. Also, it appears that the videos for Climbing Higher and Higher were accidentally uploaded with no sound. Otherwise, full albums all told include:

With Brass, 1966

Focus on Glen Payne, 1968 (full playlist here)

Welcome to Our World, 1972 (full playlist here)

You Ain’t Heard Nothing Yet, 1979

Featuring George Younce, 1983

Individually, 1983

Voices in Praise Acappella, 1984

The Prestigious Cathedral Quartet, 1984

An Old Convention Song, 1985

Worship His Glory in Acappella Praise, 1993

Some of Their Finest Moments, 1994 (best-of collection, middling quality)

Radio Days, 1996

Acapella Favorites, 2000 (best-of collection)

***

I haven’t even scratched the surface of it all yet, but one album I do have in my collection already that’s uploaded here in excellent quality is 1984’s Prestigious Cathedral Quartet. Recorded with tenor Danny Funderburk, baritone Mark Trammell, and pianist Roger Bennett, this album featured a few of the Cathedrals’ signature songs and a few forgotten gems. It includes one of my absolute favorite Cathedrals songs ever, which to my knowledge has never been recorded by anyone else. It should be. It’s called “Next Time We Meet,” and it’s absolutely haunting. Somebody please bring this one back. Thank you:

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Passion Week Playlist #2: Songs For a Groaning Creation

Tonight I rose up with the moon, and looking down from high above,
I saw a world carved and confused into valleys deep in need of love.
And falling down, all thick with grace, Heaven’s cloud of mystery
Was filling every empty space, down to the depth of human need.

— Bebo Norman, “Deeper Still”

***

In previous years, I’ve posted a hymn or classical piece per day to commemorate Passion week. This year, I decided to do something a little different. So yesterday, I put together a few contemporary songs that, intentionally or not, throw our world’s need for a Savior into sharp relief. In the spirit of my “Questions & Answers” series, I’m sharing six more songs that have been arranged to complement yesterday’s playlist from an explicitly Christian perspective. (Hopefully this will make you do a double take on some of those lyrics!) If you are a Christian and a music fan, I encourage you to try this as an exercise for yourself. It’s good for your musical appreciation and your spiritual health.

The usual suspects are here: Rich Mullins, Steven Curtis Chapman, and a couple of younger upstarts like Audrey Assad and Bebo Norman, whose great lyric for “Deeper Still” is quoted above. I’m particularly moved by how Steven Curtis Chapman’s heart-wrenchingly hopeful song “February 20th” complements Phil Collins’s “Since I Lost You.” (Note that February 20th is not the day Chapman’s daughter died, but the day she accepted Christ. She would die later that same year.)

I am hoping and planning to share more thoughts on some of these, but for now, just be still and enjoy them. And have a blessed Easter.

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Passion Week Playlist #1: Songs Of a Groaning Creation

Whiskey and gun

What do a damaged Vietnam veteran, a heartbroken father, and a motherless child all have in common? All of their stories have been told in song form, and all of them are true. And there are thousands more just like them.

Most people listen to music because it makes them feel good, and I am certainly no exception. We are naturally drawn to music with lyrics that will uplift and encourage us. That’s why we all come back to the grand old hymns and gospel songs about heaven. (What a day that will be! Oh what shouting on that hallelujah morning!)

But sometimes, I need to hear what a groaning creation sounds like. Because it’s the reason Jesus had to die.

How do you respond to a lyric like this, written for the death of a child?

It’s all too easy to take so much for granted

But it’s oh, so hard to find the words to say

Like a castle in the sand the water takes away

Now how can life ever be the same?

Cause my heart is broken in pieces

Since I lost you.

Or this, for the death of a mother?

Some trains, they leave in the morning.

Some leave in the afternoon.

Some trains, they leave here right on time.

Some, they just leave too soon.

One thing is certain—cliches and platitudes will never do.

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Jesus, John, and The Last Supper

In honor of Passion Week, I’m preparing a few special playlists that will gather together some of my favorite songs ever written in any genre. So whether you like great songwriting or whether you’ve just been wondering, “That YankeeGospelGirl, man, what a grump she is! Isn’t there anything she likes?” then you won’t want to miss any of it.

Meanwhile, to kick off the week, I thought I would share an interesting biblical tidbit that sheds light on a key moment in the Last Supper. I discovered it while doing a little research after I’d reviewed the Old Paths Quartet’s latest album. I criticized their song “Stay” for being both poorly written and overly sentimental. While corresponding with someone who sent a nice comment on the review, I was inspired to look up the context for John’s record that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (assumed to be John himself) was “leaning on Jesus’ breast.” In the song, the writer turns this into some kind of infantile desire to “listen to Jesus’ heartbeat.” To say that I was skeptical of this interpretation would be an understatement. However, I’d always been curious about that phrase. What exactly did it mean? At the suggestion of my correspondent, I’m sharing this quotation from the helpful commentary I found after a few seconds of googling:

The “disciple whom Jesus loved” appears at the Last Supper. A literal translation of the Greek states that he was leaning on Jesus’ breast (Jn 13:23). Some twentieth century people have looked askance at this. In those days, however, it was customary for guests to recline side by side in such a way that the head of one guest was parallel to the chest of the person next to him. If one wished to speak privately to that person, one would move close enough so that one’s head was nearly or actually resting on the neighbor’s chest. This is what happened at the Last Supper, when John was reclining between Jesus and Peter, who was in turn between Judas and John. Jesus had just announced that one of his apostles would betray him. Peter, who was apparently on John‘s left, with his head on John‘s chest, bade him ask Jesus to identify the traitor. John then leaned back so his head was against Jesus’ chest as he asked Him to privately disclose who it was who would betray Him. Jesus took a piece of bread and told John that the man to whom he gave the morsel was the man to watch. He then gave it to Judas, who was on the other side of [John] and thus unable to follow Jesus’ conversation with John. — Bernard Ruffin, The Twelve: The Lives of the Apostles After Calvary, pp. 90-91

Now this author is speculating a bit when he suggests exactly how Peter and Judas were seated. But the point is that, with apologies to anyone who was really touched by that song, this whole idea of John cuddling up to Jesus just because is complete nonsense. In fact, once you understand what’s actually going on, it adds a wonderful dramatic tension to the reveal of Jesus’ betrayer.

It’s worth keeping in mind that Jesus’ life and ministry took place at a particular time and place, historically. We need to be aware that the cultural framework we bring to a given story could be wrong, maybe even seriously wrong. Of course it’s hard to let go of a favorite interpretation once you’ve latched onto it. But wouldn’t you rather understand the Bible the way it was really written, the way it really happened? I know I would.

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Harmony Master-Class: The Cactus Cuties

I still remember when the Cactus Cuties first became a viral sensation. I was watching it on Youtube, and my mom walked by in the background and said, “Huh, they sound good.” Then she leaned over to read the description and exclaimed, ” ‘Range in age from 8 to 13???'”

That was basically America’s reaction too, and if you’re one of the five people who hasn’t seen the video yet, you’ll understand why once you do. The harmony, which could only have been the result of diligent practice, appears absolutely effortless. Best of all, the Anthem is sung tastefully, with the usual vocal histrionics replaced by a winsome Texas twang.

The Lubbock, Texas quartet soon had offers and opportunities flooding in. They kept up a tour schedule for the next few years. Unfortunately, if you look up their website now, it hasn’t been updated past 2011. They resurfaced in 2012 to ask for fan suggestions about a new group name, but I haven’t found anything more recent. It appears that they eventually just broke up without much explanation. I know their tastes shifted to more mainstream pop as they grew older. Perhaps they discovered that this didn’t differentiate them enough from any number of other aspiring pop singers. The lightning in a bottle that they captured with that National Anthem performance was what made them unique.

There’s a higher quality performance from an appearance they did on the 700 Club around the time they went viral. This video also includes an interview segment where they talk about how learning the history of the song affected the way they sang it. Coincidentally, I was just quoting Harry Connick, Jr. the other day about the importance of respecting a song’s lyrics. And coincidentally, Terry Franklin was just commenting under that post about how many singers have butchered the National Anthem, because they made the performance all about their vocal flourishes. (And for readers who aren’t familiar with southern gospel music, Terry Franklin is a crackerjack pro singer and demo artist himself.) It’s very heartening to see singers this age taking their craft so seriously. I only wish they could have found a way to stay together and continue making great music for longer than just a few years.

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Do you want to be a great singer? Then sing the song.

Harry Connick Jr. you do runs homemade memeOne of my favorite contemporary musicians is Harry Connick, Jr. While I like some of his albums better than others, I respect his commitment to the craft and his deep understanding of American music and songwriting. I never watched American Idol at all until he became a judge. Then I tuned in last year just to hear his critiques, because they were so honest and insightful. Okay, maybe also to stare dreamily at Keith Urban, but never mind that for now.

ANY-way, before American Idol got smart and put Connick on the judges’ panel, they brought him in as a mentor on an earlier season. For those who don’t watch the show (which is okay, really—so not worth half a year of your life), a “mentor” is another celebrity brought in to coach the young singers through one particular week on the show. This mentor is (supposedly) chosen for his expertise in the week’s theme. In this season, the singers were given a week to prepare one current hit back-to-back with a Great American Songbook standard. (Which is a really dumb idea when you think about it, but I digress.) So, Harry was the obvious go-to guy to coach them through the standards. Really, I can’t think of anyone else his generation who would be better.

The problem was that while all of these 20-something aged singers were very talented, Harry walked in thinking they would also have some understanding of what they had chosen to sing about. He thought wrong. And they got a rude, but necessary awakening.

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