I started this series to showcase some of my favorite Christmas albums, but it fell off a couple years ago. Since I have some all-time faves that I didn’t even begin to get into, I’m going to revive it this year. (Feel free to catch up with the first five I wrote, which have been neatly sorted for your reading pleasure here.)
We’ll start with A Very Veggie Christmas. Yes, Bob, Larry and Co. are having a Christmas party. Unfortunately, Oscar the Polish caterer is inexplicably a no-show, so while they’re waiting, the Veggie crew puts on a Christmas production like nothing you’ve ever heard. The theme is Christmas Around the World. As Pa Grape describes it, “Kinda like Missionary Week. Without the food.”
This is definitely one of the most original Christmas projects I have, and I’m not joking when I say it’s one of my all-time favorites. It’s constructed as a running series of skits, interspersing the songs with off-the-wall banter and typical guest/party chatter, Veggie style. (“Larry, where’s the food?” “I dunno, shoulda been here by now.” “Bob, where’s the bathroom?” “Down the hall, first door on the left.”) Connecting tracks are literally labeled with titles like “Talking,” “More Talking,” and “Vegetables Talking to Sheep.” Like Pet Sounds or The White Album, this one has to be appreciated as a whole.
After signing a batch of family acts, it was natural for fast-growing StowTown Records to add a soloist to their already impressive roster. It’s probably safe to say that they picked out the most naturally gifted one in southern gospel: Taranda Greene. Her debut album Stronger plays like a triumphant personal testimony to the griefs she’s experienced and overcome after losing her husband, Tony. She lends her flexible voice to a wide variety of sounds here, with a heavier urban emphasis than one might expect from an SG record. (Translation: White girl got soul!) The result may sometimes veer into over-the-top theatrics, but it’s a solid, entertaining piece of work, arriving just in time to land on everyone’s “Best of 2014″ lists.
Out On a Limb is a wide-release re-packaging of Gaither Vocal Band tenor Wes Hampton’s former table project Reality. It is his second solo effort, following 2011’s A Man Like Me, which I first reviewed at Southern Gospel Journal here. Blending Wes’s fresh, confident vocals with a batch of new songs from CCM hit-maker Sam Mizell and friends, it’s sure to satisfy most die-hard Hampton fans. But will it satisfy fans of great music and songwriting? Does it satisfy me as a fan of all of the above? And does anyone else think the cover looks like someone dropped a Land’s End photo shoot in the middle of a Gustav Dore engraving?
The Akins are some of my favorite artists in southern gospel. Their freshness, natural musicianship and contagious enthusiasm always lift my spirits. However, their country-rock flair is a tad edgier than most fans of southern gospel may be used to, so they’ve been quietly flying under the radar for a while. However, their music definitely deserves a closer look. (Pssssst, hey Ernie/Stowtown…?) This table project finds them tackling some old standards with vim and vigor. The production credits are simple: recorded, sung, mixed, and mastered by the Akins. Lucas Vaughn is the only outside contributor, playing drums. The result sounds very organic and cohesive. Continue reading
The Ball Brothers are one of southern gospel’s youngest and most progressive groups. Consistently thinking outside the box, they serve up a uniquely tight, pop-flavored harmonic blend that recalls GoFish or the Backstreet Boys more than your typical southern gospel men’s group. They built their career as four blood brothers, but since then they’ve replaced two, including brother Stephen, who tragically had to bow out due to early onset hearing loss. Fortunately, Andy Tharp and Chad McCloskey have seamlessly slipped into the groove, and anyone who didn’t know any better could easily think all four are related. Their fresh, youthful appeal has many fans wondering if it’s only a matter of time before Ernie Haase signs them to StowTown Records, since he played a large part in giving them their first exposure. Click below the fold for my thoughts on their latest release, Priority. Continue reading
[Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Brian Fuson of Fuson’s Findings.]
Let’s hit the Rewind button and go all the way back to 2001. Before everyone on earth had an iPhone, when Chrysler was still owned by Germans, and my precious Detroit Tigers hadn’t had a winning season since I was a toddler. The Booth Brothers had no chart topping songs, no legions of fans, and weren’t really known by the average Gospel Music fan. Ronnie and Michael Booth were continuing the group they started with their father, Ron Sr, in the early 90’s. When Sr. departed in 1999, a young man named Joseph Smith joined the group, taking over the baritone position. Smith spent a couple years with Perfect Heart before the group disbanded and had proven to be an impressive vocalist in his short stint.
The group had recorded one impressive project, Walkin’ On The Good Side, that was fantastic. This Stage of Grace, released in 2001, would be the follow up. And it was the album that would make the Southern Gospel industry recognize the guys.
[Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Brian Fuson of Fuson’s Findings.]
Out of all the groups on the road today, it would be hard to find a group with a greater heritage than The Nelons. It all started when Rex Nelon took over the management of The Lefevres. After Eva Mae Lefevre’s retirement, the group was renamed as The Rex Nelon Singers in 1977. Towards the end of The Lefevres, Rex’s daughter Kelly joined the group. Together, this father and daughter duo led The Nelons to the top of the Gospel Music industry. After her father’s passing, Kelly continued to lead the Nelons through a new millennium. The group consists now of Kelly Nelon Clark, her husband Jason Clark, and daughter Amber Nelon Thompson singing soprano, with youngest daughter Autumn supplying additional vocals.
When you consider the group’s rich history and all their accomplishments, it may come as a surprise that this project marks a first for The Nelons. “Hymns: The A Capella Sessions” is the very first a cappella recording in the group’s long and illustrious history. United together with super-producer/arranger Lari Goss, the family has recorded one of the finest a cappella projects in the history of the genre.
Driven Quartet is a young men’s group currently signed to Chapel Records. They’ve been around for a while, even if you may not recognize their name. Their roots run deep in southern gospel, and lead singer Jason Funderburk is the son of legendary Cathedrals tenor Danny Funderburk. In 2009, David Bruce Murray said their self-titled record was the best non-label release he had heard that year. Now they have returned with a new project. Click below the fold for my review. Continue reading
It’s been too long since we had some new pure acappella music from the Martins. Now, perfectly timed in the year that I plan to see them live for the first time, this album grants all our wishes! With Lari Goss, Michael English, and David Phelps all sticking their fingers in the pie, it’s a glorious return to the sound that first put the Martins on the map. Continue reading
Measure of Grace is young family group The Taylors’ debut release on Ernie Haase and Wayne Haun’s label Stowtown Records. The fresh-faced foursome is continuing Stowtown’s recent trend of putting family groups on their roster. From left to right, they are Suzanne, Christopher, Leslie and Jonathan. Stylistically, they can evoke the Collingsworth Family, the Easters, or the Hoppers while still retaining their own identity. Now they’ve enlisted the talents of some of the best songwriters in the business (Haun, Lindsey, Jim & Melissa Brady and more) for an all-new collection of songs. Without further ado, here are my thoughts on this upcoming offering:
*Opening track “I’m Committed to You Lord” is a highlight right out of the gate from Wayne Haun and Jeff Bumgardner. Very classy but kind of kickin’ inspo in the vein of the Collingsworths’ “I Could Never Praise Him Enough.”
*Leslie Taylor is featured on highlight “I Tremble.” Wayne Haun and Joel Lindsey once again deliver a blissfully melodic, B-3 Hammond drizzled, richly theological meditation on worship and the cross. (And I just realized that I kind of made it sound like an ice cream sundae. Oh well, food analogies have always been my thing.) With the exception of one cringey line, which I’ve marched out and shot under “Dislikes,” this is the best song on the album.
Let me not forget this temple
It’s transformed into a throne room
And through your name, my soul is ushered in
So let me come to you in wonder
Let my heart still pound like thunder
At the way your grace has found me once again
*Speaking of Leslie, she’s the glue that holds the group together vocally. Her rich country tone compares favorably with Sheri Easter. Continue reading