This project finds southern gospel’s most inventive quartet trying on yet another hat: Broadway. They are aided in their efforts by acclaimed tenor singer J. Mark McVey, who is best known for his performance as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. It’s been available from their site for a while, but it was only recently released to retail. I’m choosing to feature the album cover they designed while Doug Anderson was still with the group, because (thankfully!) his vocals have been preserved even though the cover has been re-done for retail with his replacement, Dustin Doyle.
It’s been interesting to watch Ernie Haase market this album to Signature Sound’s fan-base. On the one hand, I think a number of these classics will find an audience among the same folks who like their brand of gospel music, which has already borrowed from a show tunes tradition. On the other hand, the group has stressed in advertising the accompanying tours that these are not gospel songs, just to make sure that nobody who’s out of the loop will be surprised or confused. This seems like a smart way to ensure that everyone is happy and gets their money’s worth. Myself, I’m always up for a collection of good music, and I’m always up for Wayne Haun’s producing ideas. If anybody can meet the challenge of selecting and arranging Broadway tunes that are recognizable, accessible, and adaptable for an all-male ensemble, it’s Wayne. And if anybody can meet the challenge of singing those arrangements, it’s Signature Sound. But did I agree with every selection? Read on to find out. Continue reading
Lizzy Long may not be a familiar name to southern gospel listeners, but she’s achieved notoriety on the bluegrass circuit through her work with the likes of Earl Scruggs and Little Roy Lewis. This is her first solo album. Her voice is probably most comparable to Tammy Wynette, but it’s very much her own. It’s pure and rich and keeps your ears coming back for more. Long herself co-wrote a number of the songs for this project, together with Wayne Haun, Joel Lindsey, Lyn Rowell, and others. For the most part, it resides firmly in country/bluegrass territory, with a couple of detours into Broadway and
schmaltz inspirational. Click on to read my track-by-track review.
Summer has officially begun for me, and I’m excited! I have many plans, but writing more is certainly among them. I decided to kick it off by answering a request from some readers to review David Phelps’s new solo album, Freedom. I poked some fun at the album cover a couple weeks ago, but people wondered if I was actually going to comment on the music. So, for the first time in a long time, here’s my track by track take on the project. As you all know, I’m unfailingly honest in my reviews. So I’m anticipating that some Phelps Phans may read some of my feedback and get upset, even though I’m preparing to compliment many things about this album. Be it known, therefore, that I intend to monitor comments closely. With that out of the way, let’s talk about the music!
L to R: Kristopher (age 18), Keith (age 22), Katie (age 14), Kody (age 20)
The Erwins are the latest signees of Ernie Haase and Wayne Haun’s Stowtown Records venture. Ranging in age from 14 to 22, this fresh-faced foursome has been making some waves in the southern gospel world of late. I will admit that when I first saw the brothers alone in a showcase slot at NQC a few years back, I thought they were fine, but they didn’t seem like wave-makers to me at the time. Well, with some time to polish their craft and with the addition of baby sis Katie, they are now turning more heads, including mine. Add some memorable new songs and the sure-handed production of Wayne Haun to the mix, and the Erwins are Ready to Sail.
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.
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
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
Sara Davison, Kiley Phillips, and Anna Grace Kimbrough, the ladies of High Road III, burst on my radar when they performed their original song “High Road” at NQC the other year. I thought to myself at the time, “These ladies are going places!” Angel at the Crossroads is their sophomore release, and judging by the heavyweights involved in the production (Ben Isaacs, Bill Gaither), it looks like the rest of the industry is sitting up and taking notice too. The album was recorded at Ricky Skaggs’ studio in Hendersonville, TN, with all the instruments played by the ladies except drums (Greg Ritchie) and banjo/mandolin (Andy Leftwich).
As a backer of Legacy Five’s new project, I just recently received the final mix of their project Great Day. I am pleased to offer the first review of this record, officially out March 25th! I’m using what I believe will be the cover of that project based on the fan poll they held on their blog. Enjoy my thoughts in bullet point form!
* Y’all know I’m a sucker for gospel shuffles drenched in B-3 Hammond. Standout track “Christ is Still the King” (the number on which some lucky backers got the chance to sing BGVs) goes straight to that happy part of my brain. Congrats to Rebecca Peck and Dianne Wilkinson (the lady is a machine!) for an exceptionally strong lyric and melody. It just keeps building and building to a triumphant finish with the aforementioned fan choir. The relative restraint of the production until that final verse makes it all the more effective.
Souls can still be rescued
For mercy still redeems.
Rejoice, the tomb’s still empty
And Christ is still the King. Continue reading
When Guy Penrod and Marshall Hall left the Gaither Vocal Band, I admit that I was skeptical about how much I would like the super-star lineup that replaced it. A DVD came and went, as did a new project, and I remained somewhat lukewarm. But after a year or so, I’ve gradually warmed to this five-man blend of voices. Seeing them at NQC this year, I thought they had tightened as a unit and delivered some of the best new material of the convention. So needless to say, I immediately acquired their latest project Pure and Simple. My verdict is that although it could have been better, it’s a cut above anything else I’ve heard yet this year. Now, I realize I’ve already handed out a 4.5 star rating (to the Booth Brothers’ Gaither tribute), and this project isn’t absolutely perfect, so I can’t quite give it a 5, which means I’m going to be giving the two projects the same rating even though I think one is better than the other. I’m not going to go back and change anything though, because I’m trying to get used to thinking of my star ratings as the answer to the question “How well does this project fulfill its potential?” That could very easily lead to albums that are not completely on a par receiving the same rating. So just in case anyone would have been confused, there’s a little insider tid-bit on how the ratings work around here. As you can tell, I make a lot of things up as I go along.
Okay, so since there are so many tracks on this album, I thought I would do something a little different and sort them into three categories: Prime Cuts, Enjoyables, and Misfires. Because my time is limited, I’ll really only go in depth on the prime cuts and then just briefly touch on the rest. Continue reading