Can We Still Be Patriotic?

The other week I was listening to Rush Limbaugh, and I heard a very sad call-in from a 60-year-old southern gentleman. He was talking about loss of faith in the Republican party, in the judicial system, in the military—all these institutions that as conservative Americans we would love to throw our support behind. He talked about current and possible future erosion of liberties like speech and gun ownership. What was there left for him to believe in and defend as a patriotic American? Rush had no pat answers. All he could do was empathize.

By coincidence, I was listening in on the same day SCOTUS upheld Obamacare 6-3. Once again, the allegedly conservative Justice Roberts co-authored the majority opinion. (It’s enough to make one wonder if someone has incriminating photos of the guy, but that’s neither here nor there.) Meanwhile, Justice Scalia added yet another gem to a long line of eloquent dissents. Read a few choice quotes here. “Interpretive jiggery-pokery,” indeed. And of course, the day after that, SCOTUS miraculously “found” the “right” to redefine marriage in our Constitution by a 5-4 majority. Kennedy wrote this opinion, in a style “as pretentious as its content was egotistic.” (Scalia again. How I love that guy).

In these times, the southern gentleman’s question is a fair one. When even the most conservative justices in our highest court can’t always agree on a matter of basic interpretive integrity, where do we place our hope? What does it even mean anymore to say “God bless America”?  Continue reading

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Southern Gospel vs. The Rest of the World: Diamond Rio and The Akins

You might know that the Akins are one of my favorite groups in southern gospel today. I’ve raved a bit about them before, but I think if I could boil it down to one word, it would be “musicianship.” They’re completely self-taught, yet they play, sing, and write all of their own material and give completely live concerts. They make it all look deceptively easy, but it takes a special talent to wear that many hats and produce quality work. The Akins do it with style. For this entry in “Southern Gospel vs. The Rest of the World,” I picked country band Diamond Rio to spar with the Akins. The two bands have similar country-rooted styles with a rocky kick. Both bands are also accomplished jammers, and to top it off, both bands specialize in rich vocal harmonies.

Diamond Rio enjoyed huge mainstream success throughout the 90s, but with surprise hit “In God We Still Trust,” they gained fans in the Christian market as well. They’ve dipped their toe in a variety of musical styles, mixing in everything from pop to bluegrass, but all with the signature tight blend of lead singer Marty Roe, baritone Dana Williams, and tenor Gene Johnson. One of their best albums and one of my favorite Christmas projects is The Star Still Shines, which shows off all their talents across a great cross-section of music (my review here).

To be fair, I’ll try to compare like and like tracks from both artists. Unfortunately, I can’t find studio versions of the Akins’ acapella arrangements on Youtube. Fortunately, there are a couple of good live videos out there. When it comes to instrumental/jamming skill, I would say Diamond Rio’s greater experience tips in their favor. Their licks are simply more varied and advanced. However, I think the Akins can give them a run for their money in the acapella department. And when you consider that I’m comparing a group of seasoned veterans with a band of 20-something youngsters at all, the Akins’ relative skill and polish becomes even more impressive.

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Monday Morning Humor: Tim Hawkins Sings the National Anthem

…in about four different voices. I think Neil Young is my favorite. “In the land of the free and the home of the brave [hair flip].”

“And finally, I would like to hear Mr. Bob Dylan do the National Anthem. Kids, you have no idea who that is. I don’t care.”

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From the Vault: The Booth Brothers, “While Ages Roll”

[OT editor’s note: Scheduled posts will continue going up regularly for the next couple weeks, but my Internet access will be very limited, so if you’re new and you leave a comment, I may be delayed in approving it. Thanks for understanding!]

This is one song that the Brothers have fortunately brought back, on their special quartet project with Gene McDonald. It’s a great one by Mosie Lister, though somewhat less well known than classics like “Til the Storm Passes By” or “Where No One Stands Alone.” Proof that when you get a really solid songwriter, digging deeper into their catalog only turns up more gems, not toss-offs.

By the way, congrats to the Booth Brothers for being invited to appear on the Grand Ole Opry today! I hope the video finds its way to Youtube or some other streaming platform.

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Doug Anderson’s Farewell Party

Dustin Doyle just made his live debut as Signature Sound’s new baritone singer the other day. He sang “Redemption Draweth Nigh,” the song he picked for his audition. Meanwhile, I just discovered some great up close and personal videos of Doug Anderson and the guys from about a month ago. They’re from a retreat session in Shipshewana, Indiana, and since Indiana is Doug’s home state, some old friends of his came up to show their appreciation. So the retreat kind of doubled as a going-away party for him, and it just looks like a sweet time all round. A user named Joyce Williams has uploaded several of these videos (about 15-20 minutes long each), full of funny stories, heart-to-heart reflections from both Doug and Ernie, and some performances by request. I’ll point readers to her channel for all of them but embed a couple that I found especially fun.

In the first half of this one, Ernie Haase shares his top ten moments with Doug on the road. I’d never heard any of these stories before, but oh my, these are some good ones. Some are funny, others are embarrassing (and funny), some are touching, and one of them is a little bit scary (it involves going jogging in a spot in Israel where you do NOT want to go jogging). Ernie really bares his soul in a couple of these moments, particularly the last one:

And the number one top ten moment for me, ever, was you reaching across the aisle late one night, giving me a fist bump, telling me everything was going to be all right, when this group was going to hell pretty quick. And for staying and being my best friend, and helping me get this group off the ground.

The second half is some other stuff, but that was the part that really got me.

And here’s Doug singing an old sugar stick of his: “Gone.” If you watched the first video, you know they’re laughing at the beginning because they’re thinking about the fact that Ernie specially requested Doug sing this, and the hook reminded everyone that Doug was going away. (But that was nothing compared to Ernie setting up “Forgiven Again” by saying Doug was going to spend more time with his family, and then Doug singing the first line of that song: “I left my family, the love I had known…”)

Here’s an impromptu group performance of “All the Gold in California.” Never heard them try this one before!

One friend of Doug’s who shared some words also happens to know Bill Gaither. According to him, Bill once said in a conversation about Doug, “I can’t believe I let him get away!” So congrats, Ernie. You one-upped Bill for thirteen years!

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Steven Curtis Chapman’s Song for Charleston

As Charleston reels from the unspeakably evil actions of Dylan Roof (while amazingly making statements of love and forgiveness at the same time), here’s a new Steven Curtis Chapman song dedicated to them. While it’s typical of his more recent material in that the melody could be more tuneful, it has a characteristically strong chorus and very moving lyrics. Rejoice in the reminder that good will always overcome evil!

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From the Vault: The Booth Brothers, “Buy Me a Rose”

This latest upload from the Booth Brothers’ Live in Lakeland project is a one-off, completely unplugged cover of the Kenny Rogers hit “Buy Me a Rose,” penned by Jim Funk and Erik Hickenlooper (boy, what a mouthful!) You’ll notice the run-time on this one is a bit longer than usual, and that’s because I’ve included Michael’s moving words at the end on marriage and divorce. In an incredibly sweet moment, he walks down into the audience at the end of the song to present his wife Vicki with a rose, then they stand together while he offers some reflections.

Since this concert, Michael has opened up more about his wife’s difficult childhood past and how they’ve sought counseling at various points in their marriage. But even here, he’s honest about their struggles. “We found out it was more than 50/50. It’s 100% without really expecting much in return. And that’s when things really seem to work out the best.” Sadly, Christian couples and even southern gospel couples aren’t always spared the pain of divorce, and Michael specifically recognizes that. In a room that size, he says there are bound to be couples who are hurting. At the same time, he expresses his conviction that when both parties in the marriage are committed to Christ and each other, it will be able to weather the storm. The tragedy is that so often it is only one spouse or the other who actually wants to keep on trying. (I confess that I have less sympathy for so-called “mutual divorces,” where the husband and wife jointly throw in the towel).

This performance is yet another home run for the group and one I vote they resurrect in concert as long as Ronnie is lugging around that guitar of his. I don’t throw away compliments, and I can confidently say this version blows the original out of the water. Vocally, I don’t think I’ve heard Michael better, both technically and emotionally. Kudos to Ronnie and Jim for their spot-on BGVs too.

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Anatomy of a Song: “If These Walls Could Speak”

I can’t think of very many songwriters whose material runs the gamut from rock-bottom awful to absolutely brilliant, but Jimmy Webb is one of them. His hit “MacArthur Park” is so legendarily bad that Dave Barry’s readers voted it the worst song ever recorded in a 1992 poll. (Of course, this was before Rebecca Black. And if you actually clicked on that link, you’re most welcome.)

But here’s the weird thing: If you keep leafing through Jimmy Webb’s catalogue, you start to come across good songs. Really good songs. Songs that have become standards and been recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Johnny Cash to Art Garfunkel. He’s kind of like the mainstream music world’s Rich Mullins: voice too rough for himself to become a pop star, but has an amazing way with a lyric.

One of those songs is “If These Walls Could Speak.” It’s been recorded at least five times: by Glen Campbell, by Webb himself, by Amy Grant, by Nancy Griffith, and by Shawn Colvin. My personal favorite version is Amy Grant’s, recorded for her 1988 album Lead Me On. (Grant also collaborated on Webb’s excellent Christmas musical The Animals’ Christmas with Art Garfunkel.) I love this version because of her vocal and because of the sparsely lovely piano arrangement, which is closest to Webb’s own vision of the song. It makes the lyrics stand out all the more, which is a good thing, because they’re some of the best lyrics I’ve ever heard.

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From the Vault: The Booth Brothers, “Home Where I Belong”

It gives me great pleasure to brighten Youtube with the (in my opinion) definitive cover of this B. J. Thomas classic. The Brothers don’t seem to have a studio recording of it, which is interesting since they obviously cut a studio track for themselves to use on this performance.

This arrangement hews fairly closely to the Gaither Vocal Band’s interpretation, but the Booths’ harmonies are just unbeatable on this. I would also rate it as one of Ronnie Booth’s best lead vocals. I’ve often thought that in a different era, Ronnie could have had a great solo career in country music. Truly one of the most naturally gifted vocalists I’ve ever heard.

I’m not sure who the gentleman in freeze frame is at around 2:43 (presumably an acquaintance of the group who had passed).

If you’ve enjoyed this, keep coming back for more gems from the vault!

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CD Review: Blueberry Pie, by Lizzy Long

Blueberry Pie

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.

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