Mama Don’t Allow No Live Band In Here

Time for some fun. To all of you who are lamenting the loss of the live band in southern gospel, I present some sympathy from the Muppet Show. In which Dudley Moore announces that he won’t be needing the band anymore:

And I could not leave out the follow-up, in which Floyd and Animal come backstage and interrupt Dudley to “reason” with him concerning the new Music And Mood Management Apparatus. Animal makes a particularly  convincing argument:

Zak Shumate, I think you got a kindred spirit there.



Sing it Again: Heed the Call

Another new series, this one like Daniel’s “Encore.” I look at songs sung by a gospel group that deserve to be revived, and you tell me whether you agree with my ideas about who should revive them, or not.

We’ll start with a song by the Imperials. Now the Imperials sort of went all over the map, sonically speaking. They started off very traditional with Jake Hess, and they did some great work there.  But after some member shifts, they got more adventurous and starting branching out into more of a light Christian rock sound. Heed the Call shows this side of them, with Russ Taff on lead and a great lineup of songs.

The title cut is an energetic number about following after Christ. It’s smart, fun, and fast-paced, with a wonderful bass echo that comes in towards the end (go Armond Morales!) Listen:

I’ve often mentioned how my fondness for Signature Sound is really related to the fact that I cut my teeth on this version of the Imperials growing up. EHSS often brings back those memories for me with their style and sound. And of course, with Ian Owens on board, they now have an actual Imperials alumnus contributing vocals, hand-picked to replace Armond no less. Ian and I had a little talk about what this could mean for their future repertoire, and I offered Ernie a few ideas. This song was one of them. The production on the original is of course very dated, but it could be spiffed up and given a fresh treatment with great results. Doug would be a natural fit on lead, and Ian would steal the show with the bass line. It could easily become a crowd favorite.

Look for more of these “bring back that old Imperials song” entries in this series. Maybe there’ll even be another one for EHSS…

Easter in Poem and Song

Alleluja, he is risen.


“Seven Stanzas at Easter”

by John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance


He is risen indeed, Alleluja.

Good Friday: Three Songs of the Cross

Today I thought I would present three songs of the cross that have moved me in honor of Good Friday. I suspect that while a number of my readers may have heard one or two of them, not many have heard all. I encourage everyone to take a few minutes and contemplate all three at some point today.

Each song features a tenor soloist, and as it happens, these are probably my three favorite tenors: Steve Green, Matthew Ward, and Ernie Haase. The songs are “Embrace the Cross” (Steve Green), “Bring Me to the Cross” (Matthew Ward), and “Unexpected Cross” (Ernie Haase). All three are powerful and meaningful. I could try to offer a devotional today, but I will let the lyrics of these songs do it for me. Be blessed.


Maundy Thursday

Why? It’s a simple question, but sometimes there isn’t much of an answer in sight. Many people think that’s sufficient reason not to believe in God.

I wonder if they realize that Jesus Christ asked the very same question. When he took our sin upon him and was separated from the Father, he cried out asking, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” And when he was in the garden of Gethsemane, he asked that God might let the cup pass from him, momentarily seeming to be unsure of what would happen. But he trusted the Father’s will to be done.

If we are to follow Jesus’ example, we must do the same. Even when it seems that there is no hope to cling to, we must cling to the assurance that there is One who will provide, and One whose will for us is more perfect than we could imagine.

I encourage you to listen to this song today, and really let the excellent poetry sink in. “Why,” by Michael Card (with Sara Groves on vocals, Phil Keaggy on guitar, and John Catchings on cello):

GMCTV Dove Awards Predictions for SG

The gmctv team has put up their predictions for this year’s Dove Awards, and several have put in their bids in the southern gospel category.

For vocalist of the year, senior editor Andy Argyrakis is rooting for Jason Crabb, saying, “He can sing country, soul, southern gospel and pop, nailing each note out of the park no matter what the style,” while managing editor Jenny Bennett has fingered out Doug Anderson:

I’m going out on the limb here to say that the artist who had everyone scratching their heads this year (simply because as one-fourth of Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, Doug’s name had never been front and center before), is going to take it. He’s coming out with a solo record early next month, which I take as a sign of things to come, and he’s hardly missed a note in nearly 11 years as baritone for one of southern gospel’s most popular and accomplished groups. Plus it’s just nice to see someone who’s used to blending in stepping out into the limelight.

In the group of the year category, Bennett is once again betting on a Signature Sound win: “Given the above rationale of a member of this group getting a nod in the Male Vocalist category, I’m wondering if that could be a clue as to the industry’s overall recognition of what has proven to be one of southern gospel’s most beloved quartets.”

And finally, senior content strategist Melissa Riddle Chalos says it’s high time Wayne Haun got his just desserts in the Producer of the Year category:

I know you don’t know his name, and unless you’re a die-hard southern gospel fan (which I am not), you probably don’t know his work either. But if you looked at Haun’s body of work, you’d have to ‘get’ the fact that this guy deserves the ‘Producer’ Dove, the one bird that’s eluded him. He’s had 60 nominations and 13 wins for various categories, but he’s never won this category. It’s time.

As would be expected, predictions were overwhelmingly CCM, but it is nice to see southern gospel getting some critical attention from an outside circle. Tonight will tell who walks away with what.

[Update @9:24: As of now, the Gaither Vocal Band has won in the SG song and album categories, while other SG nominees have yielded to CCM wins in all major categories that have yet been announced. Song, Group, and Artist of the Year are coming up.]

[Update April 21: As of last night when I went to bed, SG had also lost Group of the Year, but this morning I read Daniel Mount’s report to find that surprisingly, SG took home Song of the Year with “Sometimes I Cry.” Congrats to Jason and Gerald Crabb—this is significant!]

Songs you could never dig

This weekend I will be sharing some Holy Week music and meditations, but before we get serious, I thought it might be entertaining to ask my readers this question: What’s one Christian song, for our purposes preferably SG, that everybody talks about and loves, but for whatever reason just doesn’t click for you?

The bigger the better. Try to think of something that’s very highly regarded by a lot of people, including critics. Then explain a little of your reasoning behind not liking it. Be honest, but be thoughtful.

(Just to refresh folks’ memory, that song would be “Champion of Love” for me. I simply never got what was supposed to be so inspirational and profound about it. For some reason, the picture of Jesus Christ as a prizefighter amidst a crowd of screaming sports fans just doesn’t appeal to me. Plus, it’s uncomfortably similar to a certain very famous Carman song, though even I must concede that it is not THAT cheesy. There’s cheddar, and then there’s Limburger.)

Southern Gospel Music Videos

When was the last time you saw a really high quality music video from a professional southern gospel artist?

My guess is you’re casting about for an answer right now, because the truth is that there really aren’t that many southern gospel music videos out there, good or bad.

Here are a few that I have found, in no particular order. (Important note: We are not counting Mark Lowry’s many and sundry comedic masterpieces.)

I’m a Jesus Fan (by The Paynes—No comment on the song…)

I’d Like To Go Home Again [Update: This link has been removed] (by The Spencers—Beautifully done. Skip intro, video actually begins around :50.)

Praying (Also by the Spencers—LOVE this one. Again, skip intro.)

Famine In Their Land (by The Nelons—This would be my personal pick of the lot, but it has unfortunately been removed from Youtube.)

Welcome to Heaven (by The Singing Americans—WOW, Clayton Inman looks young!)

This Ole House (by the Cathedrals—Kind of odd, but cute nonetheless.)

Behold the Lamb (by David Phelps—Nice cinematography, but conceptually…meh. IMVHO of course.)

Arms Open Wide (also by David Phelps—Ditto.)

John In the Jordan (by Signature Sound—I’ve always liked this one. Cute stuff.)

Somebody Like Me (by Jason Crabb—Best cinematography of the bunch.)

Feel free to add more in the comments as you think of them. I’m running out myself. The reason this intrigues me is that this is not the case in CCM. From established artists to up-and-comers, it seems that whenever somebody puts out an album, a concept video is created for (usually) the record’s lead single. Not every artist does this, but it seems to be pretty common practice.

Why is this such a rarity within SG? Well, I’m only guessing as to the reasons, but two plausible ones that come to mind are budget and subject matter. First, music videos cost money, and even established southern gospel artists understandably would probably be hesitant to make that kind of investment. Because CCM reaches a wider demographic, my guess is that the average CCM artist’s income is greater than that of the average SG artist. This means that CCM singers have more freedom to create something like a concept video. The thrown-together, low-budget look of the Cathedrals’ “This Ole House” might be some support for this theory, as they were arguably the most popular group in their field at the time, yet inexplicably couldn’t seem to produce something higher quality. (They didn’t even bother to make the singers in the audio match the singers in the video!)

My second thought is that the subject matter of SG songs doesn’t seem to lend itself as readily to concept videos as other genres of music. For example, there are more story-songs in the realms of country and even CCM. Gospel songs tend to be more doctrinally focused, which limits the possibilities for creating something with visual interest. Either that or they deal with biblical stories and characters, which would be difficult to recreate convincingly.

Still, I think myself that it would be fascinating if some of gospel music’s top-tier artists (e.g. GVB, EHSS, Booth Brothers, BFA) began investing in high quality concept videos for selected, appropriate songs as they released new material. What do you think? I can think of some songs already out there that would have been perfect for the purpose. For example, imagine a concept video for Signature Sound’s “Until We Fly Away,” or the GVB’s “Always a Place At the Table.” Or with more recent songs, imagine the possibilities for something like the Booth Brothers’ “I See Grace.”

Palm Sunday

Every Palm Sunday at my church, we read the story of the passion in preparation for Holy Week, with the different parts assigned to different members of our congregation. The pastor narrates, one guy gets Jesus, another guy gets Pilate, and some poor chap gets stuck with Judas. One year I got to be Pilate’s wife. The entire congregation speaks for the crowd.

It’s always a slightly chilling experience when the fellow reading Pilate asks what the crowd wants him to do with Jesus, and all of us reply loudly, “Let him be crucified!” “His blood be on us, and on our children!”

We are putting ourselves in the place of the Jews for the play, but are we really role-playing? Today, we sang a hymn called “Ah! Holy Jesus” that was uncannily fitting for this very question. Look at this verse:

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?

Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!

‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;

I crucified thee.

Was it only the Jews who crucified Jesus? Or was it me—and you?