Saturday Survey #2

Hilariously, this is only my second survey/open thread in the life of the blog. I guess I’m generally too lazy to go around collecting newsy tidbits, especially since everybody else is so good at it. But a few things caught my eye this week. In no particular order:

* Former Tribute tenor Brian Alvey has joined the Talleys. As I’ve said elsewhere, this thrills me to no end. Brian is a fabulous and (IMO) underrated singer, and I can’t wait to see what Roger cooks up for the new sound. Some of us were wondering where Lauren would take her career when she and Brian got married last month, but this is certainly a pleasant surprise. Expect some impressive vocal interplay between Brian and Lauren in the group’s future.

* It came out in the comments section of this blog post of mine that Terry Franklin won’t be participating in this year’s live Gaither Vocal Band Reunion at NQC due to various scheduling conflicts. He will definitely be missed. I don’t know how many other GVB tenors will make an appearance, but I sure hope Steve Green makes it.

* Yet another SG blogger has launched, at His latest post is a convicting message to southern gospel groups about paying songwriter royalties.

* Chris Allman’s son Dustin proposed to his sweetheart, and she said yes. Way to go, D! You’re a great guy, and I’m confident you and Amanda will have a sweet marriage.

* Photo of the week: This priceless shot of Brian Free with his new grandson, born July 20. Isn’t that beautiful? Of course, the newsworthy aspect of this photo is that it appears Brian has grown a goatee. And here we were laying bets on when he would shave his soul patch. Who’da thunk it? Personally, I think his sharp, classic features have always lent themselves best to the clean-shaven look, but that’s just my .02.

* Video of the week: Hat tip to Josh for posting this video of the Garms family’s “Little Adventurers” performing an acapella number (with a little last-minute backup from big brother Ben). Little Caleb is singing lead, sister Jayme is singing high harmony, and Sam is singing low harmony while providing a few comedic movements with Caleb. Sammy is turning into a miniature Michael Booth—look out world! He even plays drums! (Not shown in this video.)

The thread is yours.


His love is like a river, splishin’ and a’splashin’…

Ever noticed that you can play “Splish Splash” and “Love Is Like a River” back-to-back and hardly notice when the one bleeds into the other? Compare:

Striking, isn’t it? It’s that same 50s rock feel, right down to the electric guitar stylings. Even the dance moves are the same. But then, Bobby Darin and Elvis were pretty much exact contemporaries. (Side note: I always get a slightly surreal feeling when I watch these old, old clips from when rock ‘n’ roll was in its embryonic stages. It seems so innocent and harmless looking back.)

Anyway, I guess this might fall into the category of “singing the world’s music for Jesus.” Whatever. I’m lovin’ it. Now I’m off to see if I can layer them together in Audacity so that they’re playing simultaneously in sync. (Can you tell I’m not having a busy summer?)

A Few Words on Soul Surfer

Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the past few months, you’ve probably heard of the latest inspirational family flick to come out of Hollywood: Soul Surfer. Based on the true story of surfer Bethany Hamilton’s inspiring struggle to overcome the tragic loss of her arm in a shark attack, it’s been marketed to and largely accepted by a Christian audience. Since I rarely go to the movies, I’ve been relying on detailed reviews and short Youtube clips to give me a sense of the film.

I’ve seen enough to inform me that I don’t need to waste any time on it. One of the most insightful negative reviews I found came from, interestingly, a non-Christian perspective. There are many different reasons why I would advise other Christians not to bother with the film, but one of the things that bugs me most about it is its hopelessly generic treatment of the religious. It’s taken the real-life Christianity of Hamilton’s family and turned it into little more than insipid… inspirationality. I think Ebert At the Movies really puts it in a nutshell. They’re completely right: In order for the film to work even just as a good film, it needed to either leave Christianity entirely out of the picture, or go all the way with it. The tepid, mushy middle stance it ultimately took should not only make it less appealing to firm Christians, but it should also make it less appealing to those of us who appreciate good art and good film-making. As it stands, “cynical and calculated” is sadly not far from the mark as a descriptive phrase. Watch the review.

See also some solid words from a Christian perspective here. This snippet just about nails it:

It seems, too often, Hollywood uses Christians for free marketing. If they can produce a movie that shows enough flesh to sell in the secular market, all they have to do is convince the Christians that it has a godly message and we’ll find a way to excuse the immodesty.

First, they’ll need a good moving story (we Christians like to cry…thinking like a movie promoter here). If they can find a story where someone does an amazing good deed, or an athlete (we love our sports too) becomes a hero by overcoming some huge obstacle–especially if it’s true­–they’ve hit the jackpot. Now all they have to do is throw us a few bones to make it “Christian” enough for us to tell our friends and buy the tickets.

In the case of Soul Surfer, all they needed were two verses, a female youth pastor, a worship song, and the flash of a Bible. Throw in a deeply moving (true) story about a sweet Christian girl who pulls herself up by her bootstraps (or bikini straps) and we’re hooked.

Perfect Tenor Performances #3: Terry Franklin

Terry Franklin may not be a household name, but because he was only in the southern gospel spotlight for a brief period of time with the Gaither Vocal Band, perhaps that’s natural. Most of his career has been spent in full-time evangelistic ministry with his family, traveling around the country and the world. He is also in hot demand as a studio vocalist. It’s a pretty safe bet that if you were to ask folks in the SG industry who’s on their short list for most technically gifted tenors, Terry would be at or near the top. Glen Payne said he was the best tenor he had ever heard (having sung with him for a few dates when he was filling in with the Cathedrals), and Ernie Haase has named him as one of his all-time favorites. Interestingly, Wes Hampton has often prompted vocal comparisons to Terry today, and indeed, the resemblance is at times quite striking. This is a good thing. A very good thing.

Today I’m featuring a brief and powerful clip from his Gaither Vocal Band days, singing the classic “What a Day That Will Be.” You’ll never hear a better version. (And yes, all the David Phelps Phans can sit down and stop making indignant noises in the back row.)

I will refrain from saying anything about Terry’s mullet/pseudo-mullet, because he might be reading this, and I know he’d probably like to put it behind him. Far be it from me to bring back painful memories.

Without a Song…

I was browsing through comments on an old post at another blog, and I came across a fascinating discussion. A guy posting under the pseudonym of “soundcheck” was commenting on the vocal abilities of a couple of lead singers, both of whom he had worked with live and in the studio. He said that although the one had more popularity and name recognition, the other was unquestionably more talented. The way this guy put it was that singer A had gotten where he was because of “one group and one song,” while singer B had gotten where he was through raw vocal ability alone. (He then went on to add that they are both great guys and good friends of his, so he clearly wasn’t speaking out of spite—just honestly giving an opinion based on what he knew from personal experience.)

It got me thinking: Just how crucial is a signature song to a southern gospel singer’s success? Are there any SG singers who have achieved “star status” without that one hit that everybody knows and identifies with them? And can we observe the same phenomenon in other genres?

A New Favorite Song: “Seventy Years Ago”

Twila Paris is one of those singer/songwriters who, it seems, never really learned how to write a bad song. Oh, she’s made a few half-hearted attempts, but deep down, she just doesn’t have what it takes to craft a convincing dud. It takes work for her to even come close. And on top of that, she has a sweet voice, and she’s beautiful—inside and out.

Every time I think I’ve found my favorite Twila Paris song, I find another favorite. My latest find is a cut from her 1993 album Beyond a Dream, best known for the smash hit “God Is In Control.” But the whole thing was solid, and tucked in the middle was an absolute jewel of a piece called “Seventy Years Ago.” It tells the story of her ancestors’ life as traveling evangelists in the early 20th century. The lyrics and music are stunning and inspiring. If you love songs like “Find Us Faithful” that carry a message about leaving a legacy behind you, put this one right up there with all your other favorites. It has been in constant rotation in my library for… well, I’m not sure how long. A long time. Just listen:

A Hymn Bridge Done Right: “Greater Still”

Some people think it’s “cheating” for a songwriter to make use of a hymn for the bridge of his song. The idea is that the song needs to be good enough to stand on its own, and falling back on a hymn to carry it at the climactic point is like using a crutch. I can see both sides to the debate. On the one hand, it is a slight disappointment when a writer doesn’t put in the effort to come up with a new thought of his own and instead “plays it safe.” On the other hand, there’s an evil part of me that says, “Hey, maybe he would have come up with something dreadful and ruined the song anyway, so perhaps it’s just as well that he let Charles Wesley handle it.”

All kidding aside, I guess I’m just more relaxed than some about hymn bridges. And sometimes it just works, mate. Case in point, the title track of Brian Free & Assurance’s album Greater Still. The piano begins with a suggestion of the melody for “Grace Greater Than Our Sin” and then launches into the intro for the song, which has Assurance’s signature “swing.” Another musical hint is dropped in the chorus on the phrase “God’s grace.” For the bridge, they finally go all the way and sing most of the chorus of “Grace Greater Than Our Sin,” syncopating the rhythm just slightly so that it fits with the rest of the song. They dive right back into the song chorus instead of singing the last line of the hymn chorus, after which the piano once more echoes the hymn melody to finish it off. It’s all done so tastefully and cohesively that the listener never once feels like the hymn has been awkwardly shoe-horned in just because everybody ran out of ideas. It’s woven into the fabric of the song as opposed to being tacked on.

Oh, I forgot to add that it has Tony Wood’s name on it, and I recently learned that Wayne Haun produced it. Which explains everything, of course.

Saturday Morning Fun: Brian Regan

Brian Regan is a refreshing exception to the rule that you can’t work it clean if you want to make it in secular comedy. He’s not a Christian to my knowledge, but he deliberately avoids the kind of “humor” that most people seem to accept as a matter of course these days. This not only makes his brand of comedy accessible to a wider audience, it also makes it much more funny and creative.

And here is his finest moment: “The Dinner Party.” Have a great weekend, folks.

Focus On the Family: The Beginning of the End?

This is an excellent post on the “new face of Focus on the Family” and its implications for conservatism in America. Specifically, it addresses the recent dust-up over Blake Mycoskie and his organization’s association with FotF—or rather the lack thereof.

I would like to hope there are other conservatives similarly alarmed over the direction the organization has been gradually taking ever since Dobson stepped down. The pathetic attempts of ostensibly conservative Christians to curry favor with a political side that will never have anything but contempt for them are simply… well, pathetic. I heartily agree with this author and couldn’t have said it better myself.

Happy Birthday Daniel Mount

Today Daniel J. Mount of turns 25. I am grateful to him for giving me my start in the blogosphere as New SoGo Fan. He made me an official contributor for several months, and the response to what I wrote was overwhelming. I found out then and later that my reviews (which you can read all in one place here) had directly caused people to invest in southern gospel music, people who may not otherwise have made those particular investments. I was encouraged to start southerngospelyankee through Daniel’s repeated promises that he would do all that was in his power to assist and promote me  if I launched out on my own.

All of which is to say that Daniel has played an important part in this blog’s existence, and for that I thank him today. You may leave your good wishes for him here or on his blog.