Concert Review with Audio: The Booth Brothers in Hillsdale, Michigan

I’m finally getting around to reviewing that Booth Brothers concert from a few weeks back. They came to the Gospel Barn in Hillsdale, MI, where they have a long history. In fact, I believe the host said that the Barn may have hosted the Rebels Quartet before the Booths. They come there every year around the same time, and then they always go to Auburn Hills for church and another concert the Sunday after. Those two dates are the only fixed points in their entire schedule.

I mentioned having made the acquaintance of  a new group called Declaration Trio when I reviewed their advance EP containing half of an upcoming project. Though I recorded the entirety of the main concert, I was so wrapped up in enjoying Declaration’s music that I forgot to turn it on for their opening set! I wished I had later. They sang “Come to the Water” (on the new project), “I Feel Like Traveling On,” and “Blessed Assurance.” They have great energy on stage and got the audience really warmed up on “Traveling On.” Then their 19-year-old tenor, Joshua Horrell, surprised me really pleasantly on “Blessed Assurance.” I didn’t know what to expect, but whenever he approached a high note, he belted it out strongly every time. He should mature well with experience. Not a prodigious talent, but a clear, able, pleasing voice. Later when I was chatting with Jake Sammons, he said several people had come up to them at NQC last month saying, “You realize that you guys are the envy of the convention, right?” because they travel with the Booth Brothers. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have that opportunity. Their sound is less strikingly similar live than in the studio, but it is clear that they want to emulate that style. Joshua  sounded especially like Michael on the first verse of “Assurance.” If you want to get to know the group a bit better, here’s a great interview with SGNScoops.

Then the Booths came out and offered a wall-to-wall consistent concert experience. There was not a single weak moment. The songs were perfectly chosen and meaningfully delivered, with Michael’s classic emcee work keeping the large audience in tears and stitches all afternoon. I think this was the most responsive crowd I’ve ever seen at a gospel concert. Granted I’ve only been to a few, but all I know is this was a great bunch of folks to sing to. They laughed and cheered loudly at all the right places. It would be hard to pin-point which songs got the strongest response, because they all got strong responses. You’ll get to hear everything when I provide audio highlights at the end. Alas, I am not Dinana with her stunning video footage—my camera was barely able to take pictures as it was due to a low battery (hence the scarcity of pictures and the fuzziness of the shots I did manage to snap). One of the funniest moments during the concert came when a lady in the front row who was incessantly taking pictures got noticed by Michael. He simply paused in the middle of what he was saying and posed for the camera with a “cheese” grin. I’m sure he wished she would stop, or at least slow down, but he took it completely in stride. Anyway, as I was saying I’ve chosen to do the next best thing to video and string together audio clips of all the performances for you, plus some of Michael’s in-between moments. First, here’s a set list with commentary:

First  Half:

He’s So Good To Me: Short and sweet, not a stand-out on the CD but a perfect concert icebreaker.

I See Grace: This always generates crowd response. It makes for an exciting, vibrant live number.

Masterpiece of Mercy: You might recall that I posted a short interview from half-time in which Ronnie told me this was his favorite song on the album. The harmony has a purity and sweetness about it that is all the more appealing in a live setting.

Look For Me At Jesus’ Feet: The audience erupted into applause the moment Michael began singing. He took it a bit easier than he sometimes does, going lower where he could have gone higher in places. It seemed like his voice was a bit worn out that day, but he turned in a very moving performance nonetheless.

Welcome To the Family: We were debating later over who had ear-pieces and who didn’t in order to figure out whether they had gotten their tone from there for the a cappella intro to this one. It was determined that at least Ronnie and possibly Jim did not, which makes the fact that they were perfectly on key to start with all the more impressive.

Here there was a break for some comedy about Baptists and ties. Ronnie was wearing blue jeans and boots, and Michael pretended to be shocked, shocked at this betrayal of their heritage. He then looked at the “bulletin,” which apparently prescribed hymns next ( 😉 ) and spoke about how it’s a shame to see them falling out of use in today’s churches. Yet they are effective and sound, and their words ring true today. He then said something which really made me think, which is that centuries ago, those hymn-writers weren’t writing with the goal of being published or making money. It’s a different world from today’s market-driven society where song-writers collect royalties for their work. But the Charles Wesleys and Fanny Crosbys wrote simply out of the abundance of their heart, to serve the Church and glorify God.

Hymns Medley (“Wonderful Peace/Old Rugged Cross/How Great Thou Art”): This was done a cappella. My dad happened to be sitting close to where Ronnie was on stage and caught his attention during the singalong on “How Great Thou Art.” Ronnie gave him his signature A-OK sign.

All Over the World: This is honestly a song I always skipped when listening to Declaration, but it just plain works live. It’s so dang fun to watch, even if the rhythm is impossible to keep up when clapping along. Michael summed it up at the end: “You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a Southern Gospel samba in a barn!”

She Still Remembers Jesus’ Name: By now most fans of the group know that this song holds special significance for Michael and Ronnie since their grandmother passed away after suffering from Alzheimer’s. Interestingly, Michael shared that there had been one lady who came up to him (“You old ladies can be mean!”) and demanded that they never sing the song again. He asked her why, and she said “Well, didn’t you see those people crying?” Michael responded, “But ma’am, did you hear the hope?” She was unmoved: “People don’t hear that. All they heard was the bad part.” Then he continued, saying, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, when you go to a doctor, if that doctor is good for you, he’ll tell you what you need to hear so that he can help you fix the problem. And what some of you need to hear is that there is hope in difficult situations.” Light can’t cut through the shadows if there are no shadows for it to penetrate. I can tell you that there was a lot of light in the place when Ronnie sang this song, and we saw people dabbing their eyes all around us. I think they heard the hope. However, I can’t forget to mention a moment during Michael’s moving introduction, when just after he said, “Regardless of our feelings, the word of God is true,” a cellphone rang. Not missing a beat, he said, “See, God’s calling right now to confirm what I said. He does that a lot.”

A Higher Throne: This may have been the only song of the concert that got a standing ovation. It can be a long listen on a CD, but live, the atmosphere is electric as the arrangement builds and builds. I was particularly impressed at the full sound their voices created with no stacks (that I could tell anyway). The ending was so powerful that we just naturally stood. It felt right.

Afterwards Michael had some right-on-the-money words about how our heart’s desire should be Christ and Christ alone, and that ultimately he is the only reason we should desire heaven. Christianity isn’t about all the “stuff” we’ll get, it’s about following him and ultimately being united with him. He then did some great “preachin’ ” to set up the next song.

I love Michael’s little “mini-sermons” because he manages to pack so much truth into such a limited amount of time, in a simple and clear way that connects with everybody. Michael may not have been a prize student, as he often reminds his fans, but nobody can deny that he is an effective speaker with a special gift. And like King David of old, he cannot contain his passion and yearning for God. It pours out of him in whatever he does.

When You Bow At Jesus’ Feet: One of their most beautiful recent songs, written and sung by Jim Brady, this sounded just as good live as it did on the album.

See, What a Morning: I think there may have been another standing-O for this one—not sure at the moment. In any case, this was “for anybody from Ireland” as Michael humorously put it. A rousing take on one of the Gettys’ best songs that always works to close off the first half of their concerts.

At half-time I collected many autographs and met all the guys, and some of you may have read what all transpired there in this post. The Booth Brothers couldn’t be kinder to their fans. At one point I looked over and saw Ronnie listening very attentively to what an old lady was telling him. He had his head bowed and his eyes closed, giving her his complete and undivided attention. There was a young woman at the concert with Down’s syndrome, and at one point she was seen literally clinging to Michael. He was completely unfazed and gracious.

Second Half

Bread On the Water: Nostalgia for me. Not quite like the Imperials, but close enough. When Michael asked if anyone liked the old Imperials and I whooped loudly, he looked over at me and grinned.

He Saw It All: Just a great song which always draws a response. The crowd started clapping when they launched into the chorus. I discovered something interesting about the lyrics recently which I’ll share after… well, never mind, I’ve got an announcement that I plan to post tomorrow.

Peace In the Shelter: Jim Brady wrote this song for his dad, who’s always found comfort in his songwriting. He introduced it by talking about his dad’s recent health issues and asked for prayer (no further news so presumably things are stable now).

Since Jesus Came: I had to look up the Mills’ Brothers’ “Glow Worm”  afterwards. Michael said he might “get a letter” for mentioning it, presumably because it’s about a worm who’s glowing to attract lady worms. He said that he asked Jim Brady to come up with a song for them in that vein, except “don’t write it about a worm!” They broke out the two microphones, and it was a huge hit with the audience.

What About Now? Michael set this up as he always does by sharing the gospel and preaching the need to bear fruit in our Christian walk. It is yet another one of those songs which was written to be performed live and is twice as powerful from the stage as it is on a CD. It was a fitting end to the concert.

And I already shared about how I accidentally found Michael again after the concert and sang a duet with him, a precious moment I won’t forget. The whole concert was a great memory, and I can’t really convey how much fun it was by just writing down the experience. You have to experience the Booth Brothers yourselves. They bring a perfect balance of good music, good fun, and a clear gospel message. Michael is hands-down the best emcee on the road today, and the group as a whole manages to be both very polished and very heartfelt in their delivery. It’s no wonder they’re on top of the southern gospel world right now. People simply love them, and after watching and meeting them in person myself, it was easier than ever to see why.

And here are the clips, which I finished throwing together at the last minute. Enjoy!

[Update 9/27: If you are just now finding this post and are unable to get access to the audio, that’s because 4shared changed its policy so that now only members can listen to files. Apologies for the inconvenience!]


Weatherfords’ In the Garden to be Released on CD

I just saw this news on Musicscribe. I’m stunned! When our friend Auke set out to collect his signatures, he was told privately that nothing would come of it, but he wanted to do it anyway. I don’t know what the causal chain was that led to this, but whatever happened, a lot of people are going to be thrilled. I noticed that my friend Terry Franklin took time to sign the petition, as well as many other people who remember the project and just want to have a high-quality copy. I know that for myself I’ve always been curious to hear what the fuss was about. 🙂

Pigs are flying! Hallelujah!

Are Hymns Harder to Sing Than Praise Songs?

A common complaint that I see about hymns is that they are overly complicated musically speaking. The melodies and harmonies are impractical for unskilled musicians and singers. “People need something simple they can pick up easily.” Hence the rise of highly simplistic, repetitive worship tunes.

My question is this: Are they really easier to sing?

Last night I went to a youth gathering, and the band ran through some worship tunes. They actually weren’t terrible as worship tunes go, but what I noticed as I tried to sing along is that the melodies weren’t that memorable. For songs I didn’t know, it would take me a little while even just to grasp the tunes to the point where I could sing along. They didn’t have body to them. They didn’t have movement. They didn’t flow naturally and gracefully. The rhythms were vague. I felt cramped as I sang them. And I can hardly remember a note the morning after.

Now maybe I’m just not putting myself in a beginner’s shoes, but I think songs like “It is Well,” “Amazing Grace,” and “How Great Thou Art” are FAR more singable. The rhythms are more clearly marked out. The melodies are going somewhere definite. They stick in your head. They have character and form.

For me, melodies like that are much easier to sing.

Thoughts from those of you who work in church music?

A Simple Word From Confucius

It’s been said that a disciple of Confucius asked him, “What would you think of a man who was loved by everybody in his village? Would you want to be that man?”

Confucius responded, “No I would not. It is not enough to be loved by everyone. One must be loved by the good people and hated by the bad people.”

This is my life motto, and recent circumstances have brought it back to mind. I thought others might profit from it as well.

Poetry in Song: “If We Answer”

Okay, time for more music. I have at least one reader who wanted more in the Poetry in Song series after I kicked it off a couple months ago. Here is another installment, finally.

Today I’m featuring an intriguing number from Steve Green, off of his excellent album Woven in Time. The sound is uncharacteristically gritty for him (believe it or not, it reminds me just an itty bitty bit of the theme music for LadyHawke, BUT it’s not THAT bad so DON’T STOP READING PLEASE, THANK YOU), but the light rock feel works surprisingly well with the lyrics. Just read them out loud and feel the rhythm. Pause to savor the satisfaction of each perfect rhyme. It’s not absolutely perfect, but it comes close. Written by Doug McKelvey, Phil Naish and Scott Dente (I don’t know who handled the lyrics or if it was a collaborative thing):

He is fierce and He is tender
He’s our judge and our defender
And He calls us to surrender
For He loves us to the core
He is frightening and resplendent
He is present and transcendent
He’s enmeshed and independent
And He cannot love us more


So He calls our names
And we fear Him for His goodness
For we know He won’t be tamed
So He calls our names
And we wonder if we answer
Will we ever be the same?

He’s a comfort and a terror
A destroyer and repairer
He’s more terrible and fairer
Than our mortal tongues can say
He is hidden and revealing
He’s appalling and appealing [<–arguably the weakest line—just a bit of over-extension]
He’s our wounding and our healing
And He will not turn away

Holy Lamb of God
And He cannot love us more
Holy Lamb of God

He is wild, He is wonder
He is whispering and He is thunder
He is over, He is under
And He suffered for our gain
He’s a comfort and a danger
He’s a father and a stranger
He’s enthroned and in a manger
And He says we’re worth His pain


A Thought On Steve Jobs and Abortion

Steve Jobs

In the wake of Steve Jobs’ death, people reflecting on his vast legacy have been pointing out that he was adopted. His biological father was a Syrian immigrant who met his mother when they were both students. She became pregnant out of wedlock, and he wanted them to get married and keep the child, but her parents didn’t want her to marry a Muslim. So they split up, she had the baby alone, and he was placed for adoption by prior agreement between both his biological parents.

Now at the time, abortion was illegal, so it was not comparable to a situation today, where it is the widely preferred option. Nevertheless, people have speculated about what could have been and about what would have been lost. We wouldn’t have i-anything. We might not even have laptops or mouses. Aren’t we glad Steve’s mother put him up for adoption?

Yes, we are. But I think we should be careful here. Because I see this argument a lot: Just think of all the diseases that might have been cured, or the new inventions made, or this or that, if all the babies aborted in the last 30 years had been allowed to live. And there is truth to that argument. But should it be the only or even the main reason why we oppose abortion?

I don’t think so. I think we should oppose abortion simply because every unborn child is intrinsically valuable. It shouldn’t matter whether they grow up and, in the words of Saving Private Ryan, “cure some disease, or invent a longer-lasting light bulb, or something…” or not. It doesn’t matter if they’re disabled or healthy, retarded or mentally sound. It doesn’t matter if they invent the ipod or spend the rest of their life in the care of their parents because they’re never able to feed and dress themselves.

It isn’t wrong to speculate about what good millions of aborted infants may have done for the world. But it is worth recognizing that the loss of their lives should be considered enough of a loss all by itself.

A Word On Gay Christians in Ministry, or Music Ministry, or Gospel Music Ministry

A lot of discussion has been had about this particular topic recently. There is much to say about it, but instead of saying everything that could be said, let me offer just a word or two.

First, the annoying thing about gossip is that it’s unfailingly vague. So when some know-it-all comes around talking about what his sources have told him about how umpty bagillion people in SG are gay, it’s never clarified what exactly they mean by “gay.” People can be proudly gay and act out on their impulses, or they can feel shame and try to fight them. The know-it-alls never make distinctions like that.

Second, there seems to be this false dichotomy about what a singer or minister in that situation can do. A friend said to me recently that if you’re gay, and you’re working in gospel music, maybe you shouldn’t be there… but then again, in this genre, with the fanbase it has, “coming out” carries a high cost with it. So, the argument runs, it’s difficult to blame singers/writers who aren’t proud of their orientation but are choosing to stay quietly in the closet. (Obviously we have no sympathy for so-called “Christians” who saunter out of the closet and flaunt their orientation to push their agenda. Nor should we feel sympathy for those who are coldly and calculatedly choosing to live a sinful double life.)

But for those who feel guilty and convicted, I think there’s a third option nobody’s ever really considered: disappearing quietly. If you sincerely recognize your desires as sinful, and you feel that they disqualify you from ministry, the best thing you can do for yourself, the industry, and the fans is to find some other line of work and keep your private desires to yourself. Obviously you should feel much more guilt if you have acted out on those desires, but I think even in that situation the silent exit is best.

The truth is we live in a “tell-all” society where people are expected to blab every private detail of their lives. Secretly living in sin (or with powerful sinful desires) while staying in the ministry is not the right way. But telling the whole world about it isn’t the right way either. Instead, disqualify yourself with dignity. Turn in your resignation and tell the good people who have supported you that God is calling you somewhere else. It will be the absolute truth. Then leave the ministry and bear your cross alone.

That sounds harsh. But I believe it’s what Jesus would say. You’ll remember he had his own cross to bear.

Pre-Review: White Christmas, by Ernie Haase & Signature Sound

EHSS will release a 7-song project called White Christmas on the 1st of November (hear here). It includes four brand-new cuts and three live cuts, all with new member Ian Owens. For fun, they picked “___ Christmas” songs for all the new cuts: “Holly Jolly Christmas,” “Tennessee Christmas,” “Blue Christmas,” and “White Christmas.” The live recordings are “Glory to God in the Highest,” “Who Do You Think?” and “Come Make a Place.” All three live recordings feature a live band, giving us a fascinating taste of what a full live project might sound like if they ever got around to putting another one together (by the way, anybody else agree that Stand By Me Live is pretty much the best they’ve ever done, still?)

So, some quick thoughts after listening to clips:

1. I’ve never been a fan of “Holly Jolly Christmas,” but I might be able to live with a quartet version.

2. It was a brilliant idea to give Wayne Haun his very own feature on “Tennessee Christmas.” He’s been singing it at their concerts, and this studio version sounds wonderful from the brief clip. I believe we can expect to see Wayne do even more vocal work as part of the group in the future, though I think he’ll insist on keeping it occasional and low-key.

3. Speaking of stuff they’ve done in concert, Ernie’s Elvis impression on “Blue Christmas” has worked so well live that it makes sense to put it on an album. Ernie sounds like he’s thoroughly enjoying himself.

4. Their version of “White Christmas” doesn’t do much to set it apart from other slow, jazzy “White Christmases.” I’m looking for fresh snow. Not purple snow (that would be hip-hop or something), just fresh.

5. They’ve taken to singing verse 2 of “Glory to God” with members trading off lines. Sometimes it’s Devin and Doug (with Doug landing on a high note), but this time it’s Ian and Devin with Devin doing the high note. From what I heard in the clip, Devin nails it. But I don’t think it’ll topple the old version.

6. Ian’s voice works really well with “Who Do You Think?” That was originally done in Tim Duncan’s upper register, where he always sounded a bit thin. Ian’s fuller, more expansive tones are just a better fit for the song.

7. “Come Make a Place” is a little simpler and more stripped-down live than in the studio, and Doug’s voice is allowed to shine even more.

And there you have my quick, mini-review. I’m not sure I’ll have much to add if I decide to get the project. But it’s sounding pretty good to me. Though if you take away the two tracks I consider rather filler-ish, that leaves only five tracks worth checking out. So if it’s worth the ten bucks, or ten bucks plus shipping to you, check it out.

Thoughts On Brian Free, Facebook, and Toilet Paper

A short while back, Brian Free posted the following on Assurance’s facebook page:

Many of you told me to let you know when we were getting low on supplies on the bus, well we are getting low. You will never know how much we appreciate you keeping us in your thoughts and prayers. I’ll list the things we need in one minute…

(Next post)

Paper towels, RV toilet paper, PAPER plates, Plastic cups, Paper bowls, 9 volt batteries (Duracell or Energizer), AA batteries, AAA batteries and anything else you would like to bring. I can’t thank you enough, you are supporting us more than you know. Love you ALL! Brian

Well. That got people riled up. We had the trolls on Avery chortling to high heaven. “Ah yes, the prima donna artist bilking his adoring fans for toilet paper. How quaint. How droll.” Though not quite in those terms, but you get the gist. As far as they’re concerned, the emoticon says it all…

Then we had some smoother sneering. Though it was still sneering, and frankly if this guy is a former Cathedral as he claims in the comments thread there, I’ve got a little less respect for whoever that former Cathedral may be. (Though since it’s come out now that it’s a group deal, I don’t know what else, if anything, he’s contributed to the blog. [EDIT: And, it has been brought to my attention that when he said “working with the Cathedrals,” he actually most likely did not mean to convey that he actually sang as a member of the group, but worked with them in another group. My apologies to any former Cathedral who may be reading this. I guess it’s possible that you happen to agree with AAP, but you probably didn’t write it. I hope you understand it was an honest mistake.]) Anyway, whoever he actually is, I don’t particularly care if he thought he was doing Brian a favor. He’s not. It basically boiled down to, “Well, Brian’s a good chap, but this is rather embarrassing, don’t you know?”

No, I don’t know. Explain to me again just what is supposed to be so embarrassing about somebody who runs a music ministry telling fans, many of whom have asked how they can help… how they can help? I thought the most classless bit of AAP’s critique was when he said he doesn’t “fall for” the “many have asked” part. So let me try to get this straight: You “like Brian and think he’s a good guy,” except of course you think he’s a liar? I also found this bit unintentionally humorous in a comment: “Seriously, if you want to make any singer happy, they will smile a lot bigger if they had a Applebee’s (etc) gift card as opposed to a roll of toilet paper.” Except Brian is a singer, and he’s already told us what he really wants. Oops. And as for the people arguing “Well look at their nice bus, look at his nice house, he should sacrifice himself instead of twisting the arms of people who may have less than he does…” give me a break. Number one, Brian’s personal bank account is one thing and the group’s account is another. He probably has a mortgage on that nice house. You think he could afford to support the group single-handedly out of his own pocket? And number two, he’s not twisting anybody’s arm. People can freely choose to give or not. Some people are thrilled to do so. Some people choose to let others do it. It’s up to them. Nobody’s being forced to do anything here. Also, people are saying it’s cheesy to ask for specific items, but would they rather he asked for money instead? Then they’d be complaining that was tacky because fans would just be donating with no idea where the money goes. So the truth is it’s a lose-lose.

This is my best shot at trying to understand where AAP and the rest who agree with him are coming from: Brian Free is a businessman running a business. His group sells product, fans pay. Whatever needs they have should be paid for by the business they do. So asking fans for supplies is  un-businesslike and hence tacky and unprofessional.

But here’s the thing: Brian’s not just running a business. He’s running a ministry. And so is every artist in the industry. They’re preaching the gospel through song. That’s a form of ministry. And many groups (including Brian Free and Assurance, I might add) choose not even to charge per ticket for many of their concerts. As a result, there is a natural desire from friends of the ministry to want to be involved in supporting it. The people who have asked Brian how they can help made the offer in friendship, and he is responding in friendship. It’s not merely a provider/consumer relationship, and that’s what makes southern gospel unique and special. I know some people think that’s the reason southern gospel is dying, but I submit that it would die a different kind of death if they had their way.

There you have my two cents. For what they are worth.