Happy Thanksgiving!


Happy Thanksgiving to all! Here’s Jason Crabb and Gordon Mote. These two guys seem to go together like turkey and stuffing:

I’m taking the rest of the week off to enjoy the holiday. Meanwhile, please leave your suggestions for a Thanksgiving mix on my ipod. We have no shortage of songs for Christmas, but let’s see how many thankfulness songs you can come up with. Note: They need not necessarily all be from southern gospel.

And tell us what you’re thankful for today! Here’s my random list:

1. Mom and Dad

2. sisters (yes, really)

3. a receding cold (in time for me to taste my Thanksgiving food)

4. sunny days with no frost on my windshield

5. a two-term presidency limit

6. connecting cables which help you connect things… and stereo splitters

7. food

8. food

9. food

10. and conservative homeschooled friends

11. and Michael Booth

12. and fluffy bunnies

(I made that last part up myself.)


New (Instrumental) Music From Michael W. Smith

The other day I was browsing some Twila Paris music, and noticed an unfamiliar album cover over in Michael W. Smith’s “related artists” spot. (Yes, I’m one of those geeky people who absorbs useless information like album covers as though I were a sponge.) Turns out that the sequel to his acclaimed instrumental project Freedom is releasing TODAY. It’s called Glory.

I would have known that it was awesomely awesome without hearing samples, but the samples confirmed what I already knew sound unheard. I then discovered all the tracks in full on Youtube. Here is a sampler, with comments from Michael on each song in subtitles:

I’m tempted not to re-write them here so I can force you to listen to all the music in the video if you want to read them, but since the way it’s formatted really is kind of annoying, I’ll go ahead and type them out.

1. Glory Overture

“This is in many ways a tribute to my favorite soundtrack composer John Williams (Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark). It’s a fun, big piece of music that takes some adventurous left turns and then goes back to the main melodic theme. It’s the right way to set the stage for this album and the orchestra sounds fabulous.”

2. The Patriot

“This one feels very patriotic, very Americana to me. I wrote it as a tribute to the Armed Services of our country and can picture it being played at a military ceremony. I’ve already started playing this at concerts with my band; we have to retool it of course, without the London Session Orchestra, which adds so much to this version on Glory.”

3. Heroes

“While ‘The Patriot’ is an upbeat rendering of the American spirit, ‘Heroes’ is a more somber counterpart. There’s a hint of sadness to the melody that feels as though someone has lost their life to defend our lives.”

4. Forever

“I’ve had this song for quite some time; my friend Wes King has even written a lyric for it, but it stands here as an instrumental. It seems to be everybody’s favorite song in my world right now, especially for my two daughters who still live at home. I had a hard time naming this one but decided to call it ‘Forever’ with my wife, Debbie, in mind. It’s for her.”

5. The Blessing

“I helped write a book that came out earlier this year called A Simple Blessing. This song is sort of a musical expression of that; people have said it reminds them of personal blessings they have experienced and evokes a feeling of thanksgiving.  This to me feels like music that just washes over you in a majestic, spiritual sort of way. I hope it’s a blessing to you.”

6. Whitaker’s Wonder

“There’s a childlike feel to the music which inspired me to name it after my grandson, who is named after me. The name Whitaker goes way back in my family.”

7. Joy Follows Sorrow

“The next four songs are important in terms of sequence; they go together and have intentional spiritual thread running through them. There’s an air of sadness to ‘Joy Follows Sorrow’ — it’s a reflection on the life of Jesus and Him knowing what He would go through on earth.”

8. Glory Battle

“There’s an intense feel to this piece that is meant to represent spiritual warfare — there’s a fight happening here between good and evil, and so the arrangement here becomes pretty massive. I tend to think of soundtracks when writing this type of music, so stylistically, I was imagining Gladiator meets Braveheart.”

9. Atonement

“This piece is representative of the death of Christ. It goes to a minor key to reflect His sacrifice, and the music brightens to signify a breakthrough, that death has been conquered.”

10. Redemption

“I wanted this to feel big and celebratory, the victorious conclusion to the four-song cycle. You can hear some of John Williams’ influence in here again, but ultimately we arranged it to sound more like the work of composer Aaron Copeland (Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid), bringing in elements of Americana and the Old West.”

11. The Romance

“I wrote this for my wife Debbie, an amazing and inspiring woman. We have been married thirty years. Enough said, really.”

12. The Tribute/Agnus Dei

“‘Tribute’ was written and dedicated to President George H. W. Bush and his wife Barbara, on their Sixtieth wedding anniversary. I will never forget that moment playing it for them at the White House. When it came to concluding Glory, the piece blended nicely into our symphonic arrangement of ‘Agnus Dei.'” [Note: The clip in the sampler is just of the “Agnus Dei” part.]

Go. Get. It. Unless you just don’t like good music.

CD Review: Summer Rains Have Gone, by Channing Eleton

Channing Eleton is one of the premiere pianists in southern gospel, but I was first introduced to him through his music video of “Up On This Ridge.” It was smartly produced and gave me an excellent taste of the folk/country fusion Channing has created with his vocal work. I also caught an outstanding piano solo from him during NQC this year and noted the fact that he played with no backing track. He allowed the piano to speak for itself, and it was classy.

So after reading this review of his new project by DBM, I knew I had to check it out. So I did. While I enjoyed it, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. On the one hand, I was blown away by Channing’s incredible musicianship and versatility, as he plays most of the key instruments on the project as well as writing or co-writing four of the songs (plus, of course, singing). I was also impressed by the creativity of the project. Channing is definitely branching out from typical SG and working to offer something different and fresh. At times this sounds like Bruce Hornsby meets Michael Card—no exaggeration. And yet, some of the songs just didn’t connect with me at all, while a few of the standouts in terms of song selection didn’t mesh with Channing’s voice. It’s a perfectly serviceable voice, a rough, down-to-earth country baritone, but the problem is that it just doesn’t always click with the songs he picked.

Ultimately, I came away glad I’d given it a spin but thinking about what could have been. But now to get specific with a track-by-track.

1. Days: I said Bruce Hornsby, and I wasn’t kidding. Think “The Old Playground.”  The lyrics aren’t particularly remarkable—a pleasant meditation on getting one’s priorities right in life. But it’s all about that piano. It’s all about that B-3 Hammond. It’s all about that beat. And it’s all about the magic they’re making together.

2. The Harvest: Any “harvest” song is always going to get compared in my mind to the Imperials’ classic “Lord of the Harvest.” That song is so good that it makes it unfair for other good songs with a similar theme, like this one. However, while I admit that this isn’t as good as “Lord of the Harvest,” it is well-crafted in its own right. My main beef with it is that the tune doesn’t have that much to it, something I actually noted with several of these tracks. But the arrangement is classy and tasteful.

3. Up On This Ridge: Arguably the best track on the album. Everything comes together perfectly here. The song itself is good, it fits Channing’s voice, and the instrumentation is sterling. Instead of describing it in detail, I’ll let you watch its music video:

4. Is This Not the Land of Beulah: I must shame-facedly admit that this apparent classic had slipped under my radar before I encountered it on this album. The arrangement is delightful, carried by a willowy hammered dulcimer and fortified by accordion. The interesting arrangement helps to make up for the fact that this is a very long song with many verses, the kind of thing that would normally bore me. It clocks in at nearly six minutes. Because of its length, it may not be a track that gets repeated a lot by me, but I have great respect for the musicianship it displays.

5. Song and Dance: In a surprising move that nonetheless shows excellent taste, Channing opts to cover an Andrew Peterson song. Believe it or not, devoted AP fan as I am, this was one song I hadn’t chanced upon yet. It’s signature Andrew Peterson, which means the lyrics are intricate and beautiful, and the melody meanders somewhat. It paints a picture of the psalmist David sitting on his throne, chuckling over the memory of Goliath and preparing to pen a fresh ode to God as all nature sings around him. Eleton’s arrangement takes a Celtic approach, featuring some lovely pipe work. Once again, the production leaves absolutely nothing to complain about, but the song selection isn’t quite as strong as it could have been. While I like this song, it doesn’t rank among the very best Peterson has written. The melody is a little weak even for him. I would have preferred to hear Channing’s take on a song like “Lay Me Down.” Still, bravo for a song choice that’s unexpected and fresh.

6. Looking to Jesus: This black gospel classic features some rompin’ musicianship. Channing gets to demonstrate his piano chops on an instrumental bridge. This is obviously a comfortable niche for his slightly rough vocals. As is typical of this kind of song, the melody is pretty repetitive, but the arrangement is so good I consider this to be a highlight.

7. Creation Song (Glory to the Lamb): In yet another surprising but pleasing move, Channing covers a Fernando Ortega song. The song itself is gorgeous, but while I enjoy the arrangement, I must admit that I much prefer Fernando’s original. His voice fits the song much better than Channing’s. However, as with Andrew Peterson, I give Channing mad props for going outside the box and picking music from a great artist whose work doesn’t even border on southern gospel.

8. As We Wait: This song is pretty boring, if I’m being honest. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s a nice worship tune, but nothing really grabs me about it. It might hold a little more interest for me if somebody like Twila Paris was singing it.

9-10 Just This Song: This is in two parts, a fully instrumental piano prelude and the song itself. The prelude is lush, understated, and gorgeous. The song, unfortunately, is a snoozer. It meanders musically and suffers from cliched lyrics. I just couldn’t stop thinking about all the vastly better songs I had heard that dealt with the same theme, particularly the Imperials’ “One More Song For You.” Plus Channing’s delivery is flat and sleepy, but there’s not much to work with anyway. Listening to the song and its prelude back-to-back only reinforces the fact that Channing is an utterly brilliant musician, but his singing and writing skills are merely competent.

As you saw, there were several cases where I found myself saying, “This song is okay, but there’s another really similar song that’s much better,” and so on. It may have been less of an issue on a project with a couple more tracks, but at nine songs plus a piano interlude, weak or average cuts are harder to afford. And yet the production is so good that the album as a whole is hard not to like. The end effect is definitely a “whole greater than the sum of its parts” feeling. As DBM says, it takes immense talent to wear so many hats on one recording and produce something quality that’s worth listening to, which this project definitely is. It’s just that it could have been great instead of simply above average. I hope that Channing produces another project with the same top-notch level of musicianship displayed in an even better crop of songs.

A Canine Quartet?

I’m not sure how familiar my readers are with classic Disney movies, but this is just too cute not to post. It seemed that as long as Walt himself was around, Disney pictures maintained the “golden touch,” and one gem from this era was the film Lady And the Tramp, released in 1956. The studio brought popular singer Peggy Lee on board to write songs and help set the musical tone for the picture. She worked with Sonny Burke to create several charming numbers, one of which was a little song called “He’s A Tramp.”

This video shows the live recording session for that song, and it features a quartet of…dogs. Just watch and enjoy:

This clip also provides a great glimpse into the “good old days” of recording, when all the musicians were in the same room, and the singer just sang into a microphone. No piece-by-piece layering, no auto-tune, no nothing. Just pure, tight-knit talent.

Gold City: “The” Lineup?

Well, the results in my Gold City tenors and leads polls  have been very interesting. (And by the way, if you haven’t voted yet, it’s never too late! I’d like to get 100 in each, if possible.)

Anyway, so far there are nearly 80 per, and like I said, the results are fascinating. In the tenors poll, Jay Parrack has carried nearly half of the votes. And Brian Free is a very distant second—interestingly, separated by only a few votes from Steve Ladd.

The leads poll seemed tougher. One way I could tell is that there were a few people who voted in the tenors poll but couldn’t seem to make up their minds among the leads. Still, once again there’s a clear front-runner, and that’s Jonathan Wilburn. Similarly to Parrack, he carries nearly half of the votes. Ivan Parker is a slightly closer second than Free to Parrack, but there are still roughly fifteen votes between them.

As a side note of interest, support for some of Gold City’s more recent lead singers seems strong, with Bruce Taliaferro and Craig West each having snagged five votes as of yesterday evening.

My question today is this: If, as it seems, Jay Parrack is predominantly Gold City’s best loved tenor, and Jonathan Wilburn predominantly their best loved lead singer, then why is it that the lineup with Brian Free and Ivan Parker is widely considered The Classic lineup, the benchmark? It surely can’t be because of the other members—Tim Riley obviously has been a constant from day one, and Mike Lefevre has never had a particularly remarkable voice. He’s certainly not the baritone Mark Trammell is, and Mark came after Lefevre during the Parrack years.

Is it because that happened to be the lineup when they made their best music? Even there I’m still confused, because if I’m not mistaken albums like Pillars of Faith and Acapella Gold both featured Steve Lacey and not Lefevre, yet it’s always Mike and not Steve who is featured in any kind of “classic” reunion. However, I know that a lot of their early hits were first performed by the Free/Parker/Lefevre lineup.

What do you think?

Snow, Snow, Snow

It snowed yesterday. In fact, the weather was a bizarre alternating mix of snowy/cloudy and non-snowy/sunny. Fortunately I didn’t have to be out in it—much. Regrettably not all my classes are in the same building on campus.

Anyway, I’ve heard that other yankees happened to get their first snow yesterday too, including our friends the Garms Family.

I also hear it should be beautiful in Vermont this time of year. Enjoy:

I’d vote for them in a mixed group category. How about you?

Favorite Gold City Tenors and Leads: The Poll

Well, with the popularity of my Gold City post today, I decided to turn it into an official poll. Here are two polls for you guys to cast your votes in. Go for it:

Your Favorite Gold City Lead Singer… or Tenor?

With the recent flurry of lead singers and tenors Gold City has had, it prompted me to think about all the various talented singers who have filled those two spots over the years. One thing’s for sure, there haven’t been any slouches among them. For me, it’s definitely harder to pick favorites than for some other groups.

Among the lead singers, I’m very partial to Jonathan Wilburn, but more recently I was captivated by Craig West along with many others, and like many others I was sorely disappointed to see him go.

Among the tenors, I could easily go for Brian Free, except that his sound was really nasal in the early years. As many others have noticed, he improved dramatically in the 90s. People will often say they first noticed a change with Assurance, but I could already hear a huge difference on Pillars of Faith. So I might choose him on the strength of some of that later material with Gold City. But Josh Cobb also brought a lot to the table for the short time he was with the group. I was very disappointed that circumstances worked against him and would have liked to hear a project with his vocals on it. He seemed to have matured greatly since his Legacy Five years.

So, what say ye? Am I going to get lambasted for not picking Ivan? Or Jay? For the record, both talented guys too, just not my first choices.

Is A Live Band Necessary For a Good SG Concert?

A while back, I read a comment Michael Booth left on a thread about live bands versus tracks that got me thinking about the whole debate over which is preferable.  I can’t recall exactly what he said at the moment, but basically he was pointing out the fact that a live band isn’t really necessary to put on a good show.

I kind of agree. Yes, a live band brings an extra quality that can’t be matched by tracks, but I don’t think it’s better by definition. For one thing, I’ve been to concerts where the live drums were sometimes over-powering, and it distracted from the singing. Ultimately, it’s the singing that I’m coming to hear, not the band. I’ve heard people who will say that without a band, there’s little motivation for them to attend a concert since they might as well just stay home and listen to the CD. But that doesn’t seem convincing to me. Yes, the songs may sound essentially the same live as they do on a CD, but if a group isn’t using stacks, there can be differences and spontaneous embellishments, e.g. when Signature Sound recently sang a bit of “Walk With Me” without a microphone. I love those kind of moments in a concert. To be fair, there is more room for spontaneity when you’re not tied to a track, but even if we set spontaneity aside, there’s still a skill to getting up and delivering a song on stage with or without tracks. If you possess that skill, it will impress people even if you don’t have a band. I think the Booth Brothers are an excellent example of this. I don’t think they need a live band to improve their show. It’s already a good show. Ultimately it comes down to picking good songs and delivering them well.

On the topic of reasons for going to a concert, I’m motivated to go by reasons that go beyond even the singing. You get to watch how the emcee handles a show and what he does in between songs. You might have the opportunity to watch how professionals deal with bumps in the road like illness or unexpected electricity outages. And you can connect with the singers off-stage. Unless you’re one of those people with so many connections that you’re on a first name basis with everyone in the industry already, that’s a valuable opportunity. And none of that has anything to do with whether or not the group is using a band or tracks.

So why do you go to a concert? Do you think it really matters whether groups have all-live music? Are you significantly more motivated to see a group that does?

Folk Rhyme Meets Southern Gospel: He Saw it All

The Booth Brothers’ “He Saw It All” was probably embraced largely by virtue of its uniqueness. Everyone knows the picture the lyrics paint—a mute man talking, a deaf girl listening, a crippled man running, and a blind man who saw it all. It’s clever and fresh-sounding.

What some people might not know (and what I didn’t know until very recently), is that this concept isn’t new at all. In fact, it’s very old. If you don’t believe me, here is a folk poem, variations of which have been passed around among children  since the 19th century. (Hat tip to this website, which contains even more information.)

  1. One fine day in the middle of the night,
  2. Two dead boys* got up to fight, [*or men]
  3. Back to back they faced each other,
  4. Drew their swords and shot each other.
  5. One was blind and the other couldn’t see
  6. So they chose a dummy for a referee,
  7. A blind man went to see fair play,
  8. A dumb man went to shout “hooray!”
  9. A paralyzed donkey passing by,
  10. Kicked the blind man in the eye,
  11. Knocked him through a nine inch wall,
  12. Into a dry ditch and drowned them all,
  13. A deaf policeman heard the noise,
  14. And came to arrest the two dead boys,
  15. If you don’t believe this story’s true,
  16. Ask the blind man he saw it too!

What’s interesting is that whoever originally conceived it, it was for a completely nonsensical purpose, as a joke. With “He Saw It All,” of course, it’s not nonsensical at all. The blind man really did see it all.