Major Change for the Gaither Vocal Band

Mark Lowry announced yesterday morning that he was leaving the Gaither Vocal Band because of the demands of the schedule. This confirmed what other fans had noticed about the GVB’s 2014 schedule, which didn’t include Lowry. However, Michael English then suddenly announced his own departure, which seems like it wasn’t similarly planned for since his name was in the schedule. However, a look at his twitter feed implies that perhaps there was some kind of emotional turning point for him about a week ago—details unspecified. His most recent comments are “I know everyone is wondering what’s going on with the GVB. It’s time for me to go. Way time. I’m tired of treading water. I’m moving on.” Then “I’ve been in a place for a while now where I knew it was time to go. I pray everyone will understand and move in with me.”

To have both of these changes come so close together is quite a shock, and it seems like Bill himself was somewhat shocked by Michael’s stepping down. You can read his official press release here.

I personally thought this was a strong incarnation of the Vocal Band even though not all the members’ individual styles were my preferred taste. Together, they had a powerful blend that enabled them to take their harmonies in creative directions. It’s also been noted that at five years, this is actually one of the longer-running lineups of the Band!

Though Lowry and English’s presences will be missed, I think this could be a good thing for the Band. To be honest, I think Lowry was a bit of a crutch for Bill in terms of putting on a show. And sometimes that worked out, but sometimes it felt stale. (Seriously, how many times did he do the motorcycle routine? I’ve lost count.) As for English, his production talent and soulful vocal flair were a valuable contribution, but at the same time, the group’s blend might be tighter if they replaced him with a cleaner vocalist.

So now, let’s open the floor for replacement suggestions. Do you think Bill will hire two replacements or acknowledge that the 5-man super lineup was a one-time thing and settle for one? And if so, who? Should he bring back Marshall Hall as a lead or baritone? Marshall could handle some of the newer English material and already has a good personal and artistic rapport with Hampton. What about Shane McConnell as a lead? He’s currently with Canton Junction and may enjoy the freedom of that schedule, but an offer from Bill if he got it would certainly be tempting, and he would fit right in.

Here’s a suggestion out of left field: What about Reggie Smith? He’s been a regular, dependable vocalist on multiple homecomings and has the stylistic versatility to adapt to the range of styles the Band offers. His performance of “Midnight Cry” on the Lari Goss tribute demonstrates that he’s no slouch when it comes to pulling out all the stops on the kind of big ballad Gaither is known for. But is he distinctive and powerful enough to be a GVB lead? Wesley Pritchard is another “stock” vocalist, but once again, he doesn’t seem distinctive enough to be a lead—a baritone, perhaps, but that would mean having either Phelps or Hampton sing lead. Come to think of it, Phelps on lead and Hampton on tenor might be an interesting sound…

Anyway, your thoughts?

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Another Guest Post at Patheos

Recently I had another piece published on Patheos’s Evangelical Channel, on a sub-blog called Christ and Pop Culture. Politically, I don’t always agree with what each member of the team writes (in fact, I’m sharply critical sometimes), but some of their writers are more conservative and have some fun insights on the intersection of faith and culture. I decided to give them a follow-up piece to my article on Steve McQueen’s conversion to Christianity. The focus of this shorter article is selfhood—what it is, how we find it, and how God can use it if we allow Him to. I begin with a quotation from an unlikely source and link it to a video tribute posted on my channel, which I embedded in my original McQueen article after the fact. Here it is again for those who missed it (my embedded player here is a little larger than the one on Patheos):

 Click here to read the article. And if you like it, leave a comment! I’d love to hear what you think.

[Note: The title wasn’t my idea.]

Southern Gospel vs. The Rest of the World: The Everly Brothers and the Booth Brothers

This series has a dual purpose—to prove that southern gospel can stand on its own two feet next to some of the best artists mainstream music can offer, and to expose strictly southern gospel listeners to some music that might fall outside their regular rotation. So what better way to continue the column than by pairing up the most influential duo in country/rock-and-roll with arguably the most popular southern gospel artist at this time? Of course I have my opinion, but I’ll let you readers decide. One thing I will say is I consider it a compliment to both groups for me to compare each to the other. So, let the history lesson/rambling commence!

It’s hard to convey the impact of the Everly Brothers, but here’s one way to put it: Simon & Garfunkel probably wouldn’t exist without them. In fact, most rock acts that rely on harmony wouldn’t have developed the same way without them. True, their songs were essentially the 60s equivalent of Justin Bieber’s “Baby, Baby,” but then a lot of love songs are. What was distinctive about them was their sound. It was a blend you couldn’t possibly mistake for anyone else. Though their artistic lifespan was fairly short, they left an indelible mark on popular music, fusing sharp country vocals with a rock and roll beat. In some ways they were ahead of their time. And when they caught the ear of two young schoolmates in Queens, younger than the Everlys themselves in this early clip, they ignited a new flame. The influence is undeniable:

The groundwork is already there—not yet fully formed, a bit green and nasal, but very professional.

The Everlys polished their sound further through incessant practice and became very popular with young listeners, though even their upbeat songs had that country sting to them. Presley did country tongue in cheek, but this was less self-conscious and hence more biting. (Witness the irony of “Gone Gone Gone,” another cynical “done me wrong song” disguised as a dance number that kept teens obliviously rocking out on the floor.) But they could also tug heart-strings with the best of them on a tender ballad (see “Crying In the Rain” ). My favorite of the latter is this middle-aged TV appearance with Johnny Cash on “Silver-Haired Daddy.” You can tell the blend is richer, more assured, yet somehow the same. The slight mis-match in closing consonants and brief lyrics slip are the only indicators that this isn’t a pre-recorded vocal. It’s so simple, but the effortless perfection on display here just leaves me gobsmacked:

Continue reading “Southern Gospel vs. The Rest of the World: The Everly Brothers and the Booth Brothers”

The Tragedy of Michael J. Fox

Michael J. Fox then and now

Since Michael J. Fox has recently made a comeback to prime-time television, producing and anchoring a family sitcom as a father with Parkinson’s disease, there’s been a renewed interest in the actor. I thought I would take the opportunity to share some of my own thoughts about his life, his career, his political activism, and of course, his decades-long battle with Parkinson’s. For all children of the 80s, he is forever immortalized as Alex P. Keaton and Marty McFly. For me, his voice alone will always evoke fond childhood memories of Chance, the young canine protagonist of Disney’s Homeward Bound.  On a personal level, he is arguably the best-loved actor in Hollywood. At the same time,  he is (rightly) unpopular with many conservative Christians because of his vigorous campaigns for embryonic stem cell research.

In search of source material that encompassed all that while at the same time going beyond it, I realized I could do no better than Fox’s own memoirs. A verbal prodigy from early childhood, Fox needed nobody to write them for him. His graceful, vivid prose reveals intriguing details about his background, his family, and even his perspective on the Christian faith. As I read his autobiographies and collected other research materials, I was struck by his force of personality, yet keenly felt how tragic his story was in every possible way. When I sat down to capture everything I thought and felt in a single essay, I had to force myself to stop, because I found it all so fascinating. So I hope you all will join me on this little journey, and I hope you find it as thought-provoking as I did.  Continue reading “The Tragedy of Michael J. Fox”

Most Popular Song Categories?

While looking at some lyrics on a song interpretation site, I noticed in the side bar a list of “popular song categories.” These are the kinds of songs people on the web come looking more most frequently on this site. This is what I saw:

Songs About Being Sorry/Apology songs

Songs about Not Being Good Enough

Songs about Bad Relationships

Songs about Suicide

Songs about Death

Songs about Being a Loser

Songs with Religious Themes

Songs about Sex

Songs about Mental Illness

Friends, this list tells me it’s a sad, sad world out there. But I find it interesting that “religious themes” is among these categories. To me all of the categories taken as a piece pretty much sum up the condition of man—suffering, sorrowing, sinning and dying, and through it all, searching for something beyond themselves.

Just some food for thought as you go about your day.

Opposition Should Be Made of Sterner Stuff

I think we could learn a few things about appropriate, forceful, needed criticism from this guy. Folks, this is not the time to play nice. This is the time to play hardball. See also the video below, which was actually recorded before President Obama’s latest tantrum. (Yes, Dear Leader has been quite busy paying people to make sure nobody can park at the privately owned Mt. Vernon site, paying people to stop World War II veterans from visiting the World War II memorial, paying people to cordon off and monitor a large swatch of the Florida Bay, and on and on the pettiness goes. Because they just don’t have the money to… oh wait, never mind. But remember boys and girls, this is all the House of Representatives’ fault!) This was Bill Whittle’s take on Obama’s last circus act, the sequester, words which could just as well be spoken today.

This is the most petty, malicious, mean-spirited, cowardly and hateful thing that this petty, malicious, mean-spirited, cowardly and hateful President has done. He’s deliberately inflicting as much pain on the American people as he can possibly muster so he can accelerate our way into bankruptcy. He’s doing his best to make it hurt…

I thought of the part where Whittle speaks of the children whose tours to the White House were canceled, “who so desperately wanted to see the House in which they mistakenly believed lived a great, good and powerful man…” when I saw this video some months back:

This video simply angers and saddens me. It angers and saddens me to see how this poor little boy is being used—as a symbol, as a token, as an innocent mouthpiece for an evil empire which even now is laying the groundwork for destroying his future, and his children’s future. I am deeply angry when I think of the lies he has been fed and taught to repeat—how the President is a wonderful man, a harbinger of hope, Emmanuel, God with us.

But by all means, if you want to go on saying that everybody just needs to get into a big ole group hug and sing “We Are the World” a few times, so that all their “differences” can disappear in a pink cloud of sweetness and light, be my guest.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to look for a few hundred millstones.

Concert Review: Christian Classic Tour (Steve Green, Twila Paris, Larnelle Harris, Wayne Watson), 9/29/13

The other Friday I had the wonderful opportunity to catch the Christian Classic (or God of All Glory) tour in Shipshewana, IN, with my dad. The only thing that made the evening less than perfect for us was some confusion caused by the fact that we arrived a quarter of an hour before showtime to find Twila Paris already singing! We scrambled for an explanation, even fearing for a few moments that there was some Daylight Savings Time confusion and we had missed half of the concert. (Later we figured out that didn’t make any sense, but we were a bit panicky!) After the concert, we found out that it was really the artists’ fault, because they wanted to start an hour earlier when they saw that there was already a good crowd. Fortunately the organizers got them to compromise to start only half an hour earlier, so turns out we only missed an opener and the first song or so of Twila’s set. Phew! And I DID get pictures, which are interspersed throughout the review below. I’ve broken it down into little sections by each artist’s set. Enjoy!

Twila Paris

Twila Paris singing God is In Control

Twila’s was arguably the overall strongest set of the night. Her performances were essentially flawless, and she picked several of her absolute best songs. I was impressed with how she and Dick Tunney worked together and around each other on various sets of keys. Continue reading “Concert Review: Christian Classic Tour (Steve Green, Twila Paris, Larnelle Harris, Wayne Watson), 9/29/13”