Happy Thanksgiving 2013!

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Perfect Tenor Performances: Gus Gaches, “Holy Is Thy Name”

When I first heard Gus Gaches’s voice, he vaulted into my personal top five southern gospel tenors practically overnight. It was instant fanhood. Some tenor singers take a little time to grow on you, but it’s hard not to be quickly won over by Gus’s pure, smooth tones. He’s very steady and clean, and he retains a full sound even in his upper register (though he wisely chooses not to push himself past a high D or so, to preserve tone quality). He may not be the most rangy or powerful tenor, but he has the complete package. Check out this performance of “Holy Is Thy Name”:

C.S. Lewis: 50 Years Later

Today marks the 50th anniversary of C. S. Lewis’s death, and the Christian inter-webs have been buzzing with lovingly written tributes to the man’s legacy. It would be difficult for me to add much that’s new to this chorus of praise, but I felt I must throw my own few pennies in the hat.

Like so many other Christians, my thinking has been profoundly shaped by Lewis from the first time I picked up The Chronicles of Narnia as a young child to the present day.  It’s a testament to his impact that hardly anyone seems able to write anything about faith, life, death or the afterlife without reaching for some quote of his—myself included.

How could a loving God send people to Hell? What will heaven be like?  How could a person lose a loved one forever and still be happy in heaven? How can salvation be a process? How can God be timeless? How might God deal in other worlds besides our own? No other Christian thinker that I am aware of has presented such brilliantly lucid, richly imaginative answers to these questions as Lewis offered. 

Continue reading “C.S. Lewis: 50 Years Later”

7 Reasons Why Travis Cottrell Could Be the Next GVB Baritone

I’ve come to realize that unless Gaither kicks Phelps or Hampton down to baritone (unlikely), he really needs to hire a baritone and not a lead to fill the gap left by Michael English and Mark Lowry. That still leaves open the Shane McConnell possibility (after all, he is currently singing baritone with Canton Junction), but it also opens up others.

I’ve heard one rumor that praise and worship leader Travis Cottrell is a contender to fill that gap. Here are seven reasons why that might be a good move:

1. He’s a friend of Wes Hampton’s, so he already has a personal connection with the group. I also found this article from 2009, showing Bill Gaither and Travis leading worship together at Brentwood Baptist Church.

2. He’s a songwriter, so adding him could provide a source for fresh GVB material in the long run. Hampton even covered his song “Jesus Saves” on a solo project.

3. His voice is contemporary enough to flex with the GVB’s shifting styles, yet well-rounded and full enough not to stick out like a sore thumb next to a singer like David Phelps.

4. He already has a fan-base in the praise and worship market, which could draw more young fans to southern gospel if he joined forces with the Vocal Band. Continue reading “7 Reasons Why Travis Cottrell Could Be the Next GVB Baritone”

A Southern Hymn from Steven Curtis Chapman

It’s finally here—SCC’s first “proper” pop album since his daughter’s death. After the immediate, gut-wrenching lamentation of Beauty Will Rise, The Glorious Unfolding shows Chapman slowly returning to his old self–not the same, but healing. This is not going to be an album review, but I’ll just say very quickly that after listening through the whole thing last night, it’s encouraging to hear SCC in this mood again. Is the music as good as his glory days? Well, much of it follows the Speechless/Declaration template, which, for those of you who don’t have his entire album timeline memorized (grin) was the phase where he left the beaten path of MOR Christian pop and began adding rockier textures to his style. While that was creative and different then, each successive time he’s duplicated the formula feels like a progressively fading photocopy (and even then, truth be told, he’d already written a large chunk of his best songs in the late 80s/early 90s).

So, if I’m being honest, there were some tracks on here that didn’t grab or hold my attention. Musically speaking, that is. Most of the lyrics are excellent, and so far beyond anything else spinning on CCM radio right now it’s not even funny.  And, oh my, can this man still write a ballad! Here are just a few lines that particularly struck me. This one is from “Michael and Maria,” dedicated to his own daughter and another child lost by some close friends:

Michael and Maria

Someone said they thought they saw you

Giving names to babies this world never knew

I’m sure by now you’ve found your great grandparents

And some friends like Dave and Erin

I bet you’ve met Moses too…

Or this from the Five-for-Fighting-flavored “See You In a Little While,” a song dedicated to his grandmother:

And just one more thing before I let you go

Please tell my little girl I love her

Though I’m sure she already knows

And ask the Father to please tell the Son

That we’re ready and waiting for Him to come…

But my personal favorite is this closing, hymn-like track, “At the Feet of Jesus,” which feels like it could fit easily onto an Alison Krauss project. Enjoy:

CD Review: Cathedrals Family Reunion

For the first time ever, the 80s and 90s lineups of the Cathedral Quartet have come together, along with the men they currently sing with, in one of the largest tributes to the legendary group yet. With top-notch production values and legendary singers like Mark Trammell, Gerald Wolfe and Danny Funderburke still bringing it to the table, it really was never possible for this to be a bad project.

I really wanted to write a full-fledged, detailed review of this album. As it is, this review will be formatted a little differently from normal because I’m writing it on the fly, without time to really soak in the album fully.  However, I’ve enjoyed reading others’ take on it so much that I thought I might as well toss my hat in the ring and share some thoughts and extra commentary, based on what I’ve heard so far. There’s also a little poll at the end to gauge reader interest in the project after reading my thoughts.

This is the list of songs selected:

1. Blood Washed Band
2. We Shall Be Caught Up
3. Wedding Music
4. We’ll Work
5. O Come Along
6. I’ve Read The Back of the Book
7. Yesterday
8. Can He, Could He, Would He
9. Oh, What A Savior
10. He Made A Change
11. Somebody Touched Me
12. Search Me, O God
13. Champion of Love

First, I love the concept—bringing together a choir of all the Cathedrals legacy groups for the first time. The brand new track “We’ll Work,” plus scrap-iron combos on selected songs with the young basses getting to test their chops on Younce features are also excellent.

And yet, ultimately it doesn’t seem to offer much that’s fresh. For one thing, both Signature Sound and the L5/MTQ/GV/Funderburk gang have each done their own tributes already. So it’s not like this new project is offering the only recent recording of Funderburk or Trammell on one of their signature Cathedrals tunes. Moreover, Signature Sound’s tribute was more musically creative (which admittedly worked better on some tracks than others) and covered a broader swatch of the quartet’s work. 

You might argue, “Why is it supposed to be fresh? It’s a family reunion of Cathedrals singers singing Cathedrals songs!” It’s not really the production I have a problem with. I actually like the classic feel in this context. (My personal favorite is the sweeping, all-stops-pulled-out feel on “Blood-Washed Band.”) However, I do think the songs chosen could have been more varied. The reliance on very well-worn hits like “Can He Could He Would He,” “Champion of Love,” “Oh What a Savior,” and “He Made a Change” doesn’t really do justice to the Cathedrals’ rich catalogue.  I do appreciate the inclusion of a few songs like “We Shall Be Caught Up,” “Bloodwashed Band” and “Oh Come Along,” but there just weren’t enough picks like that. There are many overlooked gems just waiting to be pulled out and dusted off, and with all the Cats legacy heavyweights in one place, this could have been a golden opportunity to revive some of them for a new audience.

As I was thinking about this, I started making a list, and here’s what I came up with. (Note: I am actually pulling some of these from a very old e-mail conversation I had with Daniel Mount, where we put together our ideal Cathedrals tribute collection.)

Continue reading “CD Review: Cathedrals Family Reunion”