AGM Awards to Feature Professional Songwriters

I was privileged to be part of the critics’ panel selecting nominees for the 2014 AGM Awards. This bit of news in my inbox about the upcoming ceremony intrigued me yesterday:

The administrators and staff of AbsolutelyGospel.com are proud to announce the final performers for the upcoming Absolutely Gospel Music Awards Celebration. In keeping with the tradition of thinking outside of the box, this year’s AGM Awards will play host to performances from celebrated songwriters.

The Awards Celebration will feature reigning Songwriter of the Year (Artist) Jim Brady along with his wife, AGM Award winning songwriter Melissa Brady. Also, 2013’s Songwriter of the Year (Professional) Sue C. Smith, AGM Award winner Kenna West, and multiple nominee Jason Cox will perform their Song of the Year nominated hit “Calvary’s Cry” (originally recorded by Brian Free & Assurance) during the program.

“We are so excited about recognizing some of the best songwriters in the business in this capacity,” mentioned Deon Unthank, President of AbsolutelyGospel.com. “We were the first awards program in all of Gospel music to split up our Songwriter and Producer of the Year categories to make sure that those songwriters and producers who don’t normally promote themselves to the industry get the recognition they deserve. This was just a natural step in the progression of our awards program.”

Chris Unthank, Editor in Chief of AbsolutelyGospel.com stated, “This has been an idea that has been ruminating in my mind for many years, and I’m so excited that we finally get to see it come to pass. We have always championed the behind the scenes people in this industry, and we can’t wait to showcase them to the general Southern Gospel audience in this manner.”

I’m ridiculously pleased about this. “Calvary’s Cry” was a fantastic new song, and this will be a refreshing change of pace for what’s typically a very performer-centric industry. Hats off to Chris for coming up with this idea. Now I need to know, will the performances be filmed/streamed? [Update: I asked Chris, and he says it will be streamed live, then posted on Vimeo later. Thanks Chris!]

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Featuring… A Reader’s Music

A gentleman named Judson Hair left a nice comment on one of my songwriting posts recently, inviting me to check out his own site and songwriting work. I was very glad that I did. Mr. Hair calls himself a “late bloomer,” trying his hand at songwriting later than most folks first pick up the pen, but seeing that as no excuse not to create. Here is one of his most recent compositions, “Learning to See.” As you know, I’m a pretty merciless song critic, but this one arrested me from verse one. Aspiring writers should study the lyrics carefully (although I believe there are a couple grammatical slips in the final stanza).

I pleased Judson greatly by instantly naming three artists I suspected (rightly) had influenced him: Gordon Lightfoot, Don McLean and Dan Fogelberg. Check out his site Footprints in the Sand here.

When he left her standin’ there he could see it all so clear
A year away would do ’em both some good
She couldn’t understand when he let go of her hand
And probably she never really would

If you go and leave, are you ever comin’ back?
Will I ever see you anymore?
He slowly walked away and she saw him disappear
Then she turned and very gently closed the door

Read on for full lyrics.

Continue reading “Featuring… A Reader’s Music”

Two-Man Doo-Wop Awesomeness

We interrupt our usual Monday Morning schedule to bring you this video, which went straight to the happy part of my brain the other day. Since it’s going viral, it must be going straight to the happy part of everyone else’s brain too. Fallon’s boyish enthusiasm is just so darn contagious. “That’s it right there! Billy Joel! Billy Joel!”

Fresh Look and Audience Surprises at a GVB Concert!

Somebody has captured a LOT of low-quality but still awesome footage from a recent Gaither Vocal Band concert. Thanks to Aaron Swain for bringing this set of concert videos to my attention. One performance that nobody has highlighted yet features Adam Crabb stepping out on verse two of “Satisfied (Hallelujah I Have Found Him).” I believe I’ve heard this hymn somewhere else before, but it’s been a long time, and I absolutely loved hearing this lineup revive the GVB’s take on it. Their blend is fantastic:

The clip that’s been making the rounds more shows Todd Suttles stepping into Marshall Hall’s shoes for “Give It Away.” I wonder, does this mean Todd is officially the baritone while Adam is the official lead? Adam also jumps in for a high tag at the end of the chorus.

Click here for a studio clip of this song with the new lineup, arranged by David Phelps. Swain has noted astutely that Todd Suttles may be holding down the bass part in that studio clip, as it certainly doesn’t sound like Bill saying “Yeaaah” on that step-out at the end! Loved the extra, Take 6-ish iterations of “Give it, give it” that they’ve added at the moment too. The harmonies as a whole are even richer with the extra voice here.

I’ve saved the best clip from that concert footage for last: Bill asks a couple of audience members to belt it out on “He Touched Me,” and boy howdy do they deliver! I couldn’t catch whether Bill was indicating the name of the second gentleman who sang after his solo, but if he was, that could imply that he had been scoped out ahead of time, unless Bill asked him very quickly amid the deafening applause. I know that this is sometimes done in a secular context to ensure that nothing embarrassing happens from a true gamble. And yet Bill does say “Does anybody want to sing a verse?” initially, at which point several audience members seem to be pointing out the first gentleman. So his part at any rate seems to have been a very fortuitous pick. And since the two men were seated close to each other, it’s possible that they are friends who share a musical background. [Update: The second one is actually a professional singer named Kevin Pauls who’s sung with the Gaithers before. Thanks to my reader canuk for picking out the name for me so I could look him up!] Both have very well-trained voices, and the second one really raises the roof! Check it out:

Movie Review: Grace Unplugged

This film drew quite a bit of Christian buzz when it came out last year, and it focuses on the music industry, so I thought I’d check it out and review it for you guys. Here’s the premise: Johnny Trey, a one-time one-hit rock star, has left the Hollywood life behind him, kicked drugs, and settled down in a small town to raise a family. Now he serves as a worship pastor at his church. His daughter, 18-year-old Grace, shows musical promise but chafes under her father’s strict regulations for the band. When daddy’s old manager offers him a new record deal after a cover of his classic sugar-stick goes viral, he smiles and declines easily. But Grace decides to do her own cover of the newly popular hit and e-mails it to “Mossy.” Mossy likes what he hears, and after yet another fight with dear old Dad, you can guess what happens next: Yep, little miss evangelical-teen-with-daddy-issues packs her bags and heads for Hollywood! Just write the rest of the script yourself from there and you probably won’t be far off from the real one.

Okay, so I’m being a bit snarky. I did genuinely like some things about this film, so let’s list some Pros before we get into the Cons:

Pros

* The character of the father. I really, really liked this character—both the way he was written and the way he was acted. In fact, I liked him so much that I found it hard to sympathize with Grace’s whining, and I kind of wanted to pull some of her pretty, pretty hair out when she bad-mouthed him behind his back. Maybe I just don’t “get” whiny teenagers, but I was always rooting for Team Dad in their arguments. When Grace skips youth group for a movie, and worse, she lies about it to her mother, Dad is NOT happy about “that little song and dance you gave your mother.” Actor James Denton believably conveys deep love, anger and hurt as Trey’s little girl grows up and rejects him. Unlike some of the other characters, he actually seemed like a real person, with real emotional layers.

* I appreciated the unflattering, but  probably 90% accurate portrayal of how the pop music business actually works (except that Grace hops on a tour bus before she’s chosen and recorded more than one song, which simply doesn’t make sense). Her fashion designer is also kind of over the top (we get it, in American movies a British Accent alwaysalways = Bad). But when Dad shakes his head sadly and says, “Oh, you are not ready for this,” he’s more right than she can imagine. Continue reading “Movie Review: Grace Unplugged”

CD Review: Hymns, by the Gaither Vocal Band

This hymns project is a parting gift from the last Gaither Vocal Band lineup of Michael English, Mark Lowry, David Phelps, and Wes Hampton. Nearly all the tracks are fresh, with a couple exceptions that I’ll detail in the Likes and Dislikes. So, let’s get right to it!

Likes

*Although “Amazing Grace” recycles some arrangement ideas from the Amazing Grace Homecoming project (minor modulation on verse three, orchestral rhythm on verse four, etc.), I greatly enjoyed the dramatic Celtic twist they put on it. It led to some very cool harmonic choices, like the perfect fifth on the word “begun” at the end. Also loved the pennywhistle doing a few bars of “Come Thou Fount” as the song drew to a close. Although guys, really, you’re not Irish and we can kinda tell, so lose the fake lilt-warble on verse one if you ever do it live, m’kay?

* “Redeemed” was another successful Celtic-tinged arrangement. The blend of strings, accordion and pipes creates an exciting, toe-tapping rhythm. The familiar hymn tune has been somewhat re-worked for this arrangement, but it works quite well. Vocally, David Phelps’s pure tone particularly shines in this context and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did the arrangement.

Continue reading “CD Review: Hymns, by the Gaither Vocal Band”

Saturday Survey, 3/15/14

Here’s a little potpourri of doings from the southern gospel world and elsewhere. Apologies for my laxness this week, I simply ran out of time to post a whole lot of fresh stuff! Rest assured, there are album reviews for the Gaither Vocal Band and the Perrys, a Christian movie review, and more on the way.

*Southern Gospel music executive Norman Holland passed away this week. As vice president of A&R at Daywind records, Holland was an integral figure in the careers of some of gospel music’s most celebrated groups, including, but not limited to, Greater Vision, The Perrys, Legacy Five, The Booth Brothers, Brian Free and Assurance, The Nelons, and Mark Trammell Quartet. Gerald Wolfe reflects:

Norman was the first Record Company Executive I ever met in Nashville.  In January of 1987, the Cathedrals stopped in Nashville in the middle of the night, to pick up a load of records at Benson Record’s warehouse. The big overhead door opened, and there stood one of the tallest people I had ever seen. Norman Holland, all 6 feet, 8 inches of him, had showed up at 1am to help us load records.  We instantly became friends.  Neither of us knew that, just a few year later, he would be instrumental in the formation of Greater Vision.  It was Norman who encouraged me to consider starting a group, and it was Norman who convinced Riversong/Benson to give us our first Record Contract.  When Norman moved to Daywind Records, we went with him.  I once told Ed Leonard, the President of Daywind, “as long as Norman is here, we’ll be here.”
We had a great working relationship for almost three decades, but our personal friendship was much more important.  Norman became a part of our family.  He went on family vacations with us to Disney World, New York City, and even a Hawaii Cruise.  All the guys on our bus, and their families, loved Norman.  He was one-of-a-kind.  He was certainly a big dude, but his personality was even bigger.  He could light up any room he entered.  He had the rare gift of being naturally funny, and people were instantly drawn to his magnetic personality.  He made a lasting, positive impression on anyone who ever had the honor of meeting him.
 *Don’t miss this great post from Daniel Mount, where he passes along a wonderful story about the Cathedrals and small acts of kindness. And don’t stop at the post–others have begun adding their own reminiscences about the Cathedrals and others in the comments thread!

*David Bruce Murray is answering reader questions out of his vast store of musical knowledge over on Musicscribe. Check out his entry on secular influences in southern gospel and vice versa.

*Did you know that the Internet turned 25 this week? Here’s a google blogpost from the man who designed the first web browser. (Just hum your way through the naive “diversity” blather.)

*Social conservatism was given disappointingly short shrift at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, and the future doesn’t look great for the Republican party. John Murdock gives a report. Denny Burk also shares some statistical info about the South’s current stance on gay “marriage.”

*Here’s your weekly dose of sniffles. You’re welcome:

Johnny Farese, a servant of God

If you have never heard the story of Johnny Farese, I encourage you to take a moment to read this blog post, which sums up his life and his legacy after his going home to be with the Lord the other day. Completely paralyzed, Farese was determined to serve the Lord in any way he could. The impact he left despite his disabilities was remarkable. He was a vocal advocate for the pro-life cause, and he united the body of Christ through the creation of a global church directory and the circulation of a popular church newsletter with prayer requests gathered from a network of American Reformed Baptist churches.

Conservative reformed blogger Tom Chantry had this to say in the comments:

Johnny’s impact on the Reformed Baptist movement will probably never be properly calculated. When we were in the early years of starting a Reformed Baptist church in Milwaukee, probably half of the visitors we saw found us through the Farese List. For a startup work with limited means to make ourselves visible, his help from afar was a blessing from God. I have often wondered in how many places that blessing was duplicated.

Johnny himself said:

In light of my physical condition, I am often asked the age-old question, ‘How can an all-powerful God of love allow you to suffer in this way? Surely the Bible says that God always does what is right? Yes it does – and he does! I have come to see that suffering is one of the many ways in which God demonstrates his unfailing love to those who have come to put their trust in him. Writing out of his own painful experience, the Psalmist says, ‘It was good for me to be afflicted, so that I might learn your decrees’ (Psalm 119:71) – and I gladly endorse every word of that testimony…

Although I am bedridden, struggle to breathe comfortably, and often have to contend with painful bed sores, I count them as ‘light and momentary troubles’ (2 Corinthians 4:17) For all the difficulties they cause, I know that they are achieving for me ‘an eternal glory that far outweighs them all’ (2 Corinthians 4:17) How trivial they will all seem in the light of the eternal bliss that awaits God’s children in the world to come!

The post linked above shares a video testimony from which this passage is excerpted, as well as one of Farese’s videos promoting the sanctity of human life. If you have a moment, I believe you won’t regret the time spent getting to know this great saint, who is now absent from the body and present with his Lord.