Southern Gospel vs. The Rest of the World: Diamond Rio and The Akins

You might know that the Akins are one of my favorite groups in southern gospel today. I’ve raved a bit about them before, but I think if I could boil it down to one word, it would be “musicianship.” They’re completely self-taught, yet they play, sing, and write all of their own material and give completely live concerts. They make it all look deceptively easy, but it takes a special talent to wear that many hats and produce quality work. The Akins do it with style. For this entry in “Southern Gospel vs. The Rest of the World,” I picked country band Diamond Rio to spar with the Akins. The two bands have similar country-rooted styles with a rocky kick. Both bands are also accomplished jammers, and to top it off, both bands specialize in rich vocal harmonies.

Diamond Rio enjoyed huge mainstream success throughout the 90s, but with surprise hit “In God We Still Trust,” they gained fans in the Christian market as well. They’ve dipped their toe in a variety of musical styles, mixing in everything from pop to bluegrass, but all with the signature tight blend of lead singer Marty Roe, baritone Dana Williams, and tenor Gene Johnson. One of their best albums and one of my favorite Christmas projects is The Star Still Shines, which shows off all their talents across a great cross-section of music (my review here).

To be fair, I’ll try to compare like and like tracks from both artists. Unfortunately, I can’t find studio versions of the Akins’ acapella arrangements on Youtube. Fortunately, there are a couple of good live videos out there. When it comes to instrumental/jamming skill, I would say Diamond Rio’s greater experience tips in their favor. Their licks are simply more varied and advanced. However, I think the Akins can give them a run for their money in the acapella department. And when you consider that I’m comparing a group of seasoned veterans with a band of 20-something youngsters at all, the Akins’ relative skill and polish becomes even more impressive.

Continue reading “Southern Gospel vs. The Rest of the World: Diamond Rio and The Akins”

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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”

Southern Gospel vs. The Rest of the World: Lauren Talley and Erika Van Pelt

Erika Van Pelt is a former American Idol contestant. She was eliminated from the top ten after an excellent cover of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” while other, much less deserving contestants advanced onward.  One thing I noticed is that her look and voice reminded me of Lauren Talley. Both of them are blondes with deep, rich alto voices. (At least Van Pelt started blonde… she tried to cut it off and dye it black in order to stand out more. It didn’t work. But moving on…) Anyway, I’m pitting the two against each on this installment of Southern Gospel vs. the Rest of the World. First, here’s Erika singing “I Believe In You and Me”:

I decided that Lauren’s cover of “In Christ Alone” showcased a similar range:

Southern Gospel vs. The Rest of the World: Sisters and The Andrews Sisters

This one occurred to me the other day, and my instant thought was “Duh! Of course!” So here’s a family harmony installment of Southern Gospel vs. The Rest of the World.

First, The Andrews Sisters. I have a special fondness for these gals because I grew up on them. My folks gave me a greatest hits collection and a double-disc collection of their duets with Bing Crosby for Christmas one year when I was a little girl. That was around the same time they put The Great Gershwin Decca Songbook in my hands. For months on end, I was in jazz heaven, singing along with everything from Judy Garland to Louis Armstrong’s trumpet (mixed success on the later). Continue reading “Southern Gospel vs. The Rest of the World: Sisters and The Andrews Sisters”

Southern Gospel vs. The Rest of the World: Terry Franklin and Peter Hollens

[Note: Several people have pointed out that I was comparing apples and oranges to some extent by initially choosing a live performance by Franklin and a studio recording by Hollens. I’ve now additionally provided something from the studio by Franklin and something live by Hollens to make it optimally fair.]

I don’t know how many ideas I’ll come up with for this series, but I’ve collected enough that I think it’ll work for a little while at least. Here’s the concept: I choose two artists, one officially under the “southern gospel” umbrella (although the music they perform might resemble another genre like pop or country) and one from a different genre like CCM or a secular field. These two artists share some resemblances—their styles may be similar, and in some cases they might even look alike! Your task is to render a verdict on which you prefer judging by the clips I provide. Continue reading “Southern Gospel vs. The Rest of the World: Terry Franklin and Peter Hollens”