My Definitive Andrae Crouch Mix

Here’s the post I was going to publish this Monday, before the death of Lari Goss shoved it down in urgency.

Last week, the great gospel music legend Andrae Crouch went on to his reward. Overcoming the handicap of severe dyslexia, Crouch wrote many classic songs and also became a sought-after arranger/producer across genres. Perhaps his best-loved song is “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power,” which he wrote in a white heat of inspiration at the age of 14. Few of us can hope to write one great song in our lives. Practically none of us can claim to have written our greatest before finishing high school. I was fortunate to stumble across this great home video of Crouch sharing with an old friend a little bit about how the song was written. It was taken a few years ago when his voice had already been ravaged by various illnesses, so you might have to prick your ears up to catch what he’s saying:

I greatly enjoyed spending some time with the music of Andrae Crouch over the last weekend, and I thought it only fitting to make a little playlist of some of my favorite versions of some of his best songs. From Andrae himself to Selah, to the Jessy Dixon Singers, to Gordon Mote, to Kim Collingsworth, to Cece Winans, these artists give some definitive renditions.

Another version of “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power” that I also love is this one, from a Gaither Homecoming. Cece Winans is featured again. I think Selah is still my favorite, but this version had both me and Andrae wondering who was cutting onions in the room.

 

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Sing it Again: “Taking My God At His Word”

In 2005, Brian Free took a break from quartet singing and put out what is still one of my favorite solo efforts in southern gospel. Although I’ve never quite wrapped my brain around that other-worldly voice, his ear for a good song was as canny then as it is now. My personal favorite is the fresh, vigorous country rocker “Dare to Be a Daniel” (written by fellow Gold City alumnus Steve Lacey). Other highlights include “Anthem of the Ages,” which BFA could record today like new, and the tune I’m highlighting today, “Taking My God At His Word.” I could hear a number of artists doing this today, including the Perrys, Barry Rowland & Deliverance, Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, and Greater Vision.

I think I would be most excited to hear Chris Allman take a stab at it, but for Ernie to have a go would be great fun too. What do y’all think?

Behind the Song: “An Unexpected Cross”

“An Unexpected Cross” (not to be confused with “The Unexpected Cross,” by Jeff and Sheri Easter) comes from Ernie Haase’s solo project Never Alone. It was cowritten by Ernie and Joel Lindsey, and it’s my favorite song from his solo career. I asked him if he would like to share some of the inspiration behind it, and he graciously did. Enjoy this little look behind the song!  Continue reading “Behind the Song: “An Unexpected Cross””

Sing it Again: “River of Love” by the Browns

[Some of you are wondering why this post suddenly appeared on a Saturday. Answer: I accidentally scheduled it for this evening and didn’t realize it until it had been up for two hours. Sorry about that! Meanwhile, enjoy the post. :)]

When the Browns first started out, the group consisted of Mom, sisters Michaela and Jessica, and brothers Adam and Andrew. Jessica would go on to leave the group and marry Nick Trammell, both of whom have now joined the group in its most recent iteration. They sound better than ever today. But I enjoy the sound they had in the early years as well.

The title track of their debut project River of Love really struck me the first time I heard it. That project was rather average/forgettable on the whole, but this one song stood out. Simple, yet memorable, it was a very natural melding of lyrics and music. I have never heard it performed by anyone else, and I think it should be revived by a bigger group.  What say ye? (By the way, stick around for the acapella reprise on this performance, it’s the best part.)

Sing it Again: “Love Them While We Can”

Most people might not know what a smooth pop singer Steve Green was before he launched his solo career. But he turned in some truly silky work with the Gaither Vocal Band in his early years with them. One of their best albums was 1983’s Passin’ the Faith Along. The title track has stuck around, of course, but a lot of the other songs on that project have been left in the 80s.

One such lost nugget is the Steve-led song “Love Them While We Can.” It’s simply carried with acoustic guitar and strings. And the lyrics tenderly portray the love that we should have for our parents, even after we’ve moved away from them. But it’s not at all patronizing. We should respect our parents’ wisdom too. “The silver secrets of the world/Lie beneath those crowns of gray.” The combination of lyrics, music and Steve’s golden young voice is just gorgeous.

As I was listening, it occurred to me that this would fit Ronnie Booth to a T. It calls for exactly the sort of tender delivery he brings to the table, and the song’s warm, easy-listening feel would perfectly complement the Booth Brothers’ harmonies. Take a listen and see if you agree:

Sing it Again: All That I Am

Recently fridaynightrevival put up a post highlighting a forgotten gem from Gold City’s Standing in the Gap called “All That I Am.” Written by Terry Franklin with his wife Barbi, it’s a quietly majestic piece with powerful lyrics and a melody reminiscent of Danny Boy:

FNR said he believed somebody should bring it back, and I agreed. However, instead of coming up with my own idea of who should revive it, I decided to ask Terry himself. He actually had a couple of suggestions. First he said that he thought Wes Hampton could do a great job on it. This hadn’t even occurred to me because it was originally carried by a lead singer (David Hill). However, I immediately saw that he was completely right. Wes could infuse a lot of expression into the lyric. Raise the key by a step or two, and he’d bring the house down.

But Terry’s other suggestion was even more intriguing: Debra Talley. I could absolutely hear this working as well, although the arrangement would probably be a little quieter and more nuanced. Debra has a very rich voice that would also capture the song’s essence quite beautifully.

Do I hear more ideas from my readers?

Sing it Again: “Lord of the Harvest”

Major blast from the 80s past alert! This classic Imperials song first came out in 1982. I’m embedding a live performance of it from a couple years later. Future GVB tenor Jim Murray takes the lead. I grew up on this guy’s voice, so it’s always held a special place in my heart. It’s so smooth and clear that I never grew tired of listening to it. I still haven’t:

Whoa, is that Dick Tunney with a mullet on keys??  Never mind, move along…

Nothing to be said except this song is an absolute gem. Soaring melody, thought-provoking lyrics. Somebody in southern gospel could easily record it. I think Ernie Haase & Signature Sound would be a great candidate, but I had a different idea too. Jaron Faulknor of Voices Won has always reminded me of Jim Murray. With him singing lead, the trio could do a very tight, smooth version of this song, perhaps with a more stripped-down feel. The bass part would be missed, but I think they would still be able to capture that classic feel. Thoughts?

Behind the Song… with Lyn Rowell and Wendy Wills: “Jesus is Holding My Hand”

When I “reviewed” Doug Anderson’s solo album, I said that “Jesus is Holding My Hand” was easily the best song on the project. I said that even after hearing clips of all the other tracks, and I put in a later note saying that I still maintained that position after listening to the CD in its entirety. Fortunately, somebody out there agrees with me and decided to single the song. It’s enjoyed chart success and become a staple of Signature Sound concerts as Doug takes it around the country and the world.

I asked the writers if they would be willing to let me and my readers into the process of how the song came to be, then came to be recorded. They graciously agreed.

***

Me: What was your initial inspiration for the song?

Wendy Wills: I came to a chapter of a Bible study I was doing that focused on Psalm 23.  I was thinking about how the Shepherd Lord is with us in both valley and pastures, and “Jesus Is Holding My Hand” popped into my head.  I remember thinking what a nice little song idea that could be, simple and hopeful, certainly true.  I do remember specifically thinking of starting from the green pastures and still waters, because that’s where I was spiritually – I was experiencing no trials or tribulations at that time.  I also was thinking that it’s these peaceful times that God wants us to recall when we’re going through the hard times because he has shown us his faithfulness.

In my mind was a picture of the mountains I hiked around when I lived in western China.  Deep, cool valleys nestled in between forbidding mountains.  But, oh, the view from the top!  That is truly a mountaintop blessing!  Life is a chain of mountains and valleys and Jesus is with us in both places, leading us to the place where he restores us, and helping us climb through trials.

Lyn Rowell: Wendy and I had a writing appointment at BMI in Nashville, and she said she had an idea — a lyrical hook with a melodic idea, so she played and sang “Jesus is holding my hand.” I immediately liked it, and we started talking about what it meant to us personally. I told her I had been realizing that both mountains and valleys can be encouraging or discouraging, based on the specifics of the circumstances and exactly where we are at the time. A valley can be restful and inviting when there are green pastures, but when the valley turns dark, the main goal is to move through it as quickly as possible! Similarly, if we stand at the base of a mountain looking up, it can be imposing and challenging. But once we’ve reached the top of the mountain, it becomes a place of victory and peace. So those different perspectives were the inspiration for the verses in the song for me, but the one idea holding it all together was that “Jesus is holding my hand,” no matter what happens.

Me:  How did lyrics and music come together? Did one of you write music and the other lyrics, or were both a joint effort?

WW: I came to the appointment with a melodic and lyrical hook.  But after that, it was definitely a collaborative effort.

LR: Since Wendy had the initial melodic hook on the guitar, she took the lead musically. It did take more than one writing appointment, but the music and lyrics came together at the same time as we worked through what we wanted to say.

Me: How did Doug come to record it?

WW: Lyn was more involved in that process.

LR: Ray “Chip” Davis did a great demo for us, and we began to pitch the song. Then in June of 2010, Wayne Haun (who was producing the project with Ernie Haase) texted me to ask if “Jesus Is Holding My Hand” had been cut yet. I texted back that it hadn’t been and asked why. He said they were listening for Doug Anderson’s solo CD and loved the song.

Me: Did you expect it to find the kind of success that it’s had?

LR: I was surprised, but excited to hear that it would be the first radio single from Doug’s project. When they first put the song on hold, they said it had the classic sound they were hoping to find, so that may be one reason why it’s been so well-received in live concerts all over the US and in other countries they’ve visited recently. Doug’s YouTube videos show that he always makes that song a rich moment during the Ernie Haase & Signature Sound concerts. He has the perfect voice to bring the song to life, and he communicates the message beautifully.

WW:  I really had no idea what to expect!  Lyn really kept me in the loop. It went from:  “Wayne loves it,” to “He played it for Doug,” to “Doug loves it,” to “It’s going to be the first single!”  I saw Doug sing it live at his CD release concert in his hometown of Lapel, IN, in April.  He was awesome.  People were singing along . . . it was a sweet moment.

***

Thank you ladies so much! This is a great song, and I’m just pleased as punch that it’s getting such good exposure. When you put two gifted writers in the same room, good things are bound to happen.

Behind the Song…with Dianne Wilkinson: “Where’s John?”

Last week, a lot of us got a good laugh at “Camping and crew” over the fact that they predicted the Second Coming on May 21st, and of course nothing happened on May 21st. But at the same time, we should recognize the sadness of what was going on there. Not only were many poor people fooled into giving up their livelihoods, Camping and his followers only gave more fuel to the fire of those who mock the idea of a Second Coming entirely. While it’s certainly true that no man can presume to know the day or the hour, we should still be sober and vigilant, knowing that Jesus surely will come.

Dianne Wilkinson recently penned a song on this very topic, and she was gracious enough to answer some questions about it for the blog.  It’s called “Where’s John?” and it has generated very positive critical reactions despite its chilling subject matter: The song is written in the first person from the perspective of a man who’s been left behind in the last days, searching for a brother named John who (we realize) has been carried away in the Rapture. The speaker says John was always warning him that one day Jesus would return, but he only laughed in his brother’s face. Now there are “open graves everywhere,” John is missing, and the speaker is slowly realizing the horrible truth of what awaits him. Most southern gospel songs leave the listener with some sort of pleasant feeling inside, but this is one fascinating exception!

Besides being interested in the song itself, I was curious about the fact that Arthur Rice had recorded the demo, since Terry Franklin always does Dianne’s demos. Read on for her intriguing answer to that question as well.

yankeegospelgirl: How did you come up with this fresh lyrical idea for a southern gospel song? Was there any specific inspiration?

Dianne: I wasn’t even thinking about writing…this song started coming to me, as many do, lyrics and music.  It only took about 20 minutes to finish, and I made no changes.

yankeegospelgirl: How did the music evolve? Did it come right along with the lyrics?

Dianne: The melody started in the minor key, and it seemed right just to keep it there, given the way the song turned out.

yankeegospelgirl: How did the Kingdom Heirs come to record it? I understand that Arthur picked it up after doing the demo.

Dianne: That is really a God thing. The young man who did the track on this suggested to my publisher that they send it to Arthur for the demo, and Arthur has never demo’d one of my songs before or since. When he sent it in, that’s when I realized Jeff was singing the bass feature (Arthur was doing all the other vocals). Well, I didn’t think the Kingdom Heirs would ever do this song, but I sent it to Steve French so he could hear what a great job Arthur and Jeff did. He contacted me immediately to put the song on hold, and was very excited about it. He thought it had a message the world needs to hear. Of course, I did, too…but I thought it would be difficult to get it recorded. I’m so glad the Kingdom Heirs did.

yankeegospelgirl: This has been described as “one of the creepiest songs in SG,” but in an approving way. What’s your reaction?

Dianne: Well, it’s certainly different.  It’s dark, and imagery is one of a young man’s growing terror after being left behind at the Rapture…separated from his brother.  So I expected people to react to it differently than probably anything I’ve ever written before.  It will be interesting to see how it’s received before live audiences.  My prayer is that it will find lodging in the hearts of lost people who come to a concert, or go into the Kingdom Heirs theater at Dollywood, and cause them to come to Christ before it’s TOO LATE.

yankeegospelgirl: Thank you very much!

I hope this will not be the last “behind the song” feature I get to do on this blog. Thanks to Dianne for taking the time to let us in on the song-writing process here!

Sing it Again: Heed the Call

Another new series, this one like Daniel’s “Encore.” I look at songs sung by a gospel group that deserve to be revived, and you tell me whether you agree with my ideas about who should revive them, or not.

We’ll start with a song by the Imperials. Now the Imperials sort of went all over the map, sonically speaking. They started off very traditional with Jake Hess, and they did some great work there.  But after some member shifts, they got more adventurous and starting branching out into more of a light Christian rock sound. Heed the Call shows this side of them, with Russ Taff on lead and a great lineup of songs.

The title cut is an energetic number about following after Christ. It’s smart, fun, and fast-paced, with a wonderful bass echo that comes in towards the end (go Armond Morales!) Listen:

I’ve often mentioned how my fondness for Signature Sound is really related to the fact that I cut my teeth on this version of the Imperials growing up. EHSS often brings back those memories for me with their style and sound. And of course, with Ian Owens on board, they now have an actual Imperials alumnus contributing vocals, hand-picked to replace Armond no less. Ian and I had a little talk about what this could mean for their future repertoire, and I offered Ernie a few ideas. This song was one of them. The production on the original is of course very dated, but it could be spiffed up and given a fresh treatment with great results. Doug would be a natural fit on lead, and Ian would steal the show with the bass line. It could easily become a crowd favorite.

Look for more of these “bring back that old Imperials song” entries in this series. Maybe there’ll even be another one for EHSS…