Saturday Survey #8

*Wow, I didn’t know my guess would be proved right so quickly. The Kingsmen have indeed hired Bob Sellers as their new lead singer. Great choice!

* “Looking For a City” has been Canupped and it is graphic. Not for viewers under age twelve.

*I attended two online events this week from the Booth Brothers—a webinar from Michael Booth on keeping the gospel in gospel music and a full concert from the whole group. I was very inspired by Michael’s webinar and hope to share some verbatim quotes that I found particularly insightful when I get clearance to do so. The Booth Brothers’ concert was a mix of Christmas songs and regular material. Despite technical difficulties which repeatedly shut the event down, the Brothers were completely gracious and continued performing a full hour beyond schedule so as not to short-change the fans. Classy as always.

*It’s been a busy week what with finals, planning for the next semester and assorted other stressful stuff. Because of that, I haven’t had the chance to put together a review of the Gaither Christmas Homecoming I went to yet. Look for that hopefully sometime next week.

*My friend Dustin Allman just posted a great clip of Alison Krauss and Yo-Yo Ma performing a Christmas carol in the studio.

*Google just released its Zeitgeist 2011 in review clip. My advice: Skip it and wait for Dave Barry’s summary instead, which is sure to be far more interesting, entertaining and enlightening.

*Christopher Hitchens has died. Russell Moore speculates that he might be in heaven, which makes about as much sense as speculating that Bill Gaither might be our next president.

*Speaking of Russell Moore, he’s really starting to annoy me. I recently read a reprint of a terrible 2009 article of his called “Jesus Has AIDS.” I know… the title says it all. It’s really painful. The level of historical, theological and biblical carelessness in that article alone is unconscionable, particularly coming from the Dean of SBTS. Read a wonderful fisking of it here, which doesn’t even criticize everything there is to be criticized and also connects this post with a pattern Moore has developed of intentionally and shallowly provoking the right.

*If any of my readers appreciate meditative, classically-flavored music with top-notch vocals and writing, I cannot recommend Jean Watson highly enough. She has worked with Don Koch (of 4Him, Phillips Craig & Dean, Point of Grace and Avalon fame, though her music is completely different stylistically from those groups) and is an amazing person. I just saw her perform last night and obtained her Christmas project, which I may even review here as part of my Christmas series.

*Oh, and about that series… sorry there haven’t been any more new installments. Next week…

*I cannot believe it’s taken me so long to watch The Fugitive. Classic, classic, classic, classic, classic…. I firmly believe the only reason it didn’t win more Oscars is because, like every other film besides Schindler’s List that came out in 1993 it… well, came out in the same year as Schindler’s List. But at least Tommy Lee Jones captured a richly deserved Oscar:

*Random did-you-know: Did you know that Mark Hamill won critical acclaim playing Amadeus and the Elephant Man on Broadway after Star Wars? Really!


Music Video: She Still Remembers Jesus’ Name

Hat tip, DBM. This is my favorite kind of music video—one that actually tells a story. As I’ve discussed before, music videos are probably a rarity in southern gospel largely because the subject matter doesn’t tend to lend itself to this kind of thing. When the Ball Brothers did a video for “It’s About the Cross,” I praised it, but they were hugely limited by what the song would let them do. Ultimately they didn’t do much more than walk around in suits and sing.

But a story-song like “She Still Remembers Jesus’ Name” is perfect, and this video complements it beautifully. The only way it could have been even better is if Ronnie and Jim had ditched the necklaces and buttoned up their shirts all the way like Michael (sorry guys—couldn’t resist, it’s a pet peeve of mine 🙂 ). Seriously though, you can just hear them: “No Michael, you can’t wear your tie in the scene where we’re going to visit the mom. You have to wear something different.” So he takes off his tie, puts on a somewhat more casual jacket, and unbuttons one, maybe two buttons. There he draws the line, bless his Baptist heart.

Look for a guest appearance by Phil Cross. I believe he was involved in making the video possible—thanks to him are in order.

Folk Rhyme Meets Southern Gospel: He Saw it All

The Booth Brothers’ “He Saw It All” was probably embraced largely by virtue of its uniqueness. Everyone knows the picture the lyrics paint—a mute man talking, a deaf girl listening, a crippled man running, and a blind man who saw it all. It’s clever and fresh-sounding.

What some people might not know (and what I didn’t know until very recently), is that this concept isn’t new at all. In fact, it’s very old. If you don’t believe me, here is a folk poem, variations of which have been passed around among children  since the 19th century. (Hat tip to this website, which contains even more information.)

  1. One fine day in the middle of the night,
  2. Two dead boys* got up to fight, [*or men]
  3. Back to back they faced each other,
  4. Drew their swords and shot each other.
  5. One was blind and the other couldn’t see
  6. So they chose a dummy for a referee,
  7. A blind man went to see fair play,
  8. A dumb man went to shout “hooray!”
  9. A paralyzed donkey passing by,
  10. Kicked the blind man in the eye,
  11. Knocked him through a nine inch wall,
  12. Into a dry ditch and drowned them all,
  13. A deaf policeman heard the noise,
  14. And came to arrest the two dead boys,
  15. If you don’t believe this story’s true,
  16. Ask the blind man he saw it too!

What’s interesting is that whoever originally conceived it, it was for a completely nonsensical purpose, as a joke. With “He Saw It All,” of course, it’s not nonsensical at all. The blind man really did see it all.

Concert Review with Audio: The Booth Brothers in Hillsdale, Michigan

I’m finally getting around to reviewing that Booth Brothers concert from a few weeks back. They came to the Gospel Barn in Hillsdale, MI, where they have a long history. In fact, I believe the host said that the Barn may have hosted the Rebels Quartet before the Booths. They come there every year around the same time, and then they always go to Auburn Hills for church and another concert the Sunday after. Those two dates are the only fixed points in their entire schedule.

I mentioned having made the acquaintance of  a new group called Declaration Trio when I reviewed their advance EP containing half of an upcoming project. Though I recorded the entirety of the main concert, I was so wrapped up in enjoying Declaration’s music that I forgot to turn it on for their opening set! I wished I had later. They sang “Come to the Water” (on the new project), “I Feel Like Traveling On,” and “Blessed Assurance.” They have great energy on stage and got the audience really warmed up on “Traveling On.” Then their 19-year-old tenor, Joshua Horrell, surprised me really pleasantly on “Blessed Assurance.” I didn’t know what to expect, but whenever he approached a high note, he belted it out strongly every time. He should mature well with experience. Not a prodigious talent, but a clear, able, pleasing voice. Later when I was chatting with Jake Sammons, he said several people had come up to them at NQC last month saying, “You realize that you guys are the envy of the convention, right?” because they travel with the Booth Brothers. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have that opportunity. Their sound is less strikingly similar live than in the studio, but it is clear that they want to emulate that style. Joshua  sounded especially like Michael on the first verse of “Assurance.” If you want to get to know the group a bit better, here’s a great interview with SGNScoops.

Then the Booths came out and offered a wall-to-wall consistent concert experience. There was not a single weak moment. The songs were perfectly chosen and meaningfully delivered, with Michael’s classic emcee work keeping the large audience in tears and stitches all afternoon. I think this was the most responsive crowd I’ve ever seen at a gospel concert. Granted I’ve only been to a few, but all I know is this was a great bunch of folks to sing to. They laughed and cheered loudly at all the right places. It would be hard to pin-point which songs got the strongest response, because they all got strong responses. You’ll get to hear everything when I provide audio highlights at the end. Alas, I am not Dinana with her stunning video footage—my camera was barely able to take pictures as it was due to a low battery (hence the scarcity of pictures and the fuzziness of the shots I did manage to snap). One of the funniest moments during the concert came when a lady in the front row who was incessantly taking pictures got noticed by Michael. He simply paused in the middle of what he was saying and posed for the camera with a “cheese” grin. I’m sure he wished she would stop, or at least slow down, but he took it completely in stride. Anyway, as I was saying I’ve chosen to do the next best thing to video and string together audio clips of all the performances for you, plus some of Michael’s in-between moments. First, here’s a set list with commentary:

First  Half:

He’s So Good To Me: Short and sweet, not a stand-out on the CD but a perfect concert icebreaker.

I See Grace: This always generates crowd response. It makes for an exciting, vibrant live number.

Masterpiece of Mercy: You might recall that I posted a short interview from half-time in which Ronnie told me this was his favorite song on the album. The harmony has a purity and sweetness about it that is all the more appealing in a live setting.

Look For Me At Jesus’ Feet: The audience erupted into applause the moment Michael began singing. He took it a bit easier than he sometimes does, going lower where he could have gone higher in places. It seemed like his voice was a bit worn out that day, but he turned in a very moving performance nonetheless.

Welcome To the Family: We were debating later over who had ear-pieces and who didn’t in order to figure out whether they had gotten their tone from there for the a cappella intro to this one. It was determined that at least Ronnie and possibly Jim did not, which makes the fact that they were perfectly on key to start with all the more impressive.

Here there was a break for some comedy about Baptists and ties. Ronnie was wearing blue jeans and boots, and Michael pretended to be shocked, shocked at this betrayal of their heritage. He then looked at the “bulletin,” which apparently prescribed hymns next ( 😉 ) and spoke about how it’s a shame to see them falling out of use in today’s churches. Yet they are effective and sound, and their words ring true today. He then said something which really made me think, which is that centuries ago, those hymn-writers weren’t writing with the goal of being published or making money. It’s a different world from today’s market-driven society where song-writers collect royalties for their work. But the Charles Wesleys and Fanny Crosbys wrote simply out of the abundance of their heart, to serve the Church and glorify God.

Hymns Medley (“Wonderful Peace/Old Rugged Cross/How Great Thou Art”): This was done a cappella. My dad happened to be sitting close to where Ronnie was on stage and caught his attention during the singalong on “How Great Thou Art.” Ronnie gave him his signature A-OK sign.

All Over the World: This is honestly a song I always skipped when listening to Declaration, but it just plain works live. It’s so dang fun to watch, even if the rhythm is impossible to keep up when clapping along. Michael summed it up at the end: “You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a Southern Gospel samba in a barn!”

She Still Remembers Jesus’ Name: By now most fans of the group know that this song holds special significance for Michael and Ronnie since their grandmother passed away after suffering from Alzheimer’s. Interestingly, Michael shared that there had been one lady who came up to him (“You old ladies can be mean!”) and demanded that they never sing the song again. He asked her why, and she said “Well, didn’t you see those people crying?” Michael responded, “But ma’am, did you hear the hope?” She was unmoved: “People don’t hear that. All they heard was the bad part.” Then he continued, saying, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, when you go to a doctor, if that doctor is good for you, he’ll tell you what you need to hear so that he can help you fix the problem. And what some of you need to hear is that there is hope in difficult situations.” Light can’t cut through the shadows if there are no shadows for it to penetrate. I can tell you that there was a lot of light in the place when Ronnie sang this song, and we saw people dabbing their eyes all around us. I think they heard the hope. However, I can’t forget to mention a moment during Michael’s moving introduction, when just after he said, “Regardless of our feelings, the word of God is true,” a cellphone rang. Not missing a beat, he said, “See, God’s calling right now to confirm what I said. He does that a lot.”

A Higher Throne: This may have been the only song of the concert that got a standing ovation. It can be a long listen on a CD, but live, the atmosphere is electric as the arrangement builds and builds. I was particularly impressed at the full sound their voices created with no stacks (that I could tell anyway). The ending was so powerful that we just naturally stood. It felt right.

Afterwards Michael had some right-on-the-money words about how our heart’s desire should be Christ and Christ alone, and that ultimately he is the only reason we should desire heaven. Christianity isn’t about all the “stuff” we’ll get, it’s about following him and ultimately being united with him. He then did some great “preachin’ ” to set up the next song.

I love Michael’s little “mini-sermons” because he manages to pack so much truth into such a limited amount of time, in a simple and clear way that connects with everybody. Michael may not have been a prize student, as he often reminds his fans, but nobody can deny that he is an effective speaker with a special gift. And like King David of old, he cannot contain his passion and yearning for God. It pours out of him in whatever he does.

When You Bow At Jesus’ Feet: One of their most beautiful recent songs, written and sung by Jim Brady, this sounded just as good live as it did on the album.

See, What a Morning: I think there may have been another standing-O for this one—not sure at the moment. In any case, this was “for anybody from Ireland” as Michael humorously put it. A rousing take on one of the Gettys’ best songs that always works to close off the first half of their concerts.

At half-time I collected many autographs and met all the guys, and some of you may have read what all transpired there in this post. The Booth Brothers couldn’t be kinder to their fans. At one point I looked over and saw Ronnie listening very attentively to what an old lady was telling him. He had his head bowed and his eyes closed, giving her his complete and undivided attention. There was a young woman at the concert with Down’s syndrome, and at one point she was seen literally clinging to Michael. He was completely unfazed and gracious.

Second Half

Bread On the Water: Nostalgia for me. Not quite like the Imperials, but close enough. When Michael asked if anyone liked the old Imperials and I whooped loudly, he looked over at me and grinned.

He Saw It All: Just a great song which always draws a response. The crowd started clapping when they launched into the chorus. I discovered something interesting about the lyrics recently which I’ll share after… well, never mind, I’ve got an announcement that I plan to post tomorrow.

Peace In the Shelter: Jim Brady wrote this song for his dad, who’s always found comfort in his songwriting. He introduced it by talking about his dad’s recent health issues and asked for prayer (no further news so presumably things are stable now).

Since Jesus Came: I had to look up the Mills’ Brothers’ “Glow Worm”  afterwards. Michael said he might “get a letter” for mentioning it, presumably because it’s about a worm who’s glowing to attract lady worms. He said that he asked Jim Brady to come up with a song for them in that vein, except “don’t write it about a worm!” They broke out the two microphones, and it was a huge hit with the audience.

What About Now? Michael set this up as he always does by sharing the gospel and preaching the need to bear fruit in our Christian walk. It is yet another one of those songs which was written to be performed live and is twice as powerful from the stage as it is on a CD. It was a fitting end to the concert.

And I already shared about how I accidentally found Michael again after the concert and sang a duet with him, a precious moment I won’t forget. The whole concert was a great memory, and I can’t really convey how much fun it was by just writing down the experience. You have to experience the Booth Brothers yourselves. They bring a perfect balance of good music, good fun, and a clear gospel message. Michael is hands-down the best emcee on the road today, and the group as a whole manages to be both very polished and very heartfelt in their delivery. It’s no wonder they’re on top of the southern gospel world right now. People simply love them, and after watching and meeting them in person myself, it was easier than ever to see why.

And here are the clips, which I finished throwing together at the last minute. Enjoy!

[Update 9/27: If you are just now finding this post and are unable to get access to the audio, that’s because 4shared changed its policy so that now only members can listen to files. Apologies for the inconvenience!]

Booth Brothers Concert: A Prayer Request, an Interview, and a Duet

The full review of the Booth Brothers concert I went to will have to wait for a little while until I get some important schoolwork out of the way. Meanwhile, here are a few things that might interest my readers until then. First, a prayer request for Jim Brady: During the concert, he shared that his dad had been taken to the hospital the night before. He didn’t share many details but simply asked for prayers because things looked uncertain. So keep Jim, his dad, and the rest of the family in your prayers. I got to chat with Jim real briefly at half-time and told him that he had co-written one of my favorite songs of the year (“Stand Among the Millions”). He said that he believed that might be the next radio single for Brian Free & Assurance. If he’s right, I hope it’s a hit. In Jim’s words, Brian really “tears it up.”

Second, I caught up with Ronnie Booth at half-time and asked him what his favorite song on the new project was. He said it was “Masterpiece of Mercy.” I asked him to share a bit about why, and here’s his response:

Ronnie: Well, I mean, I can see the work of grace has been done in my own life and how I’ve changed over the years, and more and more wanting to become like the Lord Jesus, through his word. Musically speaking, it’s one of my favorite styles to sing. It was so melodic—Jim and Rodney Griffin wrote that.

Me: It’s right in your sweet spot.

Ronnie: Very, very much. And it really showcases the harmony of the group.

Me: Yeah, and I love it at the end on that last note when Michael is just floating up there above you like he does… it’s just beautiful.

Ronnie: I think I floated, but I didn’t get quite to my pitch… but I eventually got there. [Laughs]

We then talked a bit about how Ronnie and Michael’s voices actually resemble each other a lot despite the fact that they have different timbres. Ronnie is a sweet guy and it was a pleasure to meet him. There was also a funny moment before I got a chance to speak with him when another lady in line was asking questions about the Jubilee projects. She wasn’t quite sure what she was looking for but knew she was interested in one of those collaborations. I thought I heard her mention that she was looking for a DVD, so I said “Well here’s their latest one” and picked up the Jubilee 2 DVD which happened to be in the rack right next to us. Ronnie flashed me a grin and said “I’m glad you’re here.” He was obviously very occupied with the various people trying to talk to him and asking for autographs, so he probably appreciated the help. 🙂

And finally, I had the wonderful opportunity to connect with Michael Booth both at half-time and after the concert. At half-time, I nervously began to introduce myself, saying he might have seen me around the blogosphere… Before I could finish, he started to say “Are you yankeegospelgirl? I saw on your blog that you were coming tonight and I was hoping to meet you!” You can imagine my surprise at this point as I blurted out, “Really? You wanted to meet m-m-m-me?” He said “Yes, I did.” I asked him if he’d read anything I’d written about their stuff, and he said he had and really appreciated it. Then he leaned over very seriously and said, “Listen, you bloggers  are really important. You carry just as much responsibility as we do.” He said “I want you to know that it’s okay to be direct, just as long as you do it with grace. And I think you’re doing that. You’re doing a good job.” That meant a lot to me, and I thanked him very earnestly. I wanted to put that into a blog post here as a reminder to my other fellow bloggers, that we do indeed carry a responsibility. People are coming and reading what we say, and if we don’t reflect Christ, we’re not being a good witness. As Michael said, that doesn’t mean we should feel constrained from sharing honest opinions, but if we do so with intent to be constructive, I think we’re doing the right thing.

After the concert, we were able to link up again mostly by chance (long story), and I surprised him by asking if he could sing a little duet with me. I did this with Ernie Haase when I saw Signature Sound in concert earlier this year, so I’m starting to rack up a small collection. I actually would have been content to do it with any of the Brothers, but it was extra special to do it with Michael. We were standing in the empty auditorium with loud music playing over the speakers, so I said, “Let’s not do it here.” We walked out to the lobby, and he had us stop in a corner so that the people milling about out there wouldn’t mob him. We sang “It is Well With My Soul.” Despite the background noise, it came out very clear and very simple. As far as I can tell, we were on pitch the whole time. Later I felt really, really bad about putting him on the spot and risking his being mobbed by fans, but I think he was able to retreat safely after we finished. 😀

After we sang, we had a few more parting words, and it came out that he didn’t really botch his lyrics on “Welcome to the Family” at NQC. He did it on purpose to give the audience a lift. Typical Michael. He had me fooled. 😀 But when I asked him if the Four Great Cathedrals story was true, he said it was absolutely true. He knew he was going to fail the test anyway, so he figured he might as well make it a little fun for himself. Again, typical Michael. I was grateful for the small amount of time I got to spend with him and hope we can meet again one day. He’s a southern gospel treasure, and if he’s reading this I want to thank him from the bottom of my heart—for making the concert a great experience and for making time for me in particular. I don’t take it lightly. I don’t take it lightly at all.

Coming Up… a Movie and a Concert

This Friday I’m planning to go see the Kendrick brothers’ latest movie, which some of you may already have heard of. It’s called Courageous, and much like Fireproof it explores the real-life tensions of first responders and their families. Last time it was firemen and marriage, this time it’s policemen and fatherhood. Inventive? Maybe not, but I can’t fault the Kendricks for using a formula that works well and that they’re familiar with. Here is a clip from the film, in which a character confesses a secret from his past, and the gospel is clearly presented to him. As the Church is corrupted, the gospel is watered down to the point where it’s treated as something dispensable. It’s refreshing to see people who are still willing to present it directly and unvarnished. (Note: This clip does contain a plot spoiler, so if you really want to be surprised, wait and see the movie.)

Now to get technical: Critics of the Kendricks’ movies, and of the Christian film genre in general, have made some fair points. Script, acting, and directing in Christian films virtually never matches the best that the mainstream has to offer. But what I like about the Kendrick brothers is that they’ve never pretended to be the Nolan brothers. They’re under no illusions about the greatness of what they create. Instead, they understand their limits and work within those limits to be the best at what they can do, and that’s making engaging, wholesome, family films that will present the gospel while presenting a good story at the same time. I know what a great movie looks like. I can tell when a piece of directing or a piece of acting rises above merely being good to sheer brilliance. But that doesn’t keep me from not merely enjoying, but appreciating what the Kendricks have to offer. In this way, I hope that I can walk a middle road between the Christians who consider themselves too sophisticated to enjoy anything the Christian film world provides and the Christians who insist those are the only movies that are any good. So I can marvel at the dazzling brilliance of a Christopher Nolan film on one day and eagerly look forward to a piece of evangelical movie-making on the next, intending to enjoy them equally. (However, I should probably add that I am far less forgiving in the realm of novels. Literature is a wholly different world from cinema.) Having seen all of the Kendricks’ previous movies, I truly can’t wait to see how they’ve grown in their craft. Because of the multiple stories Courageous tells, it’s more detailed than anything they’ve done so far, and if the preview clips I’ve seen are any indication, it’s their most mature work yet. I will see if I can offer some thoughts on the blog after watching it.

Now, for the second thing that’s coming up: A Booth Brothers concert on Saturday! Though I anticipate few surprises in the set list, I’m eagerly looking forward to watching these guys live and in the flesh, and hopefully getting to meet them in person. I’m particularly looking forward to shaking Michael Booth’s hand, which I’ve wanted to do for a while. I mean who doesn’t love Michael Booth? Review and possibly some pictures to follow.

CD Review: Let It Be Known, by the Booth Brothers

Within the last few years, the Booth Brothers have sky-rocketed to the top tier of southern gospel music. Though Michael and Ronnie have been at it since they first started out with their dad in 1990 and began steadily building a fan base, the group has enjoyed its greatest popularity in the years since Jim Brady came on board as the third vocalist, bringing his exceptional singing and song-writing talents with him. In the mid-2000s, a string of radio hits like “River Keeps A’Rollin,” “He Saw it All” (their breakthrough hit, penned by Daryl Mosley) and “Welcome to the Family” propelled them forward. And they haven’t looked back.

But recently, Michael Booth decided to take the group in a new direction with the album Declaration. Though their trademark smooth, pleasing harmonies remained constant, the song selection was a dramatic departure from their usual country/gospel fare. Suddenly, they were covering Steve Green, the Gettys, and Sovereign Grace. Michael explained that it was part of his new vision to communicate as much scriptural truth as possible through each song they selected. Of course, the group had plenty of biblical songs in their repertoire already, but doctrinal content hadn’t always been at the top of the priority list. Declaration announced that things were changing, and critics raved over it. Well, some did anyway. Others dissented that the album’s big, almost theatrical sound was over the top. Although I enjoyed it (even giving it a glowing review of my own at the time),  I also sympathize with the dissenters, perhaps somewhat more now than then since I’ve had time to reflect. It was an exciting experiment, and some of the arrangements worked beautifully, but from the perspective of where the group naturally fits stylistically, the over-arching sound was too heavy for them. Because at the end of the day, they’re still a country/gospel trio, albeit better than most. And when a country/gospel trio tries to “do” an orchestral Broadway sound, it just doesn’t feel natural, just like it wouldn’t feel natural for Alison Krauss to try to “do” Whitney Houston. Still, many people, including me, applauded Michael for being willing to think outside the box in order to choose the best material possible.

For those of us who hoped Michael would be able to maintain his new standards for lyrical excellence in a more musically accessible form, Let It Be Known is the album we’ve been waiting for. Lari Goss is still at the helm, and some trademark “Gossian” orchestration still finds its way into a few cuts, but overall, the epic sweep has been traded for a more familiar, down-to-earth feel. Gone are the five and six-minute monster ballads, replaced by much shorter tracks (of which half are under three minutes). But don’t be fooled. This is not a fluff project, although the brothers do allow themselves to lighten up here and there. The biblical truth these songs contain may be communicated more quietly than before, but it is no less clear or thought-provoking.

1. First John: This brief acapella intro follows in the same vein as the brothers’ take on “The Gospel Song” from Declaration. It’s a simple, lovely setting of 1 John 3:2-3. Very classy. Guys, I know it’s short, but please add this to your concert repertoire. Thank you.

2. See What a Morning: (Watch a live performance here.) The Booth Brothers are the second southern gospel group to cover this Getty/Townend piece. It was first covered in SG by the Irish trio Revelation. The Gettys themselves have two versions of it, one from their debut In Christ Alone and one from the 2nd installment of New Irish Hymns, a collaborative series Kristyn has done with other female Irish singers. I like the version from New Irish Hymns the best of the two (listen here), and it may still remain my favorite version overall. But Lari Goss puts a creative spin on it here that is very refreshing. On reflection, it really isn’t that hard to come up with the reinvented rhythm, but perhaps that’s what makes it so enjoyable. It makes you wish you had thought of it, except you didn’t. It moves much faster than the original, which removes any trace of tedium from the song’s multiple verses. There’s also a very nice extra bridge with a snippet from “Lo, In the Grave.” All-in-all, a lovely cut which would have fit nicely on Declaration as well. The Brothers have taken to opening their concerts with this. It’s a great  way to catch people’s attention from the first note. [Correction: According to Wes Burke’s recent concert review, they actually like to use it for closing the first half.]

3. She Still Remembers Jesus’ Name: (Watch a live performance here.) I wouldn’t have placed this number right after “See, What a Morning,” because the two songs sound so different that the immediate transition feels odd. But this is a very tender story-song about a woman who suffers from Alzheimer’s, yet, as the title says, still remembers Jesus’ name. Though the faces and names of family and friends are alien to her, she knows every word to “Rock of Ages,” and she can still quote John 3:16. There are people who have actually seen this kind of thing happen to real loved ones with Alzheimer’s, and as Michael Booth says when he sets this up in concert, that truly can only be a gift from God. He speaks from personal experience because his grandmother suffered from it shortly before she passed away. I’d like to quote a little from what Michael said in the video I linked to, because he says this so beautifully and well:

When the Bible speaks of the heart, it is speaking of the core of our being, the substance of who we are. And though the mind may be failing, from the depths of who that person is, Jesus is coming from him and out his mouth, when everything else has failed.

The gently soothing country setting is typical Booth Brothers, with a warm lead vocal by Ronnie. However, I have to admit that as much as I enjoy this song, it doesn’t seem to possess the same timeless quality as “Ellsworth,” which deals with the same topic. (And by the way, you can see Michael off to the right in that video, nodding very appreciatively at around 4:51 as Jason Crabb finishes.) That song has a haunting, delicate touch that isn’t quite captured in the same way here. I think it’s partly because while “She Still Remembers” is careful to spell everything out in the lyrics, the greatness of “Ellsworth” lies in what it leaves unsaid. “Ellsworth” provides glimpses and snapshots where “She Remembers” provides methodical narrative. That extra heart-tugging feel seems to be lacking musically as well. But it’s sweet, it’s tasteful, and it’s definitely going to hit home for a lot of people. It’s already circulating on SG radio.

4. He’s So Good To Me: This track is practically over before it’s started, clocking in at just under two minutes. At first I just wrote it off as up-tempo filler, but upon re-listening, I’ve decided that it’s an enjoyable little number. They’re doing all kinds of little things with the harmony to keep it fresh and fun. Of course it isn’t a huge standout, and perhaps a more substantial fast song would have been better, but it’s just fun.

5. When You Bow At Jesus’ Feet: Honestly, this is probably my favorite song on the whole thing. Jim Brady simply doesn’t disappoint, and he has turned in one of his finest pieces yet here. Contrary to what the title might imply, this is not a song about heaven. It’s an invitation to the sinner to come and surrender to Christ: “Grace and mercy now are waiting, when you bow at Jesus’ feet.”  The melody is gorgeous, although I wonder if anybody has noticed how closely the chorus resembles Gordon Mote’s “Wounded Hands.” Not that I’m complaining, it’s just rather striking. Jim takes the lead and sings it flawlessly (of course), and except for a quiet key change half-way through, there really isn’t much musical drama here. There’s no orchestra, no choir, no Moment with a capital “M” when all the stops are being pulled out and everything is ending on a huge note. And I love it. It works, mate. It works.

6. Since Jesus Came: A very cute up-tempo number with a classic jazz feel that strongly recalls a group like the Andrews Sisters. The tongue-twisting lyric combined with the music and the style of the vocals (right down to the “Doo-doo-doo- doos”) all contribute to the resemblance. Compare with a number like “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”

7. Masterpiece of Mercy:  (Watch a live performance here.) Jim Brady and Rodney Griffin teamed up to pen this lovely meditation on grace (first cut by the regrettably short-lived trio Statement of Faith), which uses the common metaphor of God as the artist and the sinner as His masterpiece. I love the progression of key changes in the first verse—one change for each stanza. It goes together with the step-by-step description of the Artist’s work: First, He starts with the “dirty canvas” of a sin-blackened heart. Then, He “turns His light” upon it and begins to wash it clean. And then…

When all the stains were gone, He started painting

With colors that I’d never seen before.

Then with joy He was ready to display me

To show the world what the cross was for.

The chorus describes the canvas as “a holy place” once the Artist has redeemed it, which is a beautiful way to express the imputation of God’s righteousness to a saved sinner. The second verse continues by saying that the Artist is not finished with his masterpiece yet: God will continue to shape and perfect us until He’s ready to take us home. This is a perfect example of a very low-key song that communicates the gospel beautifully and effectively.

8. Let It Be Known: The title track is a solid piece of writing. The 6/8 feel recalls “I See Grace” from Declaration. However, the instrumentation doesn’t have as much of a cinematic sweep. But it’s sure to carry you along just the same. It was crafted by the team of Jim Brady, Barry Weeks and the prolific Sue Smith. No complaints with lyrics or music here. It’s a stirring call for Christians to proclaim the good news of Jesus, set to a great melody, with a great vocal arrangement. One of the best songs on the album. This should go to radio and become a live concert staple.

9. The Master’s Table: This haunting ballad by Rebecca Peck has a bit of a minor feel. I like the gentle use of the electric guitar—it brings an 80s flavor to the mix. Smooth, smooth production and delivery, leaves the listener wanting to come back for more. The one weakness is the line, “We fellowship together” (referring to a person’s meeting with God while studying Scripture). I know, I know, it’s a common bit of “Christian-ese,” but still… Anyway, this really is a very impressive track, definitely a standout.

10. Bread Upon the Water: (Watch a live performance here, together with an acapella hymn medley, which comes first.) This brings back childhood memories of wearing out Mom and Dad’s vinyl Imperials records. I would run around and sing along with all my favorites— “Trumpet of Jesus,” “Old Man’s Rubble,” “First Morning in Heaven,” and many more. This is one such favorite, a classic which never really gets old. The Gaither Vocal Band’s 2006 cover quite honestly didn’t even touch the original, but fortunately this comes closer. It captures much more of the original’s energy and spirit. This is particularly felt in the preservation of the backup echoes on the first verse: “Now don’t you waver (don’t you waver). Keep on living (keep on living),” etc. It may seem like a small detail, but you really miss it on the GVB version. There was no attempt in either cover to duplicate the shredding electric guitar solo we all remember from the original’s musical bridge, but its absence is handled much better on the Booth Brothers’ version. The bit of electric guitar that the GVB did include in the middle was so pathetic that it only served to remind us just how far superior the original was. The Booth Brothers do away with a musical bridge altogether, opting for an immediate key change instead. Smart move. Either do it right, or don’t do it at all. Of course, the Booth Brothers have no Armond Morales, but Jim Brady sings the second verse very well anyway (and showcases an impressive upper range—he actually hits some of the same notes Wes Hampton hits on the GVB cover, bar the very highest, of course). Obviously no cover is ever going to surpass the original, but this is a fun spin on it which should go over well live.

11. What About Now?: This track’s intro alone is about a minute long. It’s a tastefully executed guitar duet, with a folk/classical sound that almost brings to mind Angelo Badalamanti’s haunting soundtrack for The Straight Story (compare with “Rose’s Theme”). In fact, it has such an other-worldly air that when the song itself kicks in, it feels a little awkward. But I like the creativity, and they try to keep the guitar in the forefront for the first part of the song to maintain continuity.

This song was written by Jim Brady, Barry Weeks, and Tony Wood. Past experience has shown that it’s virtually impossible for any two of those writers to put their heads together and not come up with something good, to say nothing of all three working in tandem. It’s pretty clear that Michael specifically requested this one, because it’s basically a Paul Washer sermon condensed and set to music. It challenges the listener to examine his walk with Christ and ask himself what kind of fruit he is bearing here and now, rather than assuming he is saved because he prayed a prayer long ago. I think the message is powerful and convicting. At the same time, this track feels a little off to me, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. I applaud Michael for wanting to convey this message in a song, but lyrically and musically, it comes off a little slow, a little cumbersome. But I’ve got to hand it to the authors: This was probably a doozy to write, so the fact that they pulled it off successfully at all is impressive.

It’s no surprise that Michael takes the feature. What is surprising is that it’s the only full one he gets on the whole album (though he does step-outs on a couple others, most notably “See, What a Morning”). Perhaps in his humility he thought the project would be better if listeners heard more of Jim and Ronnie and less of him, but he turns in a fine, controlled performance here. As for the production, I really like the restrained approach, right up until the surprise key change where the orchestra kicks in. To be honest, I don’t think I really want the orchestra at that point, even though I understand that it’s meant to provide a climax. I thought the song was getting along just fine without it and would have liked to see if they could create a musical high point without falling back on the big drums and strings.

Having said all that, I think this will make for an impressive concert moment. I look forward to watching Michael set it up. Even though it’s not my favorite on the project, it may be the most important, and it could well be the one that impacts the most people.

Outro: The melody of “First John” is simply reprised with “ooooooos” in place of the lyrics, and as others have noted, it’s a neat way to tie the project together and create a unified feel.

Closing thoughts: While grand orchestration can be effective, it doesn’t necessarily do lyrics a service to cover them in layers of production gloss. This project gives its songs room to breathe, and the results are balanced, simple and satisfying. Listeners looking for spiritual nourishment will walk away from this project well filled. My hat is off to Michael for pushing the group to the next level like this, and to Jim Brady and the writers he’s working with. If the Booth Brothers continue to put out projects this strong, they could well become my very favorite artist in the field.

Prime Cuts: “First John,” “See, What a Morning,” “When You Bow at Jesus’ Feet,” “Let it Be Known,” “Masterpiece of Mercy”

Review copy provided.

The Garms Kids interview Michael Booth

I had to put in a plug for this interview because it’s just too darn cute. Michael Booth is interviewed by some of his youngest fans, amidst much hilarity and profound insight! The Garms family promises to be a valuable addition to Their contributions have already been highlights. This interview is probably their best so far. Be sure to watch the whole thing. [Update: The video has been removed from Youtube, so I have removed the embed. However, it can be viewed in high quality at the link above or at the Garms family’s blog.] Here is a transcript:

Jayme: We are at Lakewood Temple, Mainwood, Minnesota.

Sam: Interviewing Mr. Michael Booth of the Booth Brothers.

Caleb: Hey Mr. Booth [couldn’t quite make out the rest of what Caleb said here.]

Michael: I’m happy to be interviewed. Thank you. Thank you. [Channels Elvis.] Thankuvermuch.

Caleb: All right. All three of us have questions for you.

Michael: All right!

Caleb: First: What is your favorite song you’ve ever sung on stage?

Michael: What is my favorite song I’ve ever sung on stage? Uh, believe it or not, probably “His Grace is Sufficient.” Probably “His Grace is Sufficient” is my  favorite song, because I think it covers…I think it covers everybody’s need at the same time.

Caleb: Oh thank you.

Michael: You’re welcome. You’re welcome.

Jayme: What was it like singing on the NQC stage for the first time?

Michael: It, it was a lot of fun but it was, I learned that it was hard to sing if you can’t breathe. Because I was so nervous and overwhelmed. I’m thinking, “Wow this is the same stage that George Younce was on and the Happy Goodmans and the Kingsmen and all that, so I was very much overwhelmed. But I’ll say it went quick because our first couple years at the quartet convention we had eleven minutes to sing. And also we lost Horizon Group three times. That’s the limit. [Laughter]

Sam: Mr. Booth.

Michael: Yeah!

Sam: How do you prepare yourself for a concert spiritually and mentally?

Michael: How do I prepare myself spiritually and mentally for a concert? I was asked this last night by an evangelist. It’s, the best way to answer is it’s a lifestyle. It’s not something you do one day or just a few minutes before you go on stage and sing. It’s a lifestyle. And honestly a gospel singer’s lifestyle should be no different than any other Christian’s lifestyle. So basically my job is not to grieve the Holy Spirit so that he can work through me when we’re singing. And I do a lot of reading. Read the Bible, read some other writers: John Piper, John MacArthur, R. C. Sproul, David Jeremiah, Charles Stanley, you know on and on and on, you know, lot of reading. And I watch, believe it or not I watch a lot of sermons on Youtube. I think that’s a very, very valuable thing if a person can handle going on there. That helps me a lot.

Sam: All right. Interesting!

Caleb: Here’s another question. You’ve recently become very involved as a preacher. And you’ve been excelling at presenting a clear gospel message. This has been greatly appreciated by our family and many others. Now tell us, who has influenced you most in this area?

Michael: Thank you. Who influenced me the most? That’s a huge question…um, how much tape you got there?

Dad: Plenty. [Laughter]

Michael: Long story short is a friend of mine of the family’s, his name is Darrel Toney, from the Toney family, Toney Brothers, he you know in a very loving, compassionate way gave me a good godly rebuke, if you will, of my, what he recognized as my ignorance of the Scripture. Because he could tell one night I might make a point but next night I wouldn’t. And it was hit and miss and very inconsistent on the platform. So when I realized and I was convicted over that, it didn’t make me angry, it didn’t hurt, and I realized I had to do something about it. So I started studying, studying the Scripture, and I started with the gospels. Well one day I typed in “preacher,” and somehow on Youtube it came up with a guy by the name of Paul Washer and a sermon called “The Shocking Message” came up. And it stunned me, absolutely stunned me. And it’s the same message now that I present of making sure that our salvation is in faith in Christ and not in a prayer that we prayed, basically. And so you know there’s confession and repentance, and all those things are involved, but it’s not just walking in and out. So a lot of his preaching influenced me, and then as I studied, it’s an amazing thing how the Spirit brings back words that I heard from former messages from my former pastor Ledoux Strong, out of Brandon Fellowship Baptist Church, and David Rakes from First Baptist Temple, Parrish, Florida, and on and on and on, Gene Sorenson, and my current pastor Mike Stalnaker. So when you read the word and you’ve heard the word, the Spirit puts it together and just seals it in your mind. So that’s kind of how all that came about. So now we just feel… [camera shifts over to the kids, Michael moves in front of them] Now we just…over here. I’m right here. [Laughter] Sorry. Now we just feel it’s a great opportunity every night to take 10, literally 10 minutes and present a clear presentation of the gospel, ‘cuz we don’t know if everybody’s, everybody’s born again. And I think it’s, I’ve enjoyed doing that.

Caleb: Wow. I’ll take that to heart.

Michael: Thank you.

Jayme: You have been involved in the southern gospel music industry for over 20 years [Michael looks sad], traveled countless miles, met lots of people and visited many different places. Looking back, if you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?

Michael: I know exactly what I would do differently: I would enjoy things more. Specifically when we were singing to 20 or 30 people. Because now I realize I’ve learned to enjoy myself by being fulfilled in being effective, and not because of the size of the audience. Let me say that again: Learn to be content. I wish I had been content and enjoyed singing to 30 people because I’m being effective for the kingdom, not because of the size of the crowd. Because I had a huge awakening, if you will, one time when we were with the Gaithers and I was sitting between Guy Penrod and Jake Hess, and there were 15,000 people, literally, out in front of me. And I thought, “This is it. This is the biggest Christian tour, biggest crowd I’m ever gonna sing to. It doesn’t get any bigger than this.” And it was one of the lowest points of my life, because I realized I had…I tried to find joy in being part of a big thing, not in part of a big message. So, I thank God for delivering me from that. So those of you who are singing to 20 and 30 people, you’re still representing the King of kings and Lord of lords. It doesn’t get any bigger than that. Nothing is bigger than you singing about Christ.

Sam: All right. When you sang here at Lakewood Temple last year, you mentioned from the stage that you have chosen not to watch television on the bus. This spoke volumes to our family, for we also do not watch TV. Would you explain how and why you came to this decision?

Michael: Did I say that?? [Laughter] What is critically important is what goes into our mind. And in our society today it’s very easy for one TV show to turn into two, to turn into three, to turn into six hours. And the next thing you know, you’ve got six hours of who knows what influencing your mind. What is most important is that even if you’re going to watch television, you’ve got to offset the junk that has gone in. Junk in, junk out. So good in, good out…I think a person’s gotta know when they’re caught up into something. And bottom line, if you find yourself caught up in something, you gotta try to break away from it. So that’s what I tried to do, is just break away from it. And rather than spend time watching TV, either listening to sermons, even playing games, giving your mind a break. Anyway, just fill in the blank, you say the rest.

Off-the-wall questions…

Caleb: [Pulls question off the wall.] First off-the-wall question.

Michael: The first off-the-wall question.

Caleb: Here is mine. Just wanted to know what was your first impression of Scott Fowler? How did you meet?

Michael: Oh! My first impression of Scott Fowler was [looks down] “Well, he’s a little guy.” [Laughter.] “Thought he was bigger on stage.” No, honestly, Scott Fowler is one of my dearest friends. And I’ve always had a love for simple people [laughter]. I just, no, Scott’s one of my best friends. We go to Cracker Barrel all the time. I did find out this: When the check is put on the table, don’t go “I’ll get that,” because he’ll say, “Okay.” And then you end up paying for it. He don’t ever pay for nothing. Matter of fact, at quartet convention this year, he went all six days without buying lunch one time. Yeah. He manipulates people, he does. That’s what I think of Scott. [Laughter]

Jayme: Here’s the second off-the-wall question [goes and pulls it off…] Are there any questions you have never been asked but are dying to  answer?

Michael: Wow. Yes, October 8th is my birthday. What would I like for a gift? [Laughter] You know what, just send a Visa gift card. That would be fine, and then I can just, you know, pray about it and get whatever I need at the time. That would be, that’s something I’ve never been asked. Anybody like to ask me? What would you like for your birthday? Visa gift card.

Jayme: Interesting.

Michael: Your turn? [Hands mic to Sam.]

Sam: As for the third and final off-the-wall question…which is, what is the most unusual thing that has happened at a concert?

Michael: [Laughs] Um, one time I was singing and Scott Fowler was there. [Laughter] I’m kidding. Most unusual that’s ever happened at a concert… Well I don’t know how to des…no, I can’t, I can’t tell that one. [Laughter.] Um, wow, see there are a lot of things that have happened. I’m just trying to think which one I can put on the internet. I’m drawing a blank man, there’ve been…I remember one time the electricity went out. So we’re a track group and all the tracks are gone. So we do what we can and we start singing acapella. And an old guy, I’m guessing 80, 90, 400 years old, whatever it was, old guy…he stood up several rows back and he said, “That, that’s good singing right there! You don’t need all that RACKET!” That’s a true story, true story. That’s one thing that happened, and there have been a lot of things happened to me. Get back to me on that one and I’ll try to think of ’em, bring ’em to memory. Some of them I’ve sponged from my memory.

Li’l Adventurers Together: This is Sam, Jayme, and Caleb Garms. Reporting for southerngospelblog. Dot com. Bye!


Thanks kids for giving me some more great reminders of why I like Michael Booth so much. Keep the great interviews coming!