Thoughts On Brian Free, Facebook, and Toilet Paper

A short while back, Brian Free posted the following on Assurance’s facebook page:

Many of you told me to let you know when we were getting low on supplies on the bus, well we are getting low. You will never know how much we appreciate you keeping us in your thoughts and prayers. I’ll list the things we need in one minute…

(Next post)

Paper towels, RV toilet paper, PAPER plates, Plastic cups, Paper bowls, 9 volt batteries (Duracell or Energizer), AA batteries, AAA batteries and anything else you would like to bring. I can’t thank you enough, you are supporting us more than you know. Love you ALL! Brian

Well. That got people riled up. We had the trolls on Avery chortling to high heaven. “Ah yes, the prima donna artist bilking his adoring fans for toilet paper. How quaint. How droll.” Though not quite in those terms, but you get the gist. As far as they’re concerned, the emoticon says it all…

Then we had some smoother sneering. Though it was still sneering, and frankly if this guy is a former Cathedral as he claims in the comments thread there, I’ve got a little less respect for whoever that former Cathedral may be. (Though since it’s come out now that it’s a group deal, I don’t know what else, if anything, he’s contributed to the blog. [EDIT: And, it has been brought to my attention that when he said “working with the Cathedrals,” he actually most likely did not mean to convey that he actually sang as a member of the group, but worked with them in another group. My apologies to any former Cathedral who may be reading this. I guess it’s possible that you happen to agree with AAP, but you probably didn’t write it. I hope you understand it was an honest mistake.]) Anyway, whoever he actually is, I don’t particularly care if he thought he was doing Brian a favor. He’s not. It basically boiled down to, “Well, Brian’s a good chap, but this is rather embarrassing, don’t you know?”

No, I don’t know. Explain to me again just what is supposed to be so embarrassing about somebody who runs a music ministry telling fans, many of whom have asked how they can help… how they can help? I thought the most classless bit of AAP’s critique was when he said he doesn’t “fall for” the “many have asked” part. So let me try to get this straight: You “like Brian and think he’s a good guy,” except of course you think he’s a liar? I also found this bit unintentionally humorous in a comment: “Seriously, if you want to make any singer happy, they will smile a lot bigger if they had a Applebee’s (etc) gift card as opposed to a roll of toilet paper.” Except Brian is a singer, and he’s already told us what he really wants. Oops. And as for the people arguing “Well look at their nice bus, look at his nice house, he should sacrifice himself instead of twisting the arms of people who may have less than he does…” give me a break. Number one, Brian’s personal bank account is one thing and the group’s account is another. He probably has a mortgage on that nice house. You think he could afford to support the group single-handedly out of his own pocket? And number two, he’s not twisting anybody’s arm. People can freely choose to give or not. Some people are thrilled to do so. Some people choose to let others do it. It’s up to them. Nobody’s being forced to do anything here. Also, people are saying it’s cheesy to ask for specific items, but would they rather he asked for money instead? Then they’d be complaining that was tacky because fans would just be donating with no idea where the money goes. So the truth is it’s a lose-lose.

This is my best shot at trying to understand where AAP and the rest who agree with him are coming from: Brian Free is a businessman running a business. His group sells product, fans pay. Whatever needs they have should be paid for by the business they do. So asking fans for supplies is  un-businesslike and hence tacky and unprofessional.

But here’s the thing: Brian’s not just running a business. He’s running a ministry. And so is every artist in the industry. They’re preaching the gospel through song. That’s a form of ministry. And many groups (including Brian Free and Assurance, I might add) choose not even to charge per ticket for many of their concerts. As a result, there is a natural desire from friends of the ministry to want to be involved in supporting it. The people who have asked Brian how they can help made the offer in friendship, and he is responding in friendship. It’s not merely a provider/consumer relationship, and that’s what makes southern gospel unique and special. I know some people think that’s the reason southern gospel is dying, but I submit that it would die a different kind of death if they had their way.

There you have my two cents. For what they are worth.


Tim Duncan Appears With Mercy’s Mark

While browsing through Brian Free & Assurance’s facebook photos, I found a concert where they were joined by the temporarily resurrected Mercy’s Mark. To my surprise, I saw another familiar face on stage too—Tim Duncan! Here’s a shot of Tim and Jeremy Lile sharing a mike. (The whole photo album is great. Of COURSE Brian and Jay had to duke it out on “Looking For a City,” and it yielded some priceless shots. My favorite is this one of Jay stealing the show while Brian and Bill are flabbergasted in the background.)

CD Review: A Season to Remember—Their Greatest Hits, by Brian Free & Assurance

Brian Free & Assurance has built an impressive track record of consistency and excellence in the southern gospel world. Though they have taken some stylistic liberties to appeal to a wider audience, many southern gospel fans have embraced their music through the years. One of their signature traits is strong song selection. Brian Free is very adept at picking songs that say something, and say it well. They have also cultivated a tight, quality sound, defined by Brian’s unmistakable tenor and held together by Bill Shivers’ powerful lead vocals.

This greatest hits collection draws from over a decade of ministry, and it’s hard to argue with the selection. No-brainers here include “Long as I Got King Jesus,” “For God So Loved,” and recent smash hit “Never Walk Alone.” However, die-hard fans will notice the absence of any cuts from their beginning years as a trio, when the lineup was Brian Free, Kevin Smith and Mike Lefevre. It would have been a nice touch to include songs like “Stand Up For What I Stand For” and “He Thought of Me,” even though they come from before the group really took off as a quartet. As it stands, recent projects like Worth It, Real Faith and It’s So God make up the bulk of this collection. Fortunately, there are some older gems in the mix as well, such as “Mary Knew” and “There Will Come a Day” (which is placed effectively at the end of the disc).

With room for only fourteen songs, I naturally have many favorites (e.g. “Man of Sorrows,” “Goodness and Mercy,” “There is a Kingdom Coming”) that didn’t make the cut, most likely because they weren’t hits. Which is understandable. Still, a few omissions did leave me scratching my head. Where, for example, is Jeremy Lile’s signature song “Save Me a Seat at the Table?” Or “Jesus Will Pick You Up?” Or “Coming of the King?” I also find it interesting that the title track of Real Faith didn’t make it, as well as “Only God Knows” (though I’m probably okay without the latter, even though I love the message). It seems as though something like “Healed” could have been dropped for one of those songs.

But I repeat: There is a lot of great stuff here. As I look over the list, there are maybe two or three songs I’d skip over, at the most. “You Must Have Met Him” is probably the project’s weakest moment, even though I understand its inclusion as a hit. The aforementioned “Healed” is nice but never clicked all the way with me. “I Believe God” is solid, and again, an understandable pick, but could have been replaced with something even better. But those are minor gripes with what is, on the whole, a very consistent listen. Personal favorites that did make the cut include “I Am Redeemed,” “Greater Still,” and “Die Another Day.” As has already been noted, fans will likely have all the songs anyway, but this would make a fantastic gift for friends who haven’t been introduced to the group—or southern gospel music for that matter. In fact, I would encourage listeners to give this one a try even if they don’t normally listen to southern gospel. The core southern gospel sound is definitely there, but you can also hear shades of black gospel and contemporary pop. Newcomers may just discover that southern gospel music can be a lot more interesting than they thought.

Track listing:

  1. Long As I’ve Got King Jesus
  2. For God So Loved
  3. Praying Man
  4. If It Takes A Valley
  5. Never Walk Alone
  6. Die Another Day
  7. You Must Have Met Him
  8. I Am Redeemed
  9. Greater Still
  10. Mary Knew
  11. Healed
  12. I Believe God
  13. It’s All About The Blood
  14. There’ll Come A Day

Southern Gospel for Kids

David Bruce Murray recently noted a case where a popular group outside of southern gospel (Denver and the Mile High) included a southern gospel song (Brian Free & Assurance’s “Prayin’ Man”) on a record targeted to kids. It got me to thinking about a playlist I’ve collected in iTunes of southern gospel songs that may not have been written specifically with kids in mind, yet would be perfect for that kindergarten to elementary school age bracket. Many southern gospel songs retell Bible stories or quote directly from Scripture. It can be a fun and engaging way for young kids to learn about the Word. Here are some of the songs in my list:

Glory to God in the Highest (Signature Sound)
Noah Found Grace (Statler Brothers)
Hey Jonah (Triumphant Quartet)
I Won’t Look At the Lions (Ernie Haase solo)
New Shoes (Booth Brothers)
Bottom of the Barrel (Collingsworth Family)
God Delivers Again (Cathedrals/Signature Sound)
Never Give Up, Never Give In (Signature Sound)

Can you come up with more young-kid-friendly SG Scripture songs, or just young-kid-friendly SG songs, period?

A Hymn Bridge Done Right: “Greater Still”

Some people think it’s “cheating” for a songwriter to make use of a hymn for the bridge of his song. The idea is that the song needs to be good enough to stand on its own, and falling back on a hymn to carry it at the climactic point is like using a crutch. I can see both sides to the debate. On the one hand, it is a slight disappointment when a writer doesn’t put in the effort to come up with a new thought of his own and instead “plays it safe.” On the other hand, there’s an evil part of me that says, “Hey, maybe he would have come up with something dreadful and ruined the song anyway, so perhaps it’s just as well that he let Charles Wesley handle it.”

All kidding aside, I guess I’m just more relaxed than some about hymn bridges. And sometimes it just works, mate. Case in point, the title track of Brian Free & Assurance’s album Greater Still. The piano begins with a suggestion of the melody for “Grace Greater Than Our Sin” and then launches into the intro for the song, which has Assurance’s signature “swing.” Another musical hint is dropped in the chorus on the phrase “God’s grace.” For the bridge, they finally go all the way and sing most of the chorus of “Grace Greater Than Our Sin,” syncopating the rhythm just slightly so that it fits with the rest of the song. They dive right back into the song chorus instead of singing the last line of the hymn chorus, after which the piano once more echoes the hymn melody to finish it off. It’s all done so tastefully and cohesively that the listener never once feels like the hymn has been awkwardly shoe-horned in just because everybody ran out of ideas. It’s woven into the fabric of the song as opposed to being tacked on.

Oh, I forgot to add that it has Tony Wood’s name on it, and I recently learned that Wayne Haun produced it. Which explains everything, of course.

Coming of the King: I’m ready!

On this, the one-month anniversary of “Camping’s flop,” I felt it would be appropriate to reflect on the Second Coming and have some gospel music fun at the same time. I first got hooked on the song “Coming of the King” when I listened to Beyond the Ashes’ cover of it on their latest project. Then I went and found the original Brian Free & Assurance version of it and got even more hooked, if it was possible at that point. Written by the dynamic duo of Wayne Haun and Joel Lindsey, it somehow manages to feel both old and new. I present both versions for your enjoyment. Which do you like better?



I think they’re both great fun to listen to and watch, although BFA’s live band ups the watching experience a couple extra notches! One thing I really like about Beyond the Ashes’ cover is that they have a big sound for a trio. When I discussed quartets versus trios a while back, I was talking about how often a trio will adapt a quartet song to the fact that they can’t create as big a sound as a quartet. But these guys can blow the roof off with just their three voices. They go straight for the jugular of a song. At the same time, they throw in a lot of soulful little improvs and slides and things. The lead singer reminds me a lot of Marshall Hall. I think the “soul sound” sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, but it works here.

Having said all that, Brian Free and the guys clearly have the better version. They are simply unbeatable. Even aside from the great bass work and the extra full sound, Bill Shivers’ D5 (?) on that bridge makes this version definitive all by itself. Seriously, dude… awesome! On a side note, I can’t resist pointing out the moment around 2:43 when the guys are huddling and Brian stands on his tiptoes. Love it.