Rare Old Dove Awards Footage: Bill Gaither, Mark Lowry, Twila Paris, Vestal Goodman, 4Him, and Many More…

Well, it’s that time of year again. This week, the GMA will supposedly recognize the brightest and best in Christian music (tee-hee!) At this point I am unsure whether the mediocrity of the Dove Awards is due to the fact that a lot of talent is being ignored, or whether there just aren’t that many good artists anymore. I think it’s some of each.

As you can probably guess, I am hardly on the edge of my seat in anticipation of this year’s installment of said awards show. But perhaps my readers would like to take a little journey back in time with me… say, to the mid-90s. Aaaaaaah, the mid-90s. Excuse me while I get a little misty-eyed. You see, the 90s hold some of my first musical memories. This is the stuff I grew up on. This is the stuff my radio used to play. And best of all, it was a time when the worlds of CCM and gospel were much closer than they are today.

So, I present two videos which aren’t the best in quality, but nevertheless are priceless little time capsules of this golden age in Christian music. First, we’ll send our Delorean back to 1994 and watch a little montage of presentations and interviews, in which Twila Paris interviews Vestal Goodman on the 25th Anniversary of her win of the first ever Female Vocalist Award, Steven Curtis Chapman wins Long Form Music Video for his classic concert The Live Adventure, the Mark Lowry Vocal Band wins Southern Gospel song of the year, and more:

And this is the opening of the 1995 show, in which Mark Lowry gets himself disinvited from co-hosting with Bill Gaither, after which 4Him comes out for a slightly pitchy but infectious rendition of their latest hit as of 1995, “Real Thing.” Unfortunately the video is a little choppy on this one, though the audio is constant. Be sure to stick around for the announcer’s reel of featured artists for the evening at the end—if watching the videos hasn’t already brought back a ton of memories for you, just seeing all those names read off in a list is sure to do the trick.


Christmas Favorites #4: The Season of Love, by 4Him

I know the twelve days of Christmas officially are about to end, but I’ll try to get up to five before the week is out so I can’t say this year’s installment of the series was a total flop.

We’re moving right along with the one and only Christmas album by one of my favorite groups: 4Him. I didn’t enjoy everything 4Him put out, and I only really enjoyed about half the group’s voices individually, but dang, they had a great sound all together, and they did have some terrific songs. I want to thank my friend Wes Burke for putting me on to this Christmas project. “I’m telling you, their Christmas album is pure gold,” he whispered in my ear. (Well, not exactly… it was in an e-mail, but you get the idea.)

The Star On Top: Without question, the star on top has to be “Strange Way to Save the World.” Yes, the lyrics are somewhat confused because they don’t convey Joseph’s Jewish perspective on the Nativity very accurately (see this post for further details), but the music is so beautifully written and the song so touchingly delivered that it’s rightfully considered a Christmas classic. It’s definitely my favorite Mark Harris feature. It has been covered by many artists, including several within southern gospel.

Golden Rings:

“Little Drummer Boy”I’ve already put a rendition of this carol into the “golden rings” section for another album (Buddy Greene’s). I really think it’s hard to go wrong with it. Andy Chrisman takes the lead on a crisp, clean rendition. It starts off with percussion only but swiftly segues into some classic synthesized 80s grooviness, a sound that delightfully pervades the entire album (being that the 90s hadn’t had enough time to recover from the 80s when it was released). Signature 4Him.

“White Christmas” — This is a fresh twist on the familiar carol. Mark Harris starts off crooning at a jazzy pace, but after the first verse, Andy takes over and the harmonies just explode in a doo-wop kind of style that takes things to a whole new level. Watch a live performance here (filmed some years later when they had better haircuts). [Edit: The link is broken and has been removed.]

“A Night to Remember” — Just a great 80s sound on this one, saxophone and all. Mark Harris takes the lead on it. Like all the 4Him guys, he was really in his vocal prime right around this time period. There’s just a little extra tone in his voice that he doesn’t quite have anymore. This original tune is a blast to listen to, and it moves surprisingly into a little “O Holy Night” part-way through (the lead shifting momentarily to Chrisman). I never thought “O Holy Night” could sound good with a jazzy saxophone, but the little snippet of it that they worked in amazingly does here.

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” I’ve always thought this carol was a little boring. Plus, it doesn’t really make sense. But the 4Him guys absolutely light it up. Seriously, this arrangement takes off like Marty McFly on his skateboard and doesn’t let up. It builds up to an almost black gospel breakdown. The backup harmonies are fantastic, and Marty Magehee really does a great job taking the lead. Even though he’s the member whose voice fits least comfortably in my ear, he always had a lot of natural talent, and he was surprisingly able with this sort of number.

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” — Much like “White Christmas,” this is a doo-wop twist on an old favorite. It starts out with traditional acapella, but the melody is quickly syncopated, to pretty funky but cool effect. It may not be my favorite version of this carol, but it’s different and, like most of the album, fun to listen to.

Stocking Stuffer:

“In Your Care” — Andy Chrisman could sometimes be a little rough on his voice, but on this album he showed how good he was at singing ultra-sweet and ultra-clear. This song is a prime example of that. It’s sort of been lost in the shadow of “Strange Way to Save the World,” but I would argue it’s very nearly just as good. It’s beautifully written from the perspective of Jesus:

Sleep, Mary, sleep. I will be there soon
Entering earth through your precious womb
My child, oh my mother of earth
Give me the gift of birth…

The second verse is spoken to Israel, praying they will know He is their King (of course they wouldn’t). The recurring theme is that Jesus was entrusted to ordinary, earthly people who made the choice to either embrace him or crucify him. The idea comes full circle at the end when Jesus turns it around and tells Mary “You’ll be in my care.” She was both child and mother, both protector and protected. I think the one misstep in this song is the repeated use of the phrase “Please be aware.” Awkward. But other than that, very nice.

Stale cookies: A jazzy carol mash-up including “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” “Away in the Manger” and “Silent Night” simply fails to inspire in any way. And the opening title track would be virtually intolerable were it not for the smart harmonies which kick in around the bridge to rescue it from being…

The Coal in the Bottom: “Hold On to Christmas.” Think “The Christmas Song,” except even sappier.

This project was released right around the same time as albums like Face the Nation and The Basics of Life. If you’re like me and that’s your favorite era of 4Him, you will greatly enjoy the sound of this CD. It embodies everything awesome and cheesy about that barely-out-of-the-80s-90s-sound that we all love, even if we don’t always want to admit it.

I’m Dreamin’ Of A…

Well, it’s looking like there will be no snow for me this Christmas. There’s been a little snow this season, but it melted away and we’ve had weeks of cold, rainy weather without another flake.

You see, I live in the Midwest, and in this part of the country, a green Christmas and a white Easter is no joke. It’s actually happened. Spring and fall are practically non-existent. The cold season lasts forever, then pretty much melts into summer, which lasts forever until it turns into winter. But “winter” could mean just weeks of really cold weather with no snow, until it really gets rolling around January and doesn’t stop until May or so.

So dream with me…

My Take on “Breath of Heaven,” Testing a Blue Yeti

I recently got a Blue Yeti microphone. I’m very, very happy with the sound. I decided to record myself singing “Breath of Heaven” with it. But because I’m a perfectionist, it took me a while to get something I really liked. I’m still not totally happy with the end result, but it will have to do. I was singing through a lot of junk in my throat when I recorded this (getting over that cold), so bear in mind it isn’t me at my best. 😉 Still, it’s a nice take, and one of my favorite songs to sing. I enjoy putting my style to it. I hear a lot of people singing it in an incredibly breathy style. Even Grant’s original is very breathy (though far from the worst I’ve heard). But I think it’s a lot more effective when sung cleanly and directly. Besides, I can’t really do the breathy thing anyway—just can’t wrap my voice around it. Which is just as well, I think. Anyway, enjoy, and don’t be shy about commenting. This was a single take with no pitch correction (and yes, I’m afraid there’s a spot or two where you can tell). In case anyone’s curious, I’ve had a little bit of voice training this fall, but beyond that nothing formal.

New (Instrumental) Music From Michael W. Smith

The other day I was browsing some Twila Paris music, and noticed an unfamiliar album cover over in Michael W. Smith’s “related artists” spot. (Yes, I’m one of those geeky people who absorbs useless information like album covers as though I were a sponge.) Turns out that the sequel to his acclaimed instrumental project Freedom is releasing TODAY. It’s called Glory.

I would have known that it was awesomely awesome without hearing samples, but the samples confirmed what I already knew sound unheard. I then discovered all the tracks in full on Youtube. Here is a sampler, with comments from Michael on each song in subtitles:

I’m tempted not to re-write them here so I can force you to listen to all the music in the video if you want to read them, but since the way it’s formatted really is kind of annoying, I’ll go ahead and type them out.

1. Glory Overture

“This is in many ways a tribute to my favorite soundtrack composer John Williams (Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark). It’s a fun, big piece of music that takes some adventurous left turns and then goes back to the main melodic theme. It’s the right way to set the stage for this album and the orchestra sounds fabulous.”

2. The Patriot

“This one feels very patriotic, very Americana to me. I wrote it as a tribute to the Armed Services of our country and can picture it being played at a military ceremony. I’ve already started playing this at concerts with my band; we have to retool it of course, without the London Session Orchestra, which adds so much to this version on Glory.”

3. Heroes

“While ‘The Patriot’ is an upbeat rendering of the American spirit, ‘Heroes’ is a more somber counterpart. There’s a hint of sadness to the melody that feels as though someone has lost their life to defend our lives.”

4. Forever

“I’ve had this song for quite some time; my friend Wes King has even written a lyric for it, but it stands here as an instrumental. It seems to be everybody’s favorite song in my world right now, especially for my two daughters who still live at home. I had a hard time naming this one but decided to call it ‘Forever’ with my wife, Debbie, in mind. It’s for her.”

5. The Blessing

“I helped write a book that came out earlier this year called A Simple Blessing. This song is sort of a musical expression of that; people have said it reminds them of personal blessings they have experienced and evokes a feeling of thanksgiving.  This to me feels like music that just washes over you in a majestic, spiritual sort of way. I hope it’s a blessing to you.”

6. Whitaker’s Wonder

“There’s a childlike feel to the music which inspired me to name it after my grandson, who is named after me. The name Whitaker goes way back in my family.”

7. Joy Follows Sorrow

“The next four songs are important in terms of sequence; they go together and have intentional spiritual thread running through them. There’s an air of sadness to ‘Joy Follows Sorrow’ — it’s a reflection on the life of Jesus and Him knowing what He would go through on earth.”

8. Glory Battle

“There’s an intense feel to this piece that is meant to represent spiritual warfare — there’s a fight happening here between good and evil, and so the arrangement here becomes pretty massive. I tend to think of soundtracks when writing this type of music, so stylistically, I was imagining Gladiator meets Braveheart.”

9. Atonement

“This piece is representative of the death of Christ. It goes to a minor key to reflect His sacrifice, and the music brightens to signify a breakthrough, that death has been conquered.”

10. Redemption

“I wanted this to feel big and celebratory, the victorious conclusion to the four-song cycle. You can hear some of John Williams’ influence in here again, but ultimately we arranged it to sound more like the work of composer Aaron Copeland (Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid), bringing in elements of Americana and the Old West.”

11. The Romance

“I wrote this for my wife Debbie, an amazing and inspiring woman. We have been married thirty years. Enough said, really.”

12. The Tribute/Agnus Dei

“‘Tribute’ was written and dedicated to President George H. W. Bush and his wife Barbara, on their Sixtieth wedding anniversary. I will never forget that moment playing it for them at the White House. When it came to concluding Glory, the piece blended nicely into our symphonic arrangement of ‘Agnus Dei.'” [Note: The clip in the sampler is just of the “Agnus Dei” part.]

Go. Get. It. Unless you just don’t like good music.

CCM vs. SG: Cover Songs

Recently I’ve been pondering yet another one of the many things that sets CCM and SG apart: cover songs (and projects). In southern gospel, it’s quite common for even top-tier groups to fill up a good percentage of their main releases with covers, whether of relatively recent songs or old standards. It’s also common for groups to put out entire projects of covers, sometimes as a tribute to another group like the Cathedrals or the Happy Goodmans.

I don’t observe this nearly as much in CCM. On occasion, various artists will collaborate on some special event covers project as a tribute to somebody significant in Christian music (like Rich Mullins). Once in a while, a group will release a project of CCM classics covers (Avalon, Another Time, Another Place). Some praise and worship artists will cover each other, but those are generally songs everybody and his uncle is doing anyway (“How Great is Our God,” “Blessed Be the Name”). In general, it would be considered odd for half of an artist’s latest project to be made up of already-recorded songs. In fact, on the rare occasion that an artist chooses to re-interpret an old song (e.g. Bethany Dillon with Amy Grant’s “Lead Me On”), it’s focused on as a somewhat surprising/significant choice. And you never see current non-worship artists regularly incorporating each other’s songs into their repertoire.

Think about it. Has MercyMe ever covered Casting Crowns? Has Third Day ever covered MercyMe? Did the new group Sidewalk Prophets start out with projects of MercyMe, Casting Crowns and Third Day covers? No—each group has its own material. Going farther back, 4Him was often compared with the Imperials, but did they ever release an Imperials tribute project in between main-lines? No (although that could have been pretty cool). Come to think of it, there were a lot of similar-sounding AC harmony groups in the 90s (4Him, Point of Grace, Phillips Craig & Dean, Avalon), but they all did their own stuff and had their own styles.

Why is this? Is it because southern gospel has even more similar-sounding artists, thereby making it easier for the same songs to get bounced around among various groups? Is it because CCM has fewer adaptable “standards,” thereby making it more urgent that new artists bring all-new material?

Here’s another thought: I see more of the “covers phenomenon” in country than in CCM, although still less than in SG.

CCM Magazine features Doug Anderson

CCM Magazine sat down with Signature Sound’s Doug Anderson last month, and their interview with him has been linked to in the most recent digital issue. Here’s the Youtube, and I’ve also transcribed it for readers stranded with a soundless computer at the moment:


CCM: Hi, I’m Caroline Lusk, editor of CCM Magazine, and you’re watching CCM Magazine.com. Thanks for tuning in. We are chatting here with Doug, and he’s gonna tell us a little bit more about his brand-new solo project.

Doug: It’s called Dreamin’ Wide Awake, so excited, basically the whole project is about the journey of my life. Ups and downs, successes and failures. We took about 150 songs and narrowed them down to of course 10 on the project. We got a couple extra writers to come in and do it… But Wayne Haun and Joel Lindsey, which are two of my best friends in the world…

CCM: Amazing writers.

Doug: Wrote the title cut “Dreamin Wide Awake,” which is basically a story about my town and how God’s blessed me where I am and put me in the spot where we are, in our little “unfancy” hometown. That’s what we love… Talks about the ice cream store that we go to and of riding our bikes and things like that, and people have identified with that themselves, whether they live in a small town or not.

CCM: Sure.

Doug: And then I guess one of my favorite songs on there is a song called “I’ll Take What’s Left,” which…I mean, like everybody else, we’ve all been through our struggles. And God seems to take whatever we have left to give him, and he makes it brand new. So the CD takes you on a journey, and it’s got great response. And I’ve always been a quartet guy, a team guy, I’ve always played sports. So I’m used to having people around me.

CCM: What’s it like being in the solo spotlight?

Doug: It is different, but I’m enjoying it. To find out that people would actually want to just hear me as a soloist…humbles me, you know, from the beginning. So I’m enjoying it, it’s a different thing for me, course I’m still traveling with the group. But the group takes about 15 weeks off, and in that time my solo schedule is booking up crazy, but we’re gonna try to do about 20 to 30 dates in that time period, and in that time my family can go with me, which is what I’m all about anyway, is family. I’ve got two little girls at home.

CCM: What are their names?

Doug: Isabelle, Isabelle’s 10, and Emma is 7.

CCM: Oh gol, that’s a handful.

Doug: They’re busy, and they’re into the whole sports thing. And my wife’s a teacher. And she’s the volleyball coach at the highschool where we went… we were highschool sweethearts. So she’s a volleyball coach… And we’re, we spend time, we’re such a family that’s all we do, is we’re together. So that’s kind of my life, and the CD portrays that and shows that.

CCM: Well you and your wife were highschool sweethearts, and you’re very tied in, obviously, to the community and the town that you were raised in, and now you guys are giving back. You started a foundation, tell us a little more about that.

Doug: Yeah, we created a foundation called MAD34 foundation. MAD stands for Michelle (which is my wife’s name), Michelle, Anderson, Doug, which is MAD, and 34 was our highschool numbers, which I know is corny, but it worked. MAD34 foundation. And basically, everything that comes from this CD and my solo work, we will give a percentage back to our local schools to fund the education and music departments, because we were so blessed and they’ve given so much over the years, whether it’s supporting me or supporting my kids and my wife. We wanted to be able to give back so that our kids could have the same results and the same experiences that we had. So we wanted something to give back and we found an avenue to do it.

CCM: Well obviously a lot of your music has been within the southern gospel world. But you’re a lot more diverse than that, which we definitely hear coming through onto this [CD], and which has been recognized with your GMA Dove Awards nod this year for Male Vocalist of Year.

Doug: Well it’s a huge honor to be nominated, even nominated with those group of guys. Just to be mentioned in the same breath with Brandon Heath and Jason Crabb, I’m thrilled for that. Of course your family’s always like, “Do you think you’re gonna win, do you think you’re gonna win?” and my answer to that is “We already won.” Just to be mentioned with those.

The diversity of the project comes from a lot of different backgrounds. I mean, my roots are in southern gospel, but at the same time I was a huge 4Him fan, and a Steven Curtis fan, Michael W. Smith… Growing up, I listened to all different styles of music, which helped me be the artist that I am today, because you take all those different styles, and you put ’em all into one thing. I’m always going back and listening to old CCM projects and pulling things out—a lick here and a lick there, to something that they would have done. dcTalk, I mean who didn’t like dcTalk? MercyMe, Casting Crowns, you know, all those groups influenced me over the years. And you just go back and take things, and you’ll hear a little bit of all that in there. Even though my roots are in southern gospel, I still grew up listening to all that stuff.


It’s interesting to hear Doug talk about his CCM influences here (which makes sense, since it is CCM Magazine doing the interview). It seems to tie back to what many of us have observed, namely that we see a lot more SG singers acknowledging and borrowing from CCM than CCM singers from SG. Moreover, it often seems to be an older manifestation of CCM that’s being cited as an influence. Little surprise there.

It’s nice to see a southern gospel singer get a little bit of exposure/attention in the wider world of Christian music. One could wish for more with a singer of Doug’s caliber (quite frankly I can probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of currently active CCM singers who are as good or better), but this is something at any rate.

A New Favorite Song: “Seventy Years Ago”

Twila Paris is one of those singer/songwriters who, it seems, never really learned how to write a bad song. Oh, she’s made a few half-hearted attempts, but deep down, she just doesn’t have what it takes to craft a convincing dud. It takes work for her to even come close. And on top of that, she has a sweet voice, and she’s beautiful—inside and out.

Every time I think I’ve found my favorite Twila Paris song, I find another favorite. My latest find is a cut from her 1993 album Beyond a Dream, best known for the smash hit “God Is In Control.” But the whole thing was solid, and tucked in the middle was an absolute jewel of a piece called “Seventy Years Ago.” It tells the story of her ancestors’ life as traveling evangelists in the early 20th century. The lyrics and music are stunning and inspiring. If you love songs like “Find Us Faithful” that carry a message about leaving a legacy behind you, put this one right up there with all your other favorites. It has been in constant rotation in my library for… well, I’m not sure how long. A long time. Just listen:

Borrowing: “Holy of Holies” by Truth

Andy Chrisman

Anybody remember the group Truth? I see that hand! Well, Truth came before I was born and (eventually) went before I knew they existed, but now the wonder of digital media allows me to enjoy their music (well, some of it anyway… 😉 ). Recently I dug up a classic 80s oldie from them featuring none other than James Andrew (“Andy”) Chrisman of 4Him (who made up the male half of Truth’s roster for an exhausting three years before they spun off and took off on their own). When I was a little tyke, my ears would always perk up when a 4Him song featuring Andy came on the radio. His clear voice is so distinctive I could recognize it immediately. I remember getting particularly excited whenever my local station would play “Where There is Faith,” both because it’s a great tune and because Andy just sounds flat-out good on it. It was one of my favorite songs before I was even old enough to understand how good it was.

Later I listened to more of 4Him’s stuff and got familiar with the other guys too (especially Mark), but Andy has always remained my favorite. I guess I’m just a sucker for clean-cut dudes with pure tenor voices (see also Wes Hampton, Steve Green, et. alia). At his very best, I have difficulty imagining a purer one than Andy’s. What’s unfortunate is that he didn’t always take care of it that well. One moment it would be sweet and angelic, like liquid gold, but the next moment he’d be deliberately roughening it up, sometimes practically tearing his throat out. So even though he’s a great tenor, one of Christian pop’s all-time finest, I wouldn’t rank him as highly as some of my other favorites because he suppressed the full beauty of his gift. (I was discussing this with Wes Burke recently and discovered he feels exactly the same way.)

However, “Holy of Holies” is definitely one of his absolute best vocals, recorded when he was in his early 20s. I didn’t embed his live performance with Truth because he plays up the rock angle and growls waaaaaay too much. His studio vocal may not have as much “oomph,” but it’s MUCH cleaner and is the version I’ve chosen to embed here. (By the way, I can’t seem to find out the name or release date of the project this originally came from, so if somebody out there knows, please leave a comment. I know it had to have been between 1987 and 1990, but I don’t have anything more specific. Update: Ha! I found a recent tweet from Andy Chrisman where he mentioned the date, and it was 1988. My, my, only 22…)

The production obviously wears its age on its sleeve, but it’s a classic song and seems tailor-made for a southern gospel translation to me. At one point, I was leaning towards a Brian Free & Assurance interpretation. It seems to fit their style, and Andy is Brian’s favorite singer anyway, so that would make it doubly fitting (though Brian is virtually incapable of growling, which is just fine and means good things for the longevity of his voice). But at the moment I’m thinking I’d really like to see what Wes Hampton could do with it. Some of Andy’s high notes here actually remind me of Wes. Only thing is, it might not quite mesh with the GVB’s current sound. But supposing he were to record another solo album? ‘Twould be a highlight, yes?