Monthly Archives: November 2011

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.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Happy Thanksgiving to all! Here’s Jason Crabb and Gordon Mote. These two guys seem to go together like turkey and stuffing:

I’m taking the rest of the week off to enjoy the holiday. Meanwhile, please leave your suggestions for a Thanksgiving mix on my ipod. We have no shortage of songs for Christmas, but let’s see how many thankfulness songs you can come up with. Note: They need not necessarily all be from southern gospel.

And tell us what you’re thankful for today! Here’s my random list:

1. Mom and Dad

2. sisters (yes, really)

3. a receding cold (in time for me to taste my Thanksgiving food)

4. sunny days with no frost on my windshield

5. a two-term presidency limit

6. connecting cables which help you connect things… and stereo splitters

7. food

8. food

9. food

10. and conservative homeschooled friends

11. and Michael Booth

12. and fluffy bunnies

(I made that last part up myself.)

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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.

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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.

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CD Review: Summer Rains Have Gone, by Channing Eleton

Channing Eleton is one of the premiere pianists in southern gospel, but I was first introduced to him through his music video of “Up On This Ridge.” It was smartly produced and gave me an excellent taste of the folk/country fusion Channing has created with his vocal work. I also caught an outstanding piano solo from him during NQC this year and noted the fact that he played with no backing track. He allowed the piano to speak for itself, and it was classy.

So after reading this review of his new project by DBM, I knew I had to check it out. So I did. While I enjoyed it, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. On the one hand, I was blown away by Channing’s incredible musicianship and versatility, as he plays most of the key instruments on the project as well as writing or co-writing four of the songs (plus, of course, singing). I was also impressed by the creativity of the project. Channing is definitely branching out from typical SG and working to offer something different and fresh. At times this sounds like Bruce Hornsby meets Michael Card—no exaggeration. And yet, some of the songs just didn’t connect with me at all, while a few of the standouts in terms of song selection didn’t mesh with Channing’s voice. It’s a perfectly serviceable voice, a rough, down-to-earth country baritone, but the problem is that it just doesn’t always click with the songs he picked.

Ultimately, I came away glad I’d given it a spin but thinking about what could have been. But now to get specific with a track-by-track.

1. Days: I said Bruce Hornsby, and I wasn’t kidding. Think “The Old Playground.”  The lyrics aren’t particularly remarkable—a pleasant meditation on getting one’s priorities right in life. But it’s all about that piano. It’s all about that B-3 Hammond. It’s all about that beat. And it’s all about the magic they’re making together.

2. The Harvest: Any “harvest” song is always going to get compared in my mind to the Imperials’ classic “Lord of the Harvest.” That song is so good that it makes it unfair for other good songs with a similar theme, like this one. However, while I admit that this isn’t as good as “Lord of the Harvest,” it is well-crafted in its own right. My main beef with it is that the tune doesn’t have that much to it, something I actually noted with several of these tracks. But the arrangement is classy and tasteful.

3. Up On This Ridge: Arguably the best track on the album. Everything comes together perfectly here. The song itself is good, it fits Channing’s voice, and the instrumentation is sterling. Instead of describing it in detail, I’ll let you watch its music video:

4. Is This Not the Land of Beulah: I must shame-facedly admit that this apparent classic had slipped under my radar before I encountered it on this album. The arrangement is delightful, carried by a willowy hammered dulcimer and fortified by accordion. The interesting arrangement helps to make up for the fact that this is a very long song with many verses, the kind of thing that would normally bore me. It clocks in at nearly six minutes. Because of its length, it may not be a track that gets repeated a lot by me, but I have great respect for the musicianship it displays.

5. Song and Dance: In a surprising move that nonetheless shows excellent taste, Channing opts to cover an Andrew Peterson song. Believe it or not, devoted AP fan as I am, this was one song I hadn’t chanced upon yet. It’s signature Andrew Peterson, which means the lyrics are intricate and beautiful, and the melody meanders somewhat. It paints a picture of the psalmist David sitting on his throne, chuckling over the memory of Goliath and preparing to pen a fresh ode to God as all nature sings around him. Eleton’s arrangement takes a Celtic approach, featuring some lovely pipe work. Once again, the production leaves absolutely nothing to complain about, but the song selection isn’t quite as strong as it could have been. While I like this song, it doesn’t rank among the very best Peterson has written. The melody is a little weak even for him. I would have preferred to hear Channing’s take on a song like “Lay Me Down.” Still, bravo for a song choice that’s unexpected and fresh.

6. Looking to Jesus: This black gospel classic features some rompin’ musicianship. Channing gets to demonstrate his piano chops on an instrumental bridge. This is obviously a comfortable niche for his slightly rough vocals. As is typical of this kind of song, the melody is pretty repetitive, but the arrangement is so good I consider this to be a highlight.

7. Creation Song (Glory to the Lamb): In yet another surprising but pleasing move, Channing covers a Fernando Ortega song. The song itself is gorgeous, but while I enjoy the arrangement, I must admit that I much prefer Fernando’s original. His voice fits the song much better than Channing’s. However, as with Andrew Peterson, I give Channing mad props for going outside the box and picking music from a great artist whose work doesn’t even border on southern gospel.

8. As We Wait: This song is pretty boring, if I’m being honest. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s a nice worship tune, but nothing really grabs me about it. It might hold a little more interest for me if somebody like Twila Paris was singing it.

9-10 Just This Song: This is in two parts, a fully instrumental piano prelude and the song itself. The prelude is lush, understated, and gorgeous. The song, unfortunately, is a snoozer. It meanders musically and suffers from cliched lyrics. I just couldn’t stop thinking about all the vastly better songs I had heard that dealt with the same theme, particularly the Imperials’ “One More Song For You.” Plus Channing’s delivery is flat and sleepy, but there’s not much to work with anyway. Listening to the song and its prelude back-to-back only reinforces the fact that Channing is an utterly brilliant musician, but his singing and writing skills are merely competent.

As you saw, there were several cases where I found myself saying, “This song is okay, but there’s another really similar song that’s much better,” and so on. It may have been less of an issue on a project with a couple more tracks, but at nine songs plus a piano interlude, weak or average cuts are harder to afford. And yet the production is so good that the album as a whole is hard not to like. The end effect is definitely a “whole greater than the sum of its parts” feeling. As DBM says, it takes immense talent to wear so many hats on one recording and produce something quality that’s worth listening to, which this project definitely is. It’s just that it could have been great instead of simply above average. I hope that Channing produces another project with the same top-notch level of musicianship displayed in an even better crop of songs.

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Filed under 4 star, CD Reviews

Saturday Survey #7

*The Dove Brothers have found their replacement tenor. I think Jonathan had the better voice, but I 100% support McCray in the turnover. I’m sure he’d appreciate your prayers.

*Our favorite Southern Gospel Blog contributors, the Garms family, took a tour of the Cathedrals’ legendary bus this week, the Silhouette.

*Jackie Wilburn, the Wilburn family patriarch, passed away the other day. Steve Eaton has posted some exclusive vintage concert clips of the Wilburns, featuring an incredibly young Jonathan Wilburn—I’m gonna guess he’s no older than 23 or so. Here’s a moving obituary from Jonathan.

*DBM has a new column: Hype/Reality, in which he takes the hype over a new album or song and assigns a letter grade based on how well it reflects his own opinion. Check it out.

*Just came across an episode of Southern Gospel Gardener featuring a surprise guest appearance by Clayton Inman. We love the gardener! I sure hope he reads my blog. Maybe some of his coolness will rub off on me.

*Here’s a disappointing blog post by Dr. Russell Moore, in which he gives his readers his class’s final ethics exam. Not only is it highly unprofessional, charged with manipulative language to make the students feel pressured into giving one particular answer (which is blatantly obvious much as he may protest to the contrary), but it is also strangely and deliberately unrealistic. It’s a situation involving American law concerning immigration, except Moore has made the laws far more draconian in his hypothetical scenario. You’d think that if you were trying to equip students for ministry, you’d train them to think and reason under real-world conditions instead of giving them deliberately skewed hypothetical scenarios. But sadly, I wasn’t that surprised by this post since Moore has shown oddly left-leaning instincts in the past, religious-righter though he may be considered by most die-hard liberals. So this just continues the trend.

*So many stupid blog posts, so little time to tear them apart…

*I’ve recently been indulging myself in some Pixar movies. Discovering and re-discovering. First, I revisited the original Toy Story after what has to be roughly a decade and a half (it’s still awesome), then I watched Toy Story 3 (forced, melodramatic and overrated, but still pretty good—heck, I cried at the end). I then went and found some priceless behind the scenes footage for the latter. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen in peak form:

Then I revisited Finding Nemo (more crying), and then I discovered what all the fuss was about Up. That movie is not overrated. It is the most brilliant piece of film-making sincesince… well, anyway, it’s JUST BRILLIANT! More crying. Oh yes, and I realized where Michael Booth got his “squirrel” line from…

Then I revisited A Bug’s Life, which has one of their best blooper reels…

Finally, I watched Monsters Inc., which made me cry twice. TWICE! That one may actually be my favorite. I might even be heretical and say I like it better than Toy Story, but… I don’t feel brave today.

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Filed under Faith and Culture, Movies, Open Threads, Singers

If You Should Happen to Have a Linksys Router…

…and if it starts giving you a “possible web threat” warning with certain wordpress sites (like mine, for example), it’s the router’s problem. Yesterday I started being blocked from my blog and other sites connected to wordpress, telling me it wasn’t safe. Then we figured out that nobody had hacked into anything and it was a false positive.

It appears to be a problem unique to linksys, and I’m not sure what’s causing the “allergy” now. But, if any of you should have that brand of router and are experiencing the same issue, don’t be alarmed. Just turn the router off, then back on again, and you shouldn’t have the problem anymore.

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A Canine Quartet?

I’m not sure how familiar my readers are with classic Disney movies, but this is just too cute not to post. It seemed that as long as Walt himself was around, Disney pictures maintained the “golden touch,” and one gem from this era was the film Lady And the Tramp, released in 1956. The studio brought popular singer Peggy Lee on board to write songs and help set the musical tone for the picture. She worked with Sonny Burke to create several charming numbers, one of which was a little song called “He’s A Tramp.”

This video shows the live recording session for that song, and it features a quartet of…dogs. Just watch and enjoy:

This clip also provides a great glimpse into the “good old days” of recording, when all the musicians were in the same room, and the singer just sang into a microphone. No piece-by-piece layering, no auto-tune, no nothing. Just pure, tight-knit talent.

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Gold City: “The” Lineup?

Well, the results in my Gold City tenors and leads polls  have been very interesting. (And by the way, if you haven’t voted yet, it’s never too late! I’d like to get 100 in each, if possible.)

Anyway, so far there are nearly 80 per, and like I said, the results are fascinating. In the tenors poll, Jay Parrack has carried nearly half of the votes. And Brian Free is a very distant second—interestingly, separated by only a few votes from Steve Ladd.

The leads poll seemed tougher. One way I could tell is that there were a few people who voted in the tenors poll but couldn’t seem to make up their minds among the leads. Still, once again there’s a clear front-runner, and that’s Jonathan Wilburn. Similarly to Parrack, he carries nearly half of the votes. Ivan Parker is a slightly closer second than Free to Parrack, but there are still roughly fifteen votes between them.

As a side note of interest, support for some of Gold City’s more recent lead singers seems strong, with Bruce Taliaferro and Craig West each having snagged five votes as of yesterday evening.

My question today is this: If, as it seems, Jay Parrack is predominantly Gold City’s best loved tenor, and Jonathan Wilburn predominantly their best loved lead singer, then why is it that the lineup with Brian Free and Ivan Parker is widely considered The Classic lineup, the benchmark? It surely can’t be because of the other members—Tim Riley obviously has been a constant from day one, and Mike Lefevre has never had a particularly remarkable voice. He’s certainly not the baritone Mark Trammell is, and Mark came after Lefevre during the Parrack years.

Is it because that happened to be the lineup when they made their best music? Even there I’m still confused, because if I’m not mistaken albums like Pillars of Faith and Acapella Gold both featured Steve Lacey and not Lefevre, yet it’s always Mike and not Steve who is featured in any kind of “classic” reunion. However, I know that a lot of their early hits were first performed by the Free/Parker/Lefevre lineup.

What do you think?

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Saturday Survey #6

*Does anyone know when or if Michael Booth’s new solo album will be available?

*Don’t miss David Bruce Murray’s commentary on who we would nominate for what if southern gospel were a political party.

*Congratulations are in order for Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife. They became grandparents  the other day!

*Here’s a great clip from the Christian radio program Wretched featuring Pyromaniac Phil Johnson as a call-in guest, dissecting James MacDonald’s ad for next year’s Elephant Room. As some of you may or may not be aware, MacDonald has invited T. D. Jakes to participate on the panel even though he is widely known as a modalist heretic. It’s an eye-opening discussion on the importance of removing ourselves from people who do not preach the same gospel. The Team Pyro guys are great. I feel accepted when I’m around them. I won Dan Phillips over with my (from memory) impression of the Joker’s “And I thought my jokes were bad” laugh over an article that deserved it, and the rest is history. Even though I got the exact syllables of the laugh totally wrong (I didn’t have nearly enough “ha-has”).

*Yesterday was Veterans’ Day. I thought about my next-door neighbor, who was a veteran of WWII and went home to be with the Lord just this fall. To the men who have served this country faithfully, thank you. Make it home.

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