I’ve come to realize that unless Gaither kicks Phelps or Hampton down to baritone (unlikely), he really needs to hire a baritone and not a lead to fill the gap left by Michael English and Mark Lowry. That still leaves open the Shane McConnell possibility (after all, he is currently singing baritone with Canton Junction), but it also opens up others.
I’ve heard one rumor that praise and worship leader Travis Cottrell is a contender to fill that gap. Here are seven reasons why that might be a good move:
1. He’s a friend of Wes Hampton’s, so he already has a personal connection with the group. I also found this article from 2009, showing Bill Gaither and Travis leading worship together at Brentwood Baptist Church.
2. He’s a songwriter, so adding him could provide a source for fresh GVB material in the long run. Hampton even covered his song “Jesus Saves” on a solo project.
3. His voice is contemporary enough to flex with the GVB’s shifting styles, yet well-rounded and full enough not to stick out like a sore thumb next to a singer like David Phelps.
4. He already has a fan-base in the praise and worship market, which could draw more young fans to southern gospel if he joined forces with the Vocal Band.
5. He’s a “people person,” and in a genre like southern gospel where artists are more accessible to the fans, that’s an asset to any group, even if one could argue that the GVB is a little more “upper-class” than your average SG artist.
6. He’s funny. I could definitely see Bill letting him do a little stand-up comedy in the Lowry tradition, although I’m not sure how die-hard fans would react (I personally would welcome it as a fresh change).
7. He’s young. And he has, erm, a nice face.
The one question that remains is whether Cottrell could adapt from being a soloist to being a quartet man. The baritone position isn’t necessarily the most glamorous. Would Cottrell’s voice slide comfortably into that supporting role? I’ve also noticed that his vocal technique can be somewhat breathy and strained, especially when he turns up the volume. But then, no doubt joining the GVB would be an excellent way for him to grow as a vocalist. In my opinion, he is at his best when he’s relaxed and opening his throat in the classic style, not trying to pop it up so much. Rather like David Phelps, come to think of it, though minus the freakish range.
Here are a few examples of what Cottrell can do. First, here he is leading a choir in a performance of a worship song called “Jesus is the Lord.” You might get tired of the song after a few minutes, but it does give you a good introduction to his voice:
Second, one of my favorite hymns, “God Leads Us Along.”
And, since Christmas isn’t so far away, enjoy one of his best vocals on this classic carol (just ignore the poor trumpet soloist, he was having a bad day):
Finally, I saved the best for last: Some solid proof that Cottrell can legitimately step up to the plate for a Big Ballad. It starts slow, but wait for it… and yes, he does lose his sense of pitch for a brief moment at the end, but still, can’t you picture him on a Gaither stage?
I couldn’t find much of anything in the way of gospel, except this joking performance of “Moving Up to Gloryland,” with a few friends. Cottrell appears to be singing the bass. The video quality is terrible, I just threw it in for interest’s sake. Certainly not the best gauge of Cottrell’s adaptability to southern gospel!
In my opinion, Cottrell’s hire would be a win-win for him and the vocal band. What do you think? Cast a vote!