Category Archives: News

Farewell to Pat Barker

This is so unbearably sad for those of us who love southern gospel music. It was with a heavy heart that Mark Trammell announced bass singer Pat Barker’s resignation yesterday. Mark made it clear that this was a personal decision on Pat’s part motivated by a need to be with his family, and sent him away with the blessing of being “the finest, most Christlike man ever to travel on a quartet bus.”

Life at home can be difficult when the father travels for a living, and we should certainly pray for Pat’s entire family, as Mark encouraged fans to do in the press release. At the same time, we all grieve with Mark as Pat was not only perhaps the best bass singer to leave his mark on southern gospel in recent years, but also one of the most fun guys you could have the pleasure of meeting. The warmth of his voice and his spirit will be sorely missed in equal measure. Jon Epley commented, “Pat is not only a great bass, but also has a great quality solo bass voice which doesn’t just grow on trees,” and he is so right. However, I was relieved to read that Pat will finish out the month of April on the road with MTQ, so that I will be catching one of his last concerts at the end of the month! Pat was a big reason I was so excited to see MTQ in concert for the first time, so it’s good to know that he will still be there for at least a few more weeks.

Here are some of Pat’s most memorable moments with the quartet through the years:

 

 

 

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Kickstart Something Good: Jean Watson

For those who are weary of the pablum now paraded as “music” on the airwaves of mainstream and Christian music alike, I offer an alternative: Jean Watson, a gifted singer/songwriter who also happens to be a dear friend of mine. Her style is clear, contemplative CCM, much like Fernando Ortega. She is a classically trained singer and violinist, and she enjoys an active ministry both in America and in the U.K. On her two latest projects—one Christmas and one original worship—she has teamed up with some of the best talent in Nashville, including producer Bill Smiley (WhiteHeart, Steven Curtis Chapman, Johnny Cash, Bebe & Cece Winans, Gaither Vocal Band, 4Him, and more), drummer Steve Brewster (Bob Seger, Chicago, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, Faith Hill, Richard Marx), and most excitingly, Phil Keaggy on a fresh arrangement of the carol “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Jean aims to help fund both records at once through a Kickstarter campaign she is calling “The Sound of Heaven.” She writes:

The greatest challenge for me in creating this project is simply financial. Whatever I have to pay towards the cost of production, manufacture, artwork, photography, travel, etc, etc, simply puts a burden on the ministry which provides the bulk of my income. I desire to be in a place where I am not hindered by any debt and can give away as much of my ministry proceeds as possible!

The total cost of ‘The Sound of Heaven Project’ is projected at approximately $40,000 which includes all expenses from start to finish. Kickstarter is a great way to raise funds for projects like this, but if I don’t raise the whole $14,000 that I am asking for to help me, I get nothing! Kickstarter will help me meet as many of those expenses as possible so I can focus on MINISTRY, not money! :)

Reading the numbers closely should impress upon us all just how difficult it is to be an independent artist in today’s economy. As you can see, this Kickstarter campaign won’t cover half of her costs even if it’s successful. But it will be a significant help. Click here to back her project, and if you want to hear her music, you should go to her website. The soundtrack to the promo video is music by Hillsong, not Jean. Here is one of her original songs:

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AGM Awards to Feature Professional Songwriters

I was privileged to be part of the critics’ panel selecting nominees for the 2014 AGM Awards. This bit of news in my inbox about the upcoming ceremony intrigued me yesterday:

The administrators and staff of AbsolutelyGospel.com are proud to announce the final performers for the upcoming Absolutely Gospel Music Awards Celebration. In keeping with the tradition of thinking outside of the box, this year’s AGM Awards will play host to performances from celebrated songwriters.

The Awards Celebration will feature reigning Songwriter of the Year (Artist) Jim Brady along with his wife, AGM Award winning songwriter Melissa Brady. Also, 2013’s Songwriter of the Year (Professional) Sue C. Smith, AGM Award winner Kenna West, and multiple nominee Jason Cox will perform their Song of the Year nominated hit “Calvary’s Cry” (originally recorded by Brian Free & Assurance) during the program.

“We are so excited about recognizing some of the best songwriters in the business in this capacity,” mentioned Deon Unthank, President of AbsolutelyGospel.com. “We were the first awards program in all of Gospel music to split up our Songwriter and Producer of the Year categories to make sure that those songwriters and producers who don’t normally promote themselves to the industry get the recognition they deserve. This was just a natural step in the progression of our awards program.”

Chris Unthank, Editor in Chief of AbsolutelyGospel.com stated, “This has been an idea that has been ruminating in my mind for many years, and I’m so excited that we finally get to see it come to pass. We have always championed the behind the scenes people in this industry, and we can’t wait to showcase them to the general Southern Gospel audience in this manner.”

I’m ridiculously pleased about this. “Calvary’s Cry” was a fantastic new song, and this will be a refreshing change of pace for what’s typically a very performer-centric industry. Hats off to Chris for coming up with this idea. Now I need to know, will the performances be filmed/streamed? [Update: I asked Chris, and he says it will be streamed live, then posted on Vimeo later. Thanks Chris!]

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Saturday Survey, 3/15/14

Here’s a little potpourri of doings from the southern gospel world and elsewhere. Apologies for my laxness this week, I simply ran out of time to post a whole lot of fresh stuff! Rest assured, there are album reviews for the Gaither Vocal Band and the Perrys, a Christian movie review, and more on the way.

*Southern Gospel music executive Norman Holland passed away this week. As vice president of A&R at Daywind records, Holland was an integral figure in the careers of some of gospel music’s most celebrated groups, including, but not limited to, Greater Vision, The Perrys, Legacy Five, The Booth Brothers, Brian Free and Assurance, The Nelons, and Mark Trammell Quartet. Gerald Wolfe reflects:

Norman was the first Record Company Executive I ever met in Nashville.  In January of 1987, the Cathedrals stopped in Nashville in the middle of the night, to pick up a load of records at Benson Record’s warehouse. The big overhead door opened, and there stood one of the tallest people I had ever seen. Norman Holland, all 6 feet, 8 inches of him, had showed up at 1am to help us load records.  We instantly became friends.  Neither of us knew that, just a few year later, he would be instrumental in the formation of Greater Vision.  It was Norman who encouraged me to consider starting a group, and it was Norman who convinced Riversong/Benson to give us our first Record Contract.  When Norman moved to Daywind Records, we went with him.  I once told Ed Leonard, the President of Daywind, “as long as Norman is here, we’ll be here.”
We had a great working relationship for almost three decades, but our personal friendship was much more important.  Norman became a part of our family.  He went on family vacations with us to Disney World, New York City, and even a Hawaii Cruise.  All the guys on our bus, and their families, loved Norman.  He was one-of-a-kind.  He was certainly a big dude, but his personality was even bigger.  He could light up any room he entered.  He had the rare gift of being naturally funny, and people were instantly drawn to his magnetic personality.  He made a lasting, positive impression on anyone who ever had the honor of meeting him.
 *Don’t miss this great post from Daniel Mount, where he passes along a wonderful story about the Cathedrals and small acts of kindness. And don’t stop at the post–others have begun adding their own reminiscences about the Cathedrals and others in the comments thread!

*David Bruce Murray is answering reader questions out of his vast store of musical knowledge over on Musicscribe. Check out his entry on secular influences in southern gospel and vice versa.

*Did you know that the Internet turned 25 this week? Here’s a google blogpost from the man who designed the first web browser. (Just hum your way through the naive “diversity” blather.)

*Social conservatism was given disappointingly short shrift at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, and the future doesn’t look great for the Republican party. John Murdock gives a report. Denny Burk also shares some statistical info about the South’s current stance on gay “marriage.”

*Here’s your weekly dose of sniffles. You’re welcome:

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Saturday Survey: New Inspiration(s), Rodney Griffin Does Glen Payne, and more…

Here’s a little round-up of what’s been going on in the southern gospel world lately:

News

*Everything old is new again with the Inspirations as they bring back former members Dallas Rogers and Melton Campbell. Press release here.

*Congrats to Bill Shivers on his new baby, William Brent Shivers III! Bill has changed his twitter profile accordingly.

*Voting rounds have begun on Musicscribe’s search for the greatest southern gospel album of all time. Readers have submitted a plethora of nominations for each decade starting with the 50s, so head on over to cast your vote for that decade. Right now, the Weatherfords’ In the Garden and The Statesmen Quartet Sings With Hovie Lister seem to be duking it out for top honors.

Videos

Thanks to Matt Fouch for sending me his latest “On the Couch” entry with Scotty Inman. I enjoyed hearing Scotty talk about his background and his musical tastes. I hadn’t known he wanted to be a baseball player before suddenly being offered the chance to pursue singing instead.

Several concert videos caught my eye from this past week. Special thanks to Daniel Mount and others for bringing them to my attention.

First, Swain featured an unusual Hoppers lineup. Chris Allman and Doug Anderson had to fill in for Kim and Connie Hopper because they were snowed out of the concert! Tim Lovelace filled in on piano. A must-see:

Second, Ronnie Booth sharing his father’s testimony to introduce “The Secret Place” was immensely touching. I’ve never seen Ronnie give a word like this from the stage. It was honest and heartfelt. Also, I notice he broke out the guitar. Does this mean the Booths are incorporating more stripped-down moments in their live set? Please let it be so!  Continue reading

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Jason Crabb in a Feature-Length Movie

This film was released at the beginning of this month, but I just now heard of it. It’s called Uncommon, and it’s about religious liberty at the highschool level. Here is an article explaining the synopsis, and here’s a trailer for it. I mention it here because our own Jason Crabb is featured in it! It looks like he plays a pastoral role.

I also notice that Ben Davies from Courageous plays the leading role. While I wasn’t blown away by his work in Courageous, I thought he showed a surprisingly good dramatic range in another Christian film called New Hope (which I think is one of the better Christian films out there, as movies in that genre go of course).

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Meet the New Gaither Vocal Band

Gaither announced it yesterday, and it’s official: Todd Suttles is indeed the new fifth man in the Gaither Vocal Band. Here’s a great new video put together to introduce the new group, devoting a generous amount of time to Adam and Todd:

A few of my comments:

1. Viewers with sharper hearing than I possess have confirmed that the songs we’re hearing in the background are all-new recordings with this lineup. While we’re still short on material that really showcases Suttles’s voice well (I collected everything I could find here), it’s cool to hear a little taste of this blend.

2. I liked Bill’s playful candor in saying that Adam has always been a little bit lost in the shadow of his older brother, so he takes pleasure in pulling him out of that shadow now.

3. I especially loved Bill’s comments about researching Suttles’s background as a physical trainer at Vanderbilt. What he learned from speaking to people who knew Suttles in that context had nothing to do with his singing and everything to do with his character. It’s a great reminder to do whatever you do with excellence to the glory of God!

4. I noticed that the cameraman made the group sing while he took their pictures. I’m not sure if this was because they were showing off or because making your subject speak/sing is a great way to get a natural expression. ;-)

5. I enjoyed hearing Wes and David’s take on the new lineup. Interestingly, David especially praised Todd’s voice. The other day I and another reader were expressing some hesitations about Todd’s chops, but obviously David has had more opportunity than we to hear what he brings to the table, and apparently he’s impressed. I would take a compliment like that from David very seriously. Hopefully Todd will find his groove as he sinks his teeth into some meaty Gaither material.

So, from what you all have heard so far, where would you rank this latest lineup in the pantheon of GVB lineups? Would you rate it as less strong than the last one but stronger than the Wes/Guy/Marsh lineup? Do you agree with Bill’s choice to keep the five-man formula? Do you think Adam and Todd are going to leave their mark on the Vocal Band in a memorable way?

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Ernie Haase & Signature Sound Vevo Goodies

In keeping with Ernie’s way of following current trends in popular music, Ernie Haase & Signature Sound have opened a Vevo channel. They’ve just uploaded a number of full-length performances from their latest DVD, Oh What a Savior, which consists mostly of material from their latest album Glorious Day and a couple from Here We Are Again. Looking over the track-list, one notably missing song is “Any Other Man.” As far as I know, EHSS has never recorded this song on a DVD. It’s always been a dynamic live number. But their other choices are excellent, and the out-sourced live band is a great bonus, though I can’t seem to identify most of the players, beyond Wayne of course on keys and Ricky Free on drums. Wayne gets my vote for best wardrobe. And, well, the less said about Ernie’s pink flowered jacket the better. ;-)

One nice added touch they’ve been incorporating on “Sometimes I Wonder” is a chorus of “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be.”

Also notable is an appearance from music theater veteran J. Mark McVey on the number “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” Continue reading

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Album Preview: Brian Free & Assurance’s Unashamed

I’m looking forward to this release. Brian Free always finds a handful of really good new songs for each new release, even if I don’t connect with everything on the project. So far, the ones that are catching my attention in this preview are the title track, “Say Amen,” big ballad “He Still Saves,” “A Little Bit of Me And You,” “Where There’s a Will (There’s a Way)” (which gives those of us who’ve noted the uncanny similarity between Lauren Talley and Brian Free the chance to hear them sing back-to-back solos) and the dark-sounding closer “Before the After.”

And per usual, if you have a couple hours to spare and really like this kind of stuff, BFA has posted footage from the tracking and vocal sessions herehere and here. Fans of old-school folky CCM will have a geek-out moment on the first vid around 8:50 when Scott Dente shows up on acoustic guitar. In fact, I’ll just go ahead and embed that one too. I just love watching studio musicians work. Also, priceless moment around 35:30 here when Brian is preparing to lay down vocals for the title song. “This is a killer song… We are unashamed, gonna say it straight up, buddy. [Grits teeth, pounds the wall for emphasis.] Straight up, gotta be straight up, say it like it is in this day and time. I’m gonna preach and take up an offering. You watch. I’m ready to do this thing.” You go Brian! I see that Duck Dynasty T-shirt…

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Farewell to the Crist Family

The Crist Family has announced their retirement, with selected farewell dates scheduled to finish out the year 2014. I never followed them that closely, but their size and impressive acapella arrangements interested me. I’m curious—has there ever been a larger single group in Southern Gospel? (Let me know what you think of in the comments.) They pointed to the leaving of one of the couples and the fact that some of the younger women wanted to start families.

This raises an interesting question about the future of other groups like the Collingsworth Family. For that matter, it’s a question to be considered by any group with young married women. Other groups like the Browns have also had to readjust due to the call of motherhood. However, it’s especially interesting with a group as versatile as the Collingsworths. Suppose both Brooklyn and Courtney came off the road with the Collingsworths. Would the family carry on as a quartet? Would they still carry on as a trio if Olivia married and left as well?

Anyway, my favorite song by the Crist Family is “Lift Up the Cross.” “My Heart Knows” may have charted higher, but there’s no question this one is stronger. I first heard it while flipping on an online gospel radio station at random. I dug back into the archives at Daniel Mount’s site to find this fun exchange between me and Chris Unthank (with Daniel chiming in for moral support) about Christian radio, where I was pointing to this song as a good example of SG radio. I still like it a lot. It features Tami Crist Starkel on lead. I think she was the strongest soloist of the group.

Here are some good examples of their acappella work:

http://youtu.be/4y89aH_8kvs&rel=0

And one that’s not acappella, but another noted hymn arrangement of theirs:

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