Category Archives: Borrowing

Borrowing: Brian Dunphy, “God Be With Those Days”

You might recall a post I wrote some time back comparing an Irish pop/folk band called The High Kings with Ernie Haase & Signature Sound. (And if perchance you haven’t read it, do take a look an it please you, I’m partial to it and you might discover some good new music. Also, my favorite High King found and liked it, so there’s that.) Anyway, while the High Kings mostly stick to folk as a group, their solo tastes vary widely. Today I’m pulling a song from baritone Brian Dunphy’s solo project and offering it as a “borrowing” candidate for a southern gospel soloist. In my head, I think this would suit Devin McGlamery particularly well. Stylistically, I would compare it with his recent solo single “While I Still Can.” It’s a sweet tune, written by Dunphy himself together with band-mate Darren Holden, and I believe it’s dedicated to his parents. (I was also reminded of the tune “Ellsworth,” which I consider to be a compliment, but I know some readers don’t share my sentiments there. Perhaps they’ll be glad to know this one isn’t as transparently tear-jerking. ;-) ) Ronnie Booth is another singer who comes to mind.

They’d talk about forever

Hold each other close

Dream about the family they would raise

They were young and innocent

In their old-fashioned ways

God be with those days

This may not be the last High Kings solo entry in the “Borrowing” series. Darren Holden also has one or two country tunes that could translate over quite well.

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Borrowing: “Little Rock”

Today I’m spotlighting “Little Rock,” an early cut by acclaimed Nashville songwriter Tom Douglas. It became a hit in 1994 when Collin Raye recorded it, and it’s one of my favorite pop/country songs. I say pop/country because while the song has thematic elements that are familiar to country music (family, alcoholism), the production and vocals lean more in the pop direction. And while I do feel that the “popification” of country music has been taken to extremes in recent years (cough, Taylor Swift, cough cough), the blend actually works well in this particular instance. It’s got a great piano line, and Raye’s voice is warm and clear, putting the listener right into the story.

It occurred to me upon listening to it recently that it could work very well in the hands of one our own vocalists, who’s similarly gifted at telling a story through song—Doug Anderson. While Raye’s voice is pitched a bit higher than Doug’s, Doug has repeatedly demonstrated that he has a fine range and an excellent upper register despite his official baritone position. I don’t hear any notes in this song that would be a stretch for him. It’s not a group song, but I think it could work on one of Doug’s solo projects.

Lyrically speaking, the content might be a little darker than what Anderson is known for. Alcoholism is rarely treated in southern gospel songs. There are also some hard words put in the mouth of the main character’s father-in-law: “Your daddy told me when I left Jesus would forgive, but a daddy don’t forget.” But it’s very emotionally poignant, and that’s what made me think of Doug. He could bring out that emotion in a similarly powerful way.

What do you think? Does anyone remember this song from country radio, and do you think it could work in a southern gospel setting?

A side note about this music video: One thing that always confused me before was the depiction of what looked like two different couples fighting over the father’s alcoholism. Upon re-watching, it seems clear to me now that one of them is actually the speaker’s father and mother, and the little boy watching them in those scenes is his younger self. As he reflects on these memories, the connection is made to his own alcoholism, with his own son watching from the side. This would make sense since alcoholism is often a hereditary thing.

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Borrowing: “Fit For a King”

When was the last time you heard a song that treated the fire-and-brimstone street preacher with admiration and love? Here’s a Garth Brooks song that turns all the stereotypes upside down. Sorry Rob Bell. (To clarify, Garth sings it, although he didn’t write it. The authors are Jim Rushing and Carl E. Jackson. Never heard of either of them, but country music seems to have more than its share of nameless, faceless Nashville tunesmiths behind the scenes of all our favorite hits.)

In my opinion, the Isaacs were born to sing this song. Can’t you just hear Sonya on the verses? Who else would like to hear them cover it?

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Borrowing: “I Will Sing”

Today we’re featuring a Rich Mullins song! Yes, I know he’s not the first name that comes to mind when thinking “southern gospel,” but this song actually features some great country/gospel harmonies. It’s the opening track from his album Never Picture Perfect, an acapella trio where Rich takes the lead, joined by a couple ragamuffin friends (a man and a woman, I think). The woman has a great “country squeak.” I’ve always thought it was a beautiful composition, and I think it could work very well as an acapella number for a trio like the Martins, the Isaacs or the Sisters (though not necessarily in the same key). My personal first choice would be the Martins:

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Borrowing: “My Girl”

Imagine there’s no Jay-Z.

It isn’t hard to do.

No so-called hip-hop “music.”

And no Rihanna too.

Imagine all our eardrums living life in peace.

(Oo-ooooo-oo-oo-oo)

Okay, so that’s still a parody in progress, but it works to set up today’s “borrowing,” because I’m taking you back to the golden age of Motown. Yes, I hope to drown out the noise of your local pop station with a sweet reminder of what real Music used to sound like (RIP). Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Temptations, singing “My Girl.”

(Note: This is the studio version, set to footage of them singing live):

Now I think this is the first time I’ve put a secular pop song in borrowing. But I got the idea from hearing Ernie Haase talk about the Temptations. He said that EHSS had been greatly influenced in their style by that group, and I can see what he means.

So, what could be more natural than EHSS covering “My Girl,” steps and snaps included? The only question is who should be featured. David Ruffin’s inimitable tenor voice shimmered over the original (he of whom Marvin Gaye simply conceded “I heard in his voice a strength my own voice lacked”). Should Ernie have the lead? Or how about a fresh approach with Doug Anderson? Doug has a beautiful upper register that doesn’t get heard often enough. He could bring a unique sweetness to the melody. Plus it would leave Ernie free for high harmony in the BGVs.

I’m serious about this. Who’s with me?

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Borrowing: “Kentucky Rose,” by Michael W. Smith

I think it’s time to dust off some old series. Here’s an entry in the long-neglected “Borrowing” category.

Michael W. Smith has never been known for writing country-tinged songs (he left that to his colleague Steven Curtis Chapman), but the little-known ballad “Kentucky Rose” stands out in his catalogue as a refreshing exception. It was included as one of two new songs on his First Decade best-of collection, released in 1993. While the production includes some light rock flourishes, overall the music falls squarely into the genre of early 90s country ballad. With Smith’s knack for melody and keyboard touches, it’s a sonic delight.

The lyrics tell a simple, albeit somewhat syrupy story about a preacher man who gives selflessly to his community. Aside from the oddity that lyricist Wayne Kirkpatrick  decided to give a flower nickname to a male protagonist, it unfolds rather nicely. Although I read that it was singled but pulled from the air when someone started the rumor that Michael was flirting with New Age spirituality, based solely on the closing line, “Now on that hill one flower grows. They say it is the spirit of Kentucky Rose.” Now, granted, that’s a rather silly closing line, but I always thought it was just a trifling bit of sentimental fluff, thrown in to provide a flavor of folk legend closure. I think people were just overly hyper about Smith since he had been a trail-blazer in 80s Christian rock and then had pop crossover success, both of which were controversial at the time (how times have changed!)

Anyway, upon re-visiting the song recently, I got to thinking that it wouldn’t be hard to adapt it to southern gospel. After all, it’s essentially a country song, and say what the SG purists will, but these days the line between country and gospel isn’t always that sharply defined. The first artist that popped into my head as being perfect for it was Paid in Full. I think lead singer Lance Moore delivers a story really well and could easily make the song his own. It could be a solo + BGV vehicle similar to “The Other Side.” And of course, it’s a given that his vocal would improve on the original. :) What do you think?

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Borrowing: Wandering Shepherd, by Dan Fogelberg

The late Dan Fogelberg is underrated among singer/songwriters, but a few of you might recall songs like the wedding hit “Longer” and the understated chart-topper “Leader of the Band.” He was a powerful influence on Michael Card, and you can easily hear the stylistic resemblance.

Although most of Fogelberg’s music would fall firmly into the realm of pop (with the occasion folk or rock tinge), he made one album called High Country Snows where he took a shot at bluegrass music. With original songs and a stellar supporting cast of musicians and vocalists including such luminaries as Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas and Vince Gill, it was a lovely piece of work. One track that stood out to me was the simple folk tune “Wandering Shepherd.” Even though it was a new song penned just for the album, it nonetheless has a timeless quality, reminiscent of songs like “Poor Wayfaring Stranger.”

In my ears, I hear the unmistakable harmonies of the Isaacs taking this song to a whole new level. What do my readers think?

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Borrowing: “Lazarus” by Wes King

Time for another entry in the “borrowing” series. I’ve got a BOATLOAD of ideas in this category… just trying not to dump them all on you at once. Stay tuned for many more to come!

Wes King is one of my favorite artists nobody’s heard of. He’s an accomplished songwriter who’s worked with legends in Christian music. Classic songs to his credit include Michael W. Smith’s acclaimed “This is Your Time.” But he’s also an excellent musician and performer. I enjoy many of the songs he wrote and recorded himself. One of my favorites is a tune called “Lazarus.” This has a great 90s feel to it. It starts out in a minor key and explodes into a fetching chorus: “There’s a little Lazarus in all of us. Come on, let it rise… Let it rise…”

It didn’t take long for me to peg this as a potentially awesome number for the Talleys. Put it in a different key and it would work great for Lauren, or they could leave it as is and let Brian handle it. It has a similar feel to “He’s Alive.” Can’t you just hear them bringing down the house with this?

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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?

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Borrowing: Farther Than Your Grace Can Reach

A while ago, I introduced a new series which at the time I was calling “the reverse crossover,” where I looked at songs from other genres that could work well in the hands of a southern gospel group/singer. After thinking about it, I decided to change the name of the series to “borrowing,” because it’s snappier and cleaner.  Today I bring you a second installment.

After leaving the Gaither Vocal Band, Jonathan Pierce had a temporarily successful solo career in CCM. However, he eventually disappeared from the music scene to pursue interior design. It’s a pity he didn’t stick around and make more music, because he is one of the most gifted tenors I’ve ever heard. Wes Hampton today has been compared with Jonathan and comes close to matching his sound, though I think Jonathan’s timbre was a touch heavier.

I didn’t get into all of Jonathan’s solo stuff, but one song he recorded was a major standout. It’s called “Farther Than Your Grace Can Reach,” and it was played quite a bit on my local CCM station back when they were still playing good music. Written by Connie Harrington and Steve Siler, it is a powerful and now largely forgotten ballad that deserves to be revived. The song is quiet and piano-led, with convicting lyrics delivered in the first person by a man who is crying out to God for mercy. He knows that he is a sinner, knows that he doesn’t deserve God’s grace, and yet he also realizes that nothing he will ever do can place him beyond the reach of that grace:

No fault, no wrong, no dark of night
Can hide me from your eyes
And I cannot fall or climb
Farther than your grace can reach

Musically, the song takes a couple of surprising dynamic twists. For the bridge, the simple phrase “Rock of ages, cleft for me” is given an unexpected and soaring delivery before quickly returning to a moving final verse:

God bless us all, the weak and weary
Captives of our flesh and blood
Our only freedom is the refuge
Of your love

The final chorus is powerful, with a sudden key-change that makes for a superb climax. Jonathan’s magnificent range is on full display with this piece, and he uses absolutely no head tone. Listen:

I think this could work splendidly in a southern gospel setting. The question is, who should do it? My first thought was actually Riley Clark. Tribute Quartet could make it a Riley feature and do a fine job with it. Another thought was Wes Hampton, who would be a natural fit for the song given his similarity to Jonathan. (If Wes ever did another solo album, this would be a standout cut, for sure.)

But the one I finally settled on was Gus Gaches. Gus is one of the brightest tenor talents on the road today, and his voice would fit this song like a glove. Legacy Five should pick this one up and add it to their repertoire. I believe that if they did, it could become huge for them.

What do you think?

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