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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An Interview With Rebecca Peck

 

Apologies for not posting anything yesterday. First I thought it was April 1st, then I thought it was March 30th, then I remembered that March has 31 days in it. So, needless to say, WordPress didn’t do what I thought it was going to do. :-) BUT, to make up for my absent-mindedness, and instead of coming up with anything clever for April Fool’s Day, I have a special treat for all you readers—an interview with one of my favorite songwriters, Rebecca Peck! Rebecca has a huge catalogue of songs with cuts from nearly all of your favorite artists, including, but not limited to, the Booth Brothers, the Collingsworth Family, Brian Free & Assurance, Legacy Five, Triumphant Quartet, the Hoppers, Signature Sound, etc., etc., etc. In my opinion, she is gospel music’s answer to Twila Paris. My personal favorite song of hers is the Collingsworth Family’s “Blessed Be the Lamb.” I got the chance to ask her some questions about her background and her career, including her recent song “Christ Is Still the King” on Legacy Five’s latest. My thanks to Rebecca for being so insightful, down-to-earth and gracious. You can read more about her and browse her work at her website. Without further ado, here are my questions and her answers to them!

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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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Matt Fouch and Scott Inman on Writing for Legacy Five

Here are two neat videos I just found and enjoyed, where Matt Fouch and Scotty Inman take fans behind the scenes for two new songs on Legacy Five’s new album.

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Featuring… A Reader’s Music

A gentleman named Judson Hair left a nice comment on one of my songwriting posts recently, inviting me to check out his own site and songwriting work. I was very glad that I did. Mr. Hair calls himself a “late bloomer,” trying his hand at songwriting later than most folks first pick up the pen, but seeing that as no excuse not to create. Here is one of his most recent compositions, “Learning to See.” As you know, I’m a pretty merciless song critic, but this one arrested me from verse one. Aspiring writers should study the lyrics carefully (although I believe there are a couple grammatical slips in the final stanza).

I pleased Judson greatly by instantly naming three artists I suspected (rightly) had influenced him: Gordon Lightfoot, Don McLean and Dan Fogelberg. Check out his site Footprints in the Sand here.

When he left her standin’ there he could see it all so clear
A year away would do ‘em both some good
She couldn’t understand when he let go of her hand
And probably she never really would

If you go and leave, are you ever comin’ back?
Will I ever see you anymore?
He slowly walked away and she saw him disappear
Then she turned and very gently closed the door

Read on for full lyrics.

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Two-Man Doo-Wop Awesomeness

We interrupt our usual Monday Morning schedule to bring you this video, which went straight to the happy part of my brain the other day. Since it’s going viral, it must be going straight to the happy part of everyone else’s brain too. Fallon’s boyish enthusiasm is just so darn contagious. “That’s it right there! Billy Joel! Billy Joel!”

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Fresh Look and Audience Surprises at a GVB Concert!

Somebody has captured a LOT of low-quality but still awesome footage from a recent Gaither Vocal Band concert. Thanks to Aaron Swain for bringing this set of concert videos to my attention. One performance that nobody has highlighted yet features Adam Crabb stepping out on verse two of “Satisfied (Hallelujah I Have Found Him).” I believe I’ve heard this hymn somewhere else before, but it’s been a long time, and I absolutely loved hearing this lineup revive the GVB’s take on it. Their blend is fantastic:

The clip that’s been making the rounds more shows Todd Suttles stepping into Marshall Hall’s shoes for “Give It Away.” I wonder, does this mean Todd is officially the baritone while Adam is the official lead? Adam also jumps in for a high tag at the end of the chorus.

Click here for a studio clip of this song with the new lineup, arranged by David Phelps. Swain has noted astutely that Todd Suttles may be holding down the bass part in that studio clip, as it certainly doesn’t sound like Bill saying “Yeaaah” on that step-out at the end! Loved the extra, Take 6-ish iterations of “Give it, give it” that they’ve added at the moment too. The harmonies as a whole are even richer with the extra voice here.

I’ve saved the best clip from that concert footage for last: Bill asks a couple of audience members to belt it out on “He Touched Me,” and boy howdy do they deliver! I couldn’t catch whether Bill was indicating the name of the second gentleman who sang after his solo, but if he was, that could imply that he had been scoped out ahead of time, unless Bill asked him very quickly amid the deafening applause. I know that this is sometimes done in a secular context to ensure that nothing embarrassing happens from a true gamble. And yet Bill does say “Does anybody want to sing a verse?” initially, at which point several audience members seem to be pointing out the first gentleman. So his part at any rate seems to have been a very fortuitous pick. And since the two men were seated close to each other, it’s possible that they are friends who share a musical background. [Update: The second one is actually a professional singer named Kevin Pauls who's sung with the Gaithers before. Thanks to my reader canuk for picking out the name for me so I could look him up!] Both have very well-trained voices, and the second one really raises the roof! Check it out:

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Movie Review: Grace Unplugged

This film drew quite a bit of Christian buzz when it came out last year, and it focuses on the music industry, so I thought I’d check it out and review it for you guys. Here’s the premise: Johnny Trey, a one-time one-hit rock star, has left the Hollywood life behind him, kicked drugs, and settled down in a small town to raise a family. Now he serves as a worship pastor at his church. His daughter, 18-year-old Grace, shows musical promise but chafes under her father’s strict regulations for the band. When daddy’s old manager offers him a new record deal after a cover of his classic sugar-stick goes viral, he smiles and declines easily. But Grace decides to do her own cover of the newly popular hit and e-mails it to “Mossy.” Mossy likes what he hears, and after yet another fight with dear old Dad, you can guess what happens next: Yep, little miss evangelical-teen-with-daddy-issues packs her bags and heads for Hollywood! Just write the rest of the script yourself from there and you probably won’t be far off from the real one.

Okay, so I’m being a bit snarky. I did genuinely like some things about this film, so let’s list some Pros before we get into the Cons:

Pros

* The character of the father. I really, really liked this character—both the way he was written and the way he was acted. In fact, I liked him so much that I found it hard to sympathize with Grace’s whining, and I kind of wanted to pull some of her pretty, pretty hair out when she bad-mouthed him behind his back. Maybe I just don’t “get” whiny teenagers, but I was always rooting for Team Dad in their arguments. When Grace skips youth group for a movie, and worse, she lies about it to her mother, Dad is NOT happy about “that little song and dance you gave your mother.” Actor James Denton believably conveys deep love, anger and hurt as Trey’s little girl grows up and rejects him. Unlike some of the other characters, he actually seemed like a real person, with real emotional layers.

* I appreciated the unflattering, but  probably 90% accurate portrayal of how the pop music business actually works (except that Grace hops on a tour bus before she’s chosen and recorded more than one song, which simply doesn’t make sense). Her fashion designer is also kind of over the top (we get it, in American movies a British Accent alwaysalways = Bad). But when Dad shakes his head sadly and says, “Oh, you are not ready for this,” he’s more right than she can imagine. Continue reading

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CD Review: Hymns, by the Gaither Vocal Band

This hymns project is a parting gift from the last Gaither Vocal Band lineup of Michael English, Mark Lowry, David Phelps, and Wes Hampton. Nearly all the tracks are fresh, with a couple exceptions that I’ll detail in the Likes and Dislikes. So, let’s get right to it!

Likes

*Although “Amazing Grace” recycles some arrangement ideas from the Amazing Grace Homecoming project (minor modulation on verse three, orchestral rhythm on verse four, etc.), I greatly enjoyed the dramatic Celtic twist they put on it. It led to some very cool harmonic choices, like the perfect fifth on the word “begun” at the end. Also loved the pennywhistle doing a few bars of “Come Thou Fount” as the song drew to a close. Although guys, really, you’re not Irish and we can kinda tell, so lose the fake lilt-warble on verse one if you ever do it live, m’kay?

* “Redeemed” was another successful Celtic-tinged arrangement. The blend of strings, accordion and pipes creates an exciting, toe-tapping rhythm. The familiar hymn tune has been somewhat re-worked for this arrangement, but it works quite well. Vocally, David Phelps’s pure tone particularly shines in this context and I wouldn’t be surprised if he did the arrangement.

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Monday Morning Humor: How to Deal With Mormon Missionaries [Fixed]

Update: Drat, I thought that I had fixed the bad embed before scheduling this, but somehow the wrong video snuk in there anyway. Sorry about that. I believe THIS is what I meant to embed.

I admit this particular tenet of Mormonism was new to me, but the Irish twins are using it greatly to their advantage here!

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