CD Review: “Still” by The Booth Brothers

I want to take a moment to apologize to those of you who have been reading this blog. Sometimes, life gets in the way and we get a little occupied. Nevertheless, I am still here and I have an overwhelming stack of music that I’ve been meaning to post about so without any further delay, let’s get to it.

Still is the first Booth Brothers recording in almost 13 years that will not include Jim Brady. The album was originally recorded and mixed with Brady. But in the fall of 2014, both Brady and The Booth’s announced that Jim would be leaving the group to form a new ministry with his wife, Melissa. You can read all about that here. Filling Jim’s shoes is one of Brady’s best friends and a fine singer in his own right, Paul Lancaster. Paul went right into the studio and added his vocals to make Still his first project as a member of The Booth Brothers.

stillThe project kicks off with Faith Keeps Walking On, which features Lancaster on the verses. Next up is a swinging, big band cover of Happy Rhythm. The Booths have always had a knack for taking standards and arranging them in such a way to fit them. Happy Rhythm is pure genius! The title cut, Still, is the project’s third track. The group had been staging the song for quite some time, with Brady on the lead throughout the song. The group employed a different strategy on the recording, with both Michael & Ronnie singing the verses, and Paul taking over the lead on the chorus and bridge. Still is one of the most powerful songs the group has ever recorded and is a fitting song for the change that the group has endured, assuring that listeners that no matter the situation, God is still in control.

Dirt On My Hands is a great song with a country twang, that features Ronnie. The lyric is a challenge to believers, “to go the extra mile, doing all that I can. Helping my fellow man, even if I have to get a little dirt on my hands“. The first half of the project closes with a take on a Couriers classic, “I Am The Word“. The original cut of this song is one of my all time favorite Couriers songs, but the Booths have put their own creative arrangement, with orchestration by the late Lari Goss, and have knocked it out of the park! Ronnie is featured on the verses, and takes the lead into a chord change, where Michael takes over. Definitely a must hear track.

The second half of the project opens up with a fantastic ballad, Touch Of The Master’s Hand, that features Paul. This song is sure to be a favorite among fans. The song is actually a companion to a poem of the same name, that many will remember as a recitation that was often used by the late great J.D. Sumner. Paul Lancaster absolutely sings the fire out of this song, one of my favorite songs on the cd. Next up is another blast from the past, Whenever I Speak His Name.  Originally cut by The Imperials way back in 1979 on their Heed The Call album, Ronnie is featured and sings one of the finest vocals I have heard from him. The orchestration and the groove of this song are absolutely fantastic. Next up is another song featuring Ronnie, Down By The River. This one is a foot stomping, hand clapping, song. There’s some cool vocal overdubs between the chorus and bridge, definitely not the normal from the Booths.

Wildflower (Vicki’s Song) is a tender ballad featuring Michael, that was written by Rebekah Peck especially for Michael’s wife, Vicki. A beautiful picture of how the Lord raises up beautiful wildflowers, and how he has created them to be special. Closing out the project is the anthem, Jesus Saves, that features Paul. This song was Paul’s introduction to many fans at last years NQC in Pigeon Forge. The song is the second on the project that was arranged by Goss, and also features backing vocals from The Collingsworth Family. Arranged to perfection, and performed flawlessly, the Booths & Collingsworths close out Still with a powerful exclamation point!

If there is anything that I appreciate about The Booth Brothers, it’s their ambition to be creative and not sound like everyone else. Both Happy Rhythm & I Am The Word are prime examples of this, and reason enough to love this project. But you also have powerful anthems, heartfelt ballads, and toe tapping numbers that fans have come to love from the group.  From top to bottom, Still is a great cd and although the project was originally arranged and recorded with Brady in the group, showcases how wonderfully Paul Lancaster fits into the group. It only wets the appetites of fans for the next project, which will include songs arranged for the group with Paul in mind. I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of Still and see for yourself!

Purchase Still here.

Review copy NOT Provided.

A Tribute To Lari Goss

10410722_10153014000303624_4065314481083775211_n Lari Goss, one of the most influential creative minds in the history of Gospel Music, passed away on Saturday, January 10th 2015. He was 69, passing just short of his 70th birthday. Today, Thursday January 15th, his funeral will be held in Nashville. I have always been an admirer of Lari’s work and it has only grown in time. I wanted to take an opportunity to remember this wonderful gentleman and honor him for all of his contributions to Gospel Music over 50 plus years. He began his musical journey with his family, singing with his brothers James and Roni. The Goss Brothers started off initially as a quartet, but found they’re niche as a trio. They were one of the most innovative groups to come along in the 1960’s, with vocal & musical arrangements light years ahead of their contemporaries.

 

 

The Brothers also held many distinctions, many would change the industry for years, like when they 543718_231858750258582_1957652235_nwere the first artist to perform with a soundtrack. The Goss Brothers were not only great singers, but fabulous musicians as well. With Lari on piano, Roni on bass, and James on guitar, the brothers cut their teeth in the Lefevres recording studio in Atlanta, as well as Don Baldwin’s Hymntone label in Pennsylvania, working on hundreds of recordings for both national and regional artists. However, in 1980 The Goss Brothers musical journey took a detour, due to James tragic death in an airplane crash.

Lari continued his work as a producer, becoming one of the most illustrious producers and arrangers in the gospel music. Chances are if you look at the credits of any recording in the 80s and 90s, Lari was either the producer or the arranger. Among the groups Lari produced that would be most notable are The Cathedrals, Singing Americans, Hemphills, Hoppers, The Sound, Masters V, Friends IV and so many others.  Lari also changed the game and the way that artists thought about arranging, most evidently shown in the Nelons “Oh For A Thousand Tongues”. and The Cathedrals “For What Earthly Reason”. Because of Goss’ ability as arranger, he took Gospel Music to another level. As a musician, his sound was so identifiable. Not just his piano playing, but his orchestrations.

Lari was not also just a great arranger, but his accomplishment’s as a songwriter should also be noted. Many of the songs that the Goss Brothers recorded were written by Lari, one of the most notable being “Shout Brother Shout”. But he also wrote such wonderful songs as “How Green Is Your Valley”, “For Thy Will I Pray”, Leading To Calvary“, and many other great songs. However, one of Lari’s most popular compositions was recorded by the Speers in the 70’s, “Cornerstone“.

10885125_10153017641498624_4063390550294998162_nLari has not just been a great contributor to Southern Gospel, but to the body of Christ overall. His numerous choral arrangements that he has put together over the years have been used by church choirs & ensembles across the country. He won numerous Dove Awards, and Grammy’s for his work throughout the years. He even worked with such secular artists such as Glen Campbell, Ray Price, and B.J. Thomas. Lari was also inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2009.

In recent years, Lari continued to work even through illness, he was diagnosed with throat cancer. Some of his most acclaimed work came with artists such as the Booth Brothers, Greater Vision, Legacy Five, Mark Trammell Quartet, The Whisnants, and most recently The Guardians and Jim Brady Trio. Although he has tutored many producers and his style has often been imitated by others, it will never be duplicated. It is not an overstatement to say that will never be another Lari Goss.

10930525_10153017707428624_5896707746408889295_nNow I’m not worshipping Lari, he was a human being just like the rest of us. But Lari was special, and his death is the end of an era. Lari was our last link from the legends of yesterday; there are not many men who can say that they stood in the same control room as J.D., James, Jake, Hovie, George, Glen, Rusty, Rex, Ben and Brock, up to today’s artists. I would say there is no one who has done more to mold and fashion Gospel Music as much as Lari Goss. One of my greatest regrets is that I never got to meet Lari and explain to him how much he impacted my life. But one day I will tell him face-to-face, and I can’t help but feeling now that he knows.

For all his success, Goss had a humility about himself. When a friend complimented him on all the awards in his home, he said, “All this means nothing if my music does not win people to Jesus, or draw them closer to Him“. There is no doubt in my mind that God has used this man so mightily because of that humility and passion that his music be used to the glory of God.

Lari’s music will live on, whenever choirs singing the music he arranged, or people listen to Pillars of Faith by Gold City or the Cathedrals Symphony of Praise and hear the majestic arrangements of that album or the countless others he produced and or arranged. He will live within the grooves of the records and within that great music as long as it is listened to. Lari, I never met you but your music was the soundtrack to my life. Thank You and God Bless You for your contributions that have blessed the body of Christ. Rest well.

To Lari’s wife Carolyn and their children, and his brother Roni, I offer my condolences and my prayers that the Holy Spirit will hold all of you so close in these days. Thank You all for taking the time to read this tribute to a hero of mine.

 

Album Review: “Forever: 80th Anniversary Recording” by The Blackwood Brothers

In an industry that has been constantly changing, for the past 80 years there has been one name that has been a consistent part of Gospel Music. That name is Blackwood. It all started back in 1934 when three brothers (Roy, Doyle, and James) along with Roy’s son R.W. , formed the group. Since their formation, the Blackwood Brothers have been one the most prominent groups in Southern Gospel Music. That tradition continues today with James son, Billy, leading the group and singing baritone.  Today’s lineup also includes tenor vocalist Wayne Little, lead singer Mike Helwig, and Butch Owens on bass. Their brand new recording, Forever, celebrates the group’s 80th Anniversary with new songs and some older favorites that many long time Gospel Music lovers will remember.

Forever%20coverThe recording kicks off with “You Can Find What I Found“, which is also the first single from the project that has been sent to radio. It’s a bouncy tune that features tenor Wayne Little with an echo in the verses. The next cut, “I’ll Fly Away Home”, is a great song with an old timey feel that features Mike Helwig. Forever is the Blackwood’s first mainline recording with Helwig, who replaced Jimmy Blackwood last year. Although Mike’s voice is stylistically quite different from Jimmy’s, he is a great fit with the group and their blend is better than ever, in my opinion. The third cut of the project, Forever Forgiven, is a ballad that features Little. Wayne Little is one of the most underrated tenor singers in Southern Gospel today. You would be hard pressed to find a finer tenor than this gentleman. With a style more comparable to Pat Hoffmaster than Bill Shaw, Little can sing his way into your heart. The arrangement & orchestration on this song is fantastic, and the vocals are delivered incredibly.

Next up on the project is a song the Blackwoods recorded way back in 1962, their iconic bass singer J.D. Sumner’s composition, “Walkin’ and Talkin’ with My Lord“. Bass singer Butch Owens sings it in his own style, and the guys do a great job on the harmonies behind him. “Long Gone” marks the halfway point of the project and features a special guest appearance by The Oak Ridge Boys. The Blackwoods take the first verse, with Billy taking the lead, and then The Oaks sing the second verse, with Duane Allen featured on the solo. Both bass singers, Owens and The Oaks Richard Sterban, have a cool step out line on the bridge as well. This song is definitely a cool moment and a must hear for everyone.

The second half of the project picks up with a smooth quartet tune, “Heaven Will Be Mine Someday“, that features Helwig. This is the epitome old time, four part harmony. This song is definitely one of my favorite cuts on the project, a must hear for sure. The group reaches back to cover another classic song, When I Cross To The Other Side Of Jordan, and does a good job tackling it. Helwig is also featured on the second ballad on the project, “I Know In Whom I Have Believed“. This song is excellent all the way around, great lyrics, wonderful arrangement, fantastic vocals. Another must hear track and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this song go to radio. “Oh, No You Don’t” is another peppy tune, that features Owens. It’s a great song that assures Christians that we’ll never face a trial that Jesus faced and conquered. The project comes to a close with the classic, “Dear Jesus, Abide With Me”. The song was recorded with just a piano and four voices and it is absolutely perfect. A great ending to a project c0mmemorating the Blackwood’s legacy.

I have been anxiously awaiting the release of this project for quite some time, especially when I heard that both Ricky Free & Trey Ivey would be producing it. And I have to say, I was not let down. With a mixture of great new songs and sterling classics, the Blackwood Brothers have turned in a great project.  This is the finest recording they have released in quite some time, and easily their best since joining the Daywind roster.  I highly recommend picking up a copy of Forever. You will not be disappointed.

Here’s a video with samples of the project.

Review copy provided by Daywind Records.

My Top 10 Quartets: #9 The Prophets

A while ago, I started a series of articles on My Top 10 Quartets of All Time, starting at the bottom with Perfect Heart as my #10 group. You can read that article here.  I have ranked and re-ranked these groups time & time again, and have been quite conflicted about how to rank these groups. But I believe I have finally settled on an order that I believe is accurate. So after a lengthy absence, we pick up our countdown once again! Coming in at #9 is one of the most exciting quartets to ever come along in Southern Gospel Music, the Prophets Quartet of Knoxville, TN.

The origins of the group trace back to St. Louis, MO in the late 1950’s and a group called The King’s Men Quartet (no relation to the Kingsmen from Asheville, NC).This young quartet included a talented lead singer named Jay Berry and a smooth baritone named Ed Hill. This group had lots of potential, and wowed the crowd at the 1958 National Quartet Convention. Elated by this experience, HIll & Berry decided to relocate the group and base themselves out of Knoxville.

Along with Berry & Hill, a vital member of the Prophets was a young tenor named Lew Garrison. “Big Lew” would prove to be an essential piece of the puzzle for the Prophets, and his high tenor vocals would push the groups vocal arrangements for years to come. 1959 saw the group release their debut album, The Gospel Songs. It was released on a pop music label, Coral Records, and is a very collectible album today.

 

prophets1960glorygloryamenmaxIn 1960, veteran pianist/arranger/quartet man “Smilin” Joe Roper joined the group, and they recorded their only release on the Blackwoods/Statesmen owned Skylite label, “Glory, Glory, Amen” . The group was comprised of Garrison/Berry/Hill and bass Jim Boatman, with Roper at piano. This is one of the groups finest recordings, and features some of the finest singing in the groups history.

 

1962 would bring change to the Prophets (changes in personnel would be something the group would battle constantly). Roper would be replaced by Joe Moscheo, the New York-native who was hailed as the first full blooded Italian in Gospel Music. Moscheo’s showmanship, and knack for arranging would be critical to the groups success. The Prophets joined the talented roster of artists on the Lefevres Sing label, and would release , in my opinion, some of their finest albums during these years. They were also a fixture of the Singing Caravan Tour, with the Blue Ridge Quartet, Johnson Sisters, and Lefevres.

 

prophets1962prophetsmaxAfter releasing 2 fine albums (Packing Up and self-titled The Prophets), in 1963 Jay Berry would depart the group he helped start, and join the Rebels Quartet of Tampa, FL. Berry was replaced for a short time by a young lead singer from Alabama, Jack Toney, whose stay with the group was not long. Filling the position would be another fine lead singer, and one of the all time greats, Roy McNeal. Roy was one of the most dynamic vocalists of his time, with a seemingly endless vocal range and power to boot. McNeal’s first recording with the group, Relax, would be the only Prophets album to feature Jay Simmons at bass.

 
prophets1965vitalvibrantmaxIn 1964, Dave Rogers replaced Simmons at bass, and this lineup (Garrison, McNeal, Hill, Rogers, Moscheo) would be one of the groups most stable & well known configurations. Two of their albums, Gospel Rhythm & I Gotta Tell It, are classics that any quartet lover should have in their collection. In ‘65, Hill came off the road for a little while and was replaced at baritone by a friend of Rogers, Duane Allen. The groups recorded 2 fine projects with Allen (Vital & Vibrant & Beauty, Power, and Peace) before Hill returned to the group in 66. Allen would go on to join the Oak Ridge Boys as their lead singer, and the rest is history.

 

With Hill back in the fold, McNeal would leave briefly, to be replaced by Jim Wesson. With Wesson prophets1966lovelikethesunmaxthe group recorded another one of my favorite albums, Love Like The Sun. The calypso inspired title track, written by a young Lari Goss, is one of the most unique songs recorded by the group.

 

1966 & 1967 would see the departure of Moscheo as he would join Jake Hess & The Imperials. It would also bring the return of McNeal and Everett Reese was hired to play the piano. This group would record 2 projects (A Joyful Sound & Upward & Onward) before both Reese & McNeal would leave the group again. Several pianists, including Danny Churchwell and Bob McCollum, would take their turn at the piano bench.

 

Talented singers such as a young Dean Brown (whose voice & range was bore a striking resemblenceprophets1969bestyetmax to McNeal), Donnie Seabolt, and Carl Sanders all spent time filling the position of lead vocalist for the group. Even though the changes were numerous, the group retained their trademark sound with Garrison & Hill in the mix.

 

However, change was on the way in 1972, when Lew Garrison would leave the group, after 12 years of service. Although the group survived many changes, thanks to the strong leadership and management of Hill, and his ability to find talented individuals, losing “Big Lew” was a blow that I don’t think the group would ever recover from. Grady “Chico” Nix was hired as the groups new tenor, and was a solid tenor. The Prophets would record 3 more albums, before they disbanded in 1973.

 

All the members would go on, the most notable of them being Ed Hill. After Hill disbanded the group, he joined J.D. Sumner & The Stamps as their “temporary” baritone. He would remain “the temporary guy” from 1973 to the groups disbandment after Sumner’s death in 1998. Hill also had a couple brief stints in the Statesmen & Masters Five, but would play a crucial role in the success of the Singing Americans, whom he joined in 1981. He would mold the talent of some of Southern Gospel’s legendary talent such as Danny Funderburk, Ivan Parker, Michael English, Clayton Inman, Rick Strickland, Jeff Easter,  Mike Lefevre, and Mark Fain.

 

prophets2008illfollowmaxAlthough the Prophets would reform in 2006, with Bill Baize at tenor, Paul Jackson at lead, Hill at baritone, Mike Allen at lead, and Eddie Crook accompanying the group on piano, it would be short-lived. Hill today is the baritone for the Songfellows Quartet (with Rick Strickland at tenor). Roy McNeal lives in Tennessee today. Garrison & Rogers have both passed away, and Jay Berry lives in the St. Louis area.

 

Although the Prophets career was short, compared to their contemporaries (Statesmen, Blackwoods, Stamps), they were one of the greatest quartets to ever stand on a stage. Many of their arrangements (Sweeter As The Days Go By, I’ve Found A Hiding Place) have been dubbed as the difinitive arrangements of those classic songs. One could only imagine how different things could have been for the group if they had more stability in their members tenure. Regardless, The Prophets are still one of the greatest quartets of all time, and their music is still influencing new generations of Gospel Music fans who are spinning their records on the turntable for the first time!

 

Stay tuned for more posts from my Top 10 Quartets of all time! As always, I look forward to reading your comments and feedback.

Steve French Of The Kingdom Heirs Retires

Steve-French

STORY UPDATED AT 12/2/14 10:30 PM

Steve French of The Kingdom Heirs issued a statement today, announcing his retirement from the group he has spent over 30 years with. French issued the following statement, “After being in full time Southern Gospel music for 30 years, I feel it’s time for me to close this chapter of my life, and begin the next chapter to see what God has in store. Gospel Music has taken me places I would have otherwise not been able to go, and meet the wonderful people I’ve met over the years. It’s been an incredible journey and the Lord has really blessed me. I’d always dreamed of retiring at 55, and guess what.. I turned 55 in September! If it’s one thing I’ve learned through all of this, it’s that God will give you the desires of your heart – maybe not in the way you pictured it, but He will give them to you in the way that He sees fit. Thank you all for your support, and please continue to support the guys now more than ever. The Father is doing a great work in them, and I have a feeling it’s about to get even better! As for me, I plan to travel, and maybe look into building a new home somewhere out west. You never know what the next 55 will hold! Ah, the joys of retirement!

French was a key component to the success of The Kingdom Heirs for over 30 years. He has been Kingdom_Heir_daysthe only baritone since the groups formation in 1981. Under his and brother Kreis’ leadership, the group has grown to become one of the premier groups in the Southern Gospel industry. The group also became artists in residence at Dollywood theme park in 1986, where they have sang to untold numbers of people who may have never attended a Gospel concert or traditional church service. Thanks to his leadership/management, The Kingdom Heirs have had phenomenally talented vocalists through the years,  such as Rick Strickland, Clayton Inman, Bob Caldwell, Eric Bennett, Steve Lacey, David Sutton, Arthur Rice, Jeff Chapman, Billy Hodges, and Jerry Martin. 

Though French was never truly recognized for being an outstanding singer, he was featured on some great songs through the years with the group. As one who has listened to the Kingdom Heirs for years, I particularly enjoyed Steve’s features on songs like, “Midnight Oil”, “Enjoy The Lord”, “True To The Call, “As Good As I Can Be”, “Hide and Seek”, “Thank You For Praying”, and most recently “Wasted Years“, from the groups last recording Redeeming The Time. 

shows-ss-kingdomheirs-opener.ashxSo as one who has pretty much been listening to the Kingdom Heirs all my life, I would like to say Thank You, Steve! Your commitment to having a first class quartet has produced on the finest quartets in the history of our genre. We wish you all the best and God’s Blessings in your retirement.

 

EDIT 12/2/14 10:30 PM

The Kingdom Heirs issued a press release stating that Piano player Andy Stringfield. who has been pulling double-duty for the quartet filling in the baritone vocals from his piano, will continue to do so. Regarding the new vocal lineup, bassist and now sole-manager Kreis French has confidence in the group’s current voices. “Andy will continue to sing baritone for the foreseeable future and we all know he’s capable of continuing to do it at a high level.”

The Kingdom Heirs are already in the early stages of their Christmas season at Dollywood – a schedule they intended to complete. “We are in conversations with the team at Dollywood and everyone wants to continue this relationship – for this season and the next,” said Kreis.

Following year’s end at Dollywood, the group will gear up for their annual Winter Tour beginning late January. “As a group, we’ll do what The Kingdom Heirs have always done – and that’s hit the road when Dollywood is closed,” commented Kreis. “The only difference now – is I’m booking all the dates and doing most of the driving.”

With change comes an inevitable season of uncertainty, but The Kingdom Heirs are doing their best to see the road lying just ahead of them.

To see when you can visit with The Kingdom Heirs, be sure to get latest schedule from the quartet or from Dollywood. 2015 Winter Tour dates will be announced and posted to the website as they become available. For booking information, contact Kreis French.

Get involved with the guys online! Like them on Facebook and follow them from their BRAND NEW Twitter account @kingdom_heirs!

 

McCray Dove To Launch Solo Career

Today, McCray Dove announced via a statement on Facebook that he will be starting his solo career on December 31st of this year. The statement goes on to explain that Dove will still travel with a live band, who will also supply backing vocals. Here is the statement in its entirety.

10818299_10204757677409222_9017044201913675864_oMcCray Dove announces the launching of his solo career beginning December 31, 2014. McCray states that he will still be traveling as McCray Dove and The Dove Brothers Band. We will still sing harmony with me as lead vocalist and will continue with the live band. There are a lot of exciting things in the works.
I have enjoyed singing in a quartet. In my 27 years of singing professionally I’ve traveled with some very talented men. There will always be a special place in my heart for quartet singing.
I would like to thank every member that has walked out on the stage with me and helped to further my career. Life changes and so does your heart. I have been debating this move for quite some time. I have songs that I want to write and songs to sing. I want to share what I feel and this is the way I feel I need to do it. I ask that you keep me and the band in your prayers. When we come to your town come be with us!
Go to www.dovebrothersband.com
 for booking information
.”

This sadly brings an end to this chapter of The Dove Brothers Band.  The group started in 1998, and was one of the most exciting groups of the new millennium. The first lineup (tenor John Rulapaugh, McCray on lead, brother Eric on baritone, Burman Porter on bass, and pianist Richard Simmons) captured the hearts of Gospel Music fans across the country with. In 2002, the group was voted as the top Quartet by readers of the Singing News. Even though Rulapaugh, Porter, and Simmons departed, the group never missed a beat hiring Jerry Martin, David Hester, and Andrew Smith. The group had changed directions stylistically in recent years, going towards a more progressive sound, which resulted in 2005’s Anything But Ordinary, Everything But Typical, and 2006’s Never The Same, which is my favorite album the group released and contained their first Number One Song, I Can Pray.

The group started to gravitate towards a country sound, which materialized on 2007’s Life and the following releases. Although I personally was not a fan of the groups recent work, nothing can take away from their accomplishments over the years as one of the top groups in the industry. McCray is one of the great lead singers in our industry and I’m interested to see what his solo career has in store, and I wish him all the best. To keep up with McCray, be sure to visit his website, http://www.dovebrothersband.com.