RIP Steve French 1959-2016

Former Kingdom Heirs co-owner, baritone and emcee Steve French has passed away at the age of 56. The following statement was released today by The Kingdom Heirs on their Facebook page,

Steve-FrenchIt is with heavy hearts that we regret to inform, former co-owner, baritone and emcee, Steve French has passed away. We are praying for comfort and Gods grace. We ask you to please respect the families privacy during this difficult time.”

We here at Fuson’s Findings join the Kingdom Heirs and Gospel Music fans around the country in prayer for Steve’s family and loved ones, and encourage you to do likewise.

In December of 2014 I wrote regarding Steve’s retirement and career, which can be read here. Though he was never recognized for being a great singer, French was a tremendous part of the success of the Kingdom Heirs. Certainly our music would be much different the influence of Steve French and the Kingdom Heirs. Thanks Steve for the great music and memories you’ve given Gospel Music fans, rest in peace sir.

 

Kingsmen Announce New Tenor

The Kingsmen announced the hiring of Joshua Horrell as their new tenor singer. Horrell replaces Chris Jenkins, who departed the group a few months ago to spend more time at home and is now with The Anchormen. The group released the following statement.

13344578_10154312416438939_6062694955053074696_n“Ray Dean Reese of The Kingsmen Quartet would like to welcome Josh Horrell of Rose Hill, North Carolina, to the Kingsmen family as the new tenor vocalist. Josh, age 24, is no stranger to Southern Gospel, coming from a family with a strong musical history. He has been traveling with the Kingsmen for the past month and will transition to a permanent member immediately. He has been received enthusiastically at concerts across the country. The Kingsmen would like to thank all who applied for this position and want to express gratitude to the “Little Giant,” Ernie Phillips for traveling with them and bringing back many old memories while the audition process was taking place.”

I’m familiar with Horrell from his days with Declaration (now Allegiance Trio) and Adoration Quartet, and this move is very surprising to me. In comparison to his predecessor, Horrell is not in the same ballpark as Jenkins as far as range is concerned; but in all actuality not many tenors are. Truth is, Jenkins set the bar incredibly high for the Kingsmen, as it should be in regards to a group of their stature in the industry, and whoever replaced him would have mighty big shoes to fill. I personally would liked to have seen The Kingsmen hire a more proven, veteran tenor with more range, but Horrell is the guy.

With the widespread acclaim that the group’s previous recording “Battle Cry” received from fans and the industry alike (including myself), it will be very intriguing to see what the group will do with their sound now. Here’s a taste of The Kingsmen with Horrell from a recent concert.

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Album Review: “Joy Awaits” by The Gospel Harmony Boys

With their smooth four part harmony and unique vocal arrangements, West Virginia’s own Gospel Harmony Boys have been delighting Gospel Music fans since 1952. Their membership roster has included some of Gospel Music’s finest talents, such as Harold Lane, Harold Patrick, Roger Horne, Greg Tingler are just a few names that come to mind. The current lineup is carrying on that tradition in grand style, anchored by the groups long time tenor vocalist Dr. Clacy Williams. Lead singer Scott Brooks, baritone Scott Adams and bass singer Brandon Stone round out the current GHB lineup. Their latest recording, Joy Awaits, was just released last week and is the first recording with this lineup of personnel. The project was produced and arranged by John Darin Rowsey  (The Guardians, Karen Peck & New River) and a GHB alumnus, James Rainey (Singing Americans, Greenes)

13092005_1065474756851443_1552174179884593527_nThe project kicks off with the title cut, “Joy Awaits”, which is a classic sounding quartet song featuring  Brooks. I simply have not been able to stop listening to this song, it’s a quartet lover’s dream come true. In fact, its hard to not hit the repeat button on this one! The second song, “Heaven Is The Place Where Dreams Come True”, is one of two songs you’ll find written by the great Dianne Wilkinson. It’s another great quartet song that showcases the smooth, four part harmony that has been the group’s trademark down through the years. The third track. “Yes He Can”, showcases the group’s two newest members, baritone Scott Adams and bass vocalist on Brandon Stone, on both the first and second verses respectively. Brooks steps up for the feature on “Grace Has A Face”. This has been a popular Christmas song, but it’s appropriate for any time of season and Brooks does a fantastic job on it. The pace picks back up with a great quartet song, “Walking In The Light Of His Love”.

The second half of the project kicks off with a great song, “In The Arms of Jesus”, featuring Brooks. This song was originally recorded by Terry Blackwood during his tenure with Friends IV back in the 90’s. Many lead singers would not be able to pull this song off, but those lead singers are not Scott Brooks. If you’ve never heard this gentleman sing, you owe it to yourself to pick up this project! There’s no doubt in my mind that Mr. Brooks is one of the finest lead singers in Gospel Music today and this song is evidence to that fact. He absolutely hits this one out of the park, and the group’s backing vocals behind him are excellent. Not too many groups on the road today could do a song of this caliber, but the GHB nailed it!

The next track is another one from the pen of Dianne Wilkinson, “The Good News Is”, which features Clacy (It also has a cool introduction from Paul Heil of The Gospel Greats) For nearly 40 years, Williams has consistently been one of the finest tenors in our industry and he is still getting the job done! The other Scott, baritone Adams, takes the feature on a great song, “Thank You For The Sunshine”. Its a slower pace, acoustic song that Adams does a great job on. You can tell a lot about a quartet by their baritone and Adams is a rich voice that is very enjoyable to listen to. Next up is another great quartet song, “Just Think Heaven”. The GHB actually recorded this song back in 1978 and brought it back for this recording. The song has some great harmony that features Clacy on the chorus after the first verse and Brandon on the chorus after the second verse. For a 19 year old bass singer, Stone is doing a great job. I appreciate the fact that he is singing bass in his range, not trying to rattle the subwoofers at every opportunity, yet still singing some low bass. In a day when many young bass singers are trying to sound like George, JD, or Tim Riley, its refreshing to hear a young bass singer just sing.  The project comes to a close with a medley of He Touched Me/How Great Thou Art, featuring Adams on the verses and both Stone and Brooks on the trumpet.

Joy Awaits has been an absolute joy to listen to! In fact, it has not left my cd player at all this week, as I’ve listened through it several times. In my opinion, The Gospel Harmony Boys have one of the best blends they’ve had in recent years. If you’re unfamiliar with this great quartet, now would be a great time to check them out. Joy Awaits is without a doubt a quartet lover’s dream and one of the Top 5 Best CD’s released this year, I highly recommend picking up this cd, you will not regret it!

You can order a physical copy today from the guys here or purchase a digital copy for immediate download here. Be sure to checkout the GHB on Facebook and social media, as well as their website.

Rating – 5 Stars out of 5 Stars

Brian’s Favorites – Joy Awaits, Heaven Is The Place Where Dreams Come True, In The Arms of Jesus, The Good News Is, Just Think Heaven.

 

Classic Album Review : “Slaughter Writes, Imperials Sing” by Jake Hess & The Imperials

In this edition of Classic Album Review, we reach back to 1965 to remember a classic by Jake Hess & The Imperials. In late ’63, Hess organized the group with the goal of forming a quartet that would be one of the elite groups in Gospel Music immediately. Along with pianist/arranger/songwriter Henry Slaughter, Hess would enlist baritone Gary McSpadden, tenor vocalist Sherill Nielsen and Armond Morales on bass to round out the group. The inaugural lineup would remain together till 1966, when Nielsen departed and was replaced by Jim Murray. In my opinion, Slaughter Writes, Imperials Sing, was their finest album and the ultimate display of Jake & The Imperials at the top of their game. Each and every song on the album was written and arranged by Slaughter.

 Things kick off with a great uptempo quartet song, I’m Gonna Move Up To Heaven, with Hess leading the verses and Nielsen featured on the step out lines on the chorus. The group slows things down a bit with What A Precious Friend Is He, featuring the silky smooth bass of Morales on the second verse. The harmony on the chorus of this song is absolutely impeccable, four part harmony at its finest. Morales is also featured on the first verse of the next cut, I’ll Be There, with Hess singing the second verse. Slaughter himself is featured on the next cut, If The Lord Wasn’t Walking By My Side. Hess takes the feature on There’s A Reason For It All, a song that seemed to be tailor made just for him. Jake was one of the finest stylists to ever sing lead in a quartet, he knew exactly the right touch that a song needed vocally. Side one comes to a conclusion with For Such A Time As This.

The second half of the album kicks off with a Hess standard, God Takes Good Care Of Me. Hess once again struts his stuff on “It’s Worth More Than Anything”, another excellent example of fine quartet singing. Gary McSpadden is featured on the next cut, Then The Answer Came, with Hess & Nielsen taking the first verse and McSpadden the step out lines on the chorus and second verse. Gary once again is featured on I’ll Never Forget, with Hess leading the chorus. Next up, the group tackles another classic, “I’ve Never Loved Him Better”. The album closes out with Nielsen singing “A Place of Peace”.

The inaugural lineup would remain together till 1966, when Nielsen departed and was replaced by Jim Murray. Slaughter would leave in 67, with the late Joe Moscheo (Harmoneers, Prophets) taking his place. The group would release one album that year, To Sing Is The Thing. In 1968, health problems would lead Hess to leave the group, with McSpadden following. Hess would surrender the management of the group to Morales, Murray, and Moscheo, who led the group for the next decade into a new era of Christian music. Although they were only together for two years, Jake Hess & The Imperials cemented their place in the history of Gospel Music as one of the genres most talented groups. If you have this album in your collection, I highly recommend giving it a spin on the turntable once again.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Classic Album Review, be sure to leave a comment below!

 

CD Review: “Love So Amazing” by Shane Dunlap

EDITORS NOTE: Last year I had the privilege of doing an interview with Shane about this project, you can check it out here.

Shane Dunlap is one of the most talented vocalists to ever grace a stage in the history of Gospel Music.  From his days with N’Harmony, to his stint as the initial lead vocalist in Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, and The Trio (Kirk Talley & Anthony Burger), Shane has showcased his natural ability to many fans. After disbanding N’Harmony in their second formation, Dunlap started working in the local church, where he has spent the last 8 years serving as a music minister.

A year ago, Shane made the decision to record again, his first solo in over 10 years. Produced by Ricky Free, Love So Amazing is the result of Dunlap’s return to the studio.

shane-dunlapThe project kicks off with “He’s Making Me”, followed by “I’m Free”. Things slow down a bit with a powerful song, “Grace Keeps Reaching”. “Heaven In Your Heart” is another slower tune, that is also the projects first radio single. Shane is joined by Sonya Isaacs Yeary of The Isaacs, and she sings the second verse of the song.

“Glory Hallelujah” is an anthemic, uptempo song of praise. “Love So Amazing”, the title track, is a beautiful ballad that describes just how truly magnificent the love of God is, and Shane absolutely hits it out of the park.Just Believe” is a shuffling tune that inspires us to trust the Lord to make a way for us. “The Most Unlikely People” slows things down a bit, and tells a great story in the lyric of how God uses people we may never expect to do remarkable things. “Shaken” is a great song that’s one of my favorites. “He Loved Me Anyway” is a great song, with only piano accompaniment.

CONCLUSION

Dunlap’s versatility as a vocalist is on full display on Love So Amazing. While songs like “Grace Keeps Reaching”, “Glory Hallelujah”, “Just Believe” and “Shaken” are tunes you can imagine hearing on modern CCM radio, Shane still sings some SG friendly tunes, like “Heaven In Your Heart”, “He’s Making Me” and “He Loved Me Anyway”. There’s truly something for everyone musically on this project.

Vocally, I believe this is Shane’s finest work, he sounds better than ever and the song selection & lyrical content is phenomenal. And once again, kudos to the finest producer in SG, Ricky Free, for once again making a fresh project that sounds like nothing else in the industry today. Being a soloist and holding someone’s attention on a recording is a tall task, but Love So Amazing did it for me. It is by far the best solo project I’ve heard in a long time, I highly recommend this project!

You can find Love So Amazing on iTunes or you can order a physical copy directly from Shane on his website here. To hear for yourself, check out the CD Preview video below.

Rating: 5 Stars

Review copy NOT provided.

 

News & Notes for April 26th

News

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Allegiance Trio L-R Jake Sammons, Kasey Kemp, Heath Pannell

Allegiance Trio announced the addition Heath Pannell as their new tenor singer. Pannell joins the group, replacing TJ Evans. Pannell, 32, is a native of Ripley, MS. Heath’s first performance with Allegiance was on the Praise The Lord program on TBN hosted by David Rives. Allegiance joined David Rives as well as Bass Singer Gene McDonald, Cheri Keaggy and Pastor Ben Graham. Allegiance sang and discussed their upcoming “I WILL STAND TOUR” and Jake joined Pastor Ben Graham to talk about the upcoming “I Will Stand Movie.”

The Crossroads Music Group has announced that their online music store is closing, all of their recordings can be purchased digitally on iTunes. They have also announced all of their performance soundtracks can be purchased at their new website, http://www.crossroadsperformancetracks.com

We wish to express our condolences to the families of Gold City. The group was been dealing with the passing of Barbara Riley, wife of Tim and mother of Danny, passed away on April 20th. Just 2 days later, Sammy West, father of the groups bass vocalist Chris & and grandfather of sound engineer Dillan, passed away. Please pray for both the Riley & West families during this time of grieving.

In the wake of Mrs. Riley’s passing, here is a song that was dedicated to her on Gold City’s 1997 recording, “What A Great Lifestyle“. I hope you enjoy “Between Me And The Storm“.

 

 

 

CD Review: “Ransomed” by The Down East Boys

The Down East Boys have consistently been releasing quality projects, especially since they transitioned back to a quartet configuration several years ago. Although the group has endured some personnel changes, lead vocalist and group owner Ricky Carden has never failed to surround himself with talented individuals who have helped him put out great recordings. Ransomed, due to release This Friday,  March 18th, may very well be the best recording in the group’s history. Carden is joined by longtime baritone Daryl Paschal, while both tenor Steve Lixey and the group’s newest member, bass vocalist Rick Walls are making their mainline debuts.

image1The cd kicks off with one of many songs you’ll find on the project written or co-written by the great Dianne Wilkinson, “A Reason To Sing”. It’s a great quartet song with Ricky carrying the lead and some great group singing. But what really blew me away with this song is what they did with the bridge. Steve takes over and there’s some really tight harmony that is absolutely fantastic, the best I’ve ever heard the DEB sound. The pace picks up a bit with, “Somebody Left The Door Wide Open”.  Ricky is featured on the verses, and the song has a rockin’, bluesy feel with a choir backing up the group on the chorus. Next up is another great song, “I Still Remember”. Ricky is featured on another ballad, “The Song Of The Ransomed”. Next up is another uptempo number, “That’s What You Get For Loving Him”. Carden really shows off his versatility on the first half of the project, reminding us of what a talented vocalist he is in his own right. From smooth four part harmony to up tempo quartet songs and even powerful ballads, Ricky handles them all on this project and excels.

At the midway point of the project, tenor Steve Lixey steps up for a feature on a great song penned by Darryl Williams, “A Thief’s Paradise”. This song is different from anything you’ll hear on Ransomed because Steve is the only vocalist. It’s a gentle song, describing the thief on the cross who found forgiveness when he asked Jesus to “remember him when he came into his kingdom”, and Steve sings it superbly. Lixey has really come a long way vocally since joining the group, and his growth is on full display on Ransomed. He possesses a distinctive tenor voice that really makes him somebody Gospel Music fans need to listen to.

The seventh cut of the project, “One Way, One Door, One Name”, is the first radio single and features baritone Daryl. Paschal possesses one of the finest baritone voices in our genre, and does a great job on this cut. “That Wonderful Land” is another great quartet song about Heaven that features Ricky on the second verse. “The Cross Speaks Louder” is a nice ballad featuring Daryl, that reminds us that “the cross speaks louder than our sin“. “Now A Witness Am I” is another great uptempo quartet song from another great writer,  Regina Walden. Closing out the project is a great song written by Ray Scarbrough, “Pray”. Each member of the group is featured on the verses, and it’s a great song that encourages believers to “get down on their knees”. Aside from a few step out lines and a couple lines of the first verse of “Pray’, we don’t hear much from Rick Walls in terms of solos. But I must say I enjoyed Rick on this project, he sounds great in the group’s blend and seems to be a great fit.

I don’t hand out praise for everything I listen to, in fact it’s hard for me to listen to a cd all the way through without skipping a single song. But I didn’t have that problem with this project. Compared to their previous project, Beyond The Blue,  The Down East Boys have raised the bar for themselves with excellent song selection, great arrangements, and dynamic vocals, Ransomed is a great project that Quartet fans and Gospel Music lovers will enjoy. My only real critique is that I would have loved to have heard another song featuring the bass, balancing out the features. Irregardless, Ransomed is a great project and one of my favorites this year. I would also like to say kudos to the musicians at Crossroads Studios, they have been doing some great things musically and it’s a lot of fun to hear the arrangements that Jeff Collins has been coming up with lately.

To pick up your copy of Ransomed, visit the Down East Boys website here. You can also download your copy on iTunes

Brian’s Favorites – A Reason To Sing, That’s What You Get For Loving Him, A Thief’s Paradise, Pray

Rating – 4.5 out of 5 stars

Review copy provided by Crossroads Entertainment.