CD Review: “They Don’t Know” by The Kingsmen

The Kingsmen are one of the most iconic quartet’s in Gospel Music. Throughout their rich history, the group from Asheville, North Carolina have recorded some of the finest albums in Gospel Music history. In 2014, they released one of their most important and heralded project’s in recent years, Battle Cry. It was universally praised by many critics, including this blogger, and quite popular with their fans. But as is a certainly in life, the group has dealt with changes in the last year. Fan favorite tenor Chris Jenkins departed the group. The group found a new tenor in Joshua Horrell, formerly of Declaration & Adoration Quartet.  They Don’t Know is Horrell’s first recording with the group and a mainline release on Crossroads Horizon label. It will be released April 14th, so this is a pre-release review!

The project kicks off with the title track, “They Don’t Know (What The Lord Can Do) features baritone Randy Crawford. It’s a driving song, with some nice horns thrown in (arranged by former Kingsmen Cody McVey) that reminds me alot of something Brian Free & Assurance would cut. A great song nonetheless. “Keep The Lions Hungry“, written by Regina Walden (who had her first chart topping single with “Oh Yes I Am” from Battle Cry“, is the first feature for lead singer Bob Sellers. This is one of my favorite songs on the project. “God Calls It Grace” is the first feature for Horrell, and I must say I was very impressed with Horrell’s vocals on this song. He has really matured vocally since joining the group and this song is a prime example of that.

Hear The Word of the Lord” is another great uptempo song that features Sellers, this was another one of my favorites. Things slow down a bit for “The Evidence I Need” which features Crawford. Its got a really progressive, comtemporary sound and its very well done. “I’ll Sail Away Yonder” is a great straight ahead quartet song, that features Horrell and gives us our only Ray Reese feature on a stepout line on the chorus. Next up is another ballad, “The Cost of The Cross‘, that features Sellers. “Let Go & Hold Fast” is another great uptempo number featuring Horrell and another one of my favorites on the project.

Horrell is also featured on the next song, “Fade To Black“, written by Crawford. Crawford then takes the lead on the next song, “Don’t Underestimate God’s Grace“. The album comes to a close with another great song, “Legacy‘ that features Sellers. Bob’s features on They Don’t Know are all fantastic, showcasing his growth, range and versatility as a lead singer. This song in particular is definitely a must hear; a challenge to the believer to “leave a legacy of faith pointing the way to Jesus Christ“. I hope this will be a single send to radio, it most certainly is a message that the church needs to here.

I really loved Battle Cry and still believe it’s the best project the group has released in nearly 20 years. However, the guys did a great job on They Don’t Know and I believe the blend on this project is as good, possibly even better than on Battle Cry. Although I really would have liked to have heard a Ray Reese feature on this project (it seems crazy to me that the group couldn’t find a song to feature him on), the song selection, arrangements, and vocals are all top notch. The Kingsmen are keeping the momentum rolling, and its something to be excited about. I definitely recommend you pick up a copy of They Don’t Know so you’ll know just how this cd is!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Favorite Songs: Keep The Lions Hungry, God Calls It Grace, Hear The Word of the Lord, Fade To Black, I’ll Sail Away Yonder, Legacy

Review copy courtesy of Crossroads Music. 

CD Review – “Lift Him Up” by The Guardians

The Guardians may be a new name to most Gospel Music fans, but all three members of this trio are longtime veterans of the industry. Dean Hickman (tenor), Neil Uhrig (baritone), and John Darin Rowsey (lead) have sang with groups such as The Golden Keys Quartet, The Sentries, and Karen Peck & New River. Rowsey is also a prolific songwriter, whose songs have been recorded by many of the genre’s top artists, and half the project are songs written by him. Lift Him Up is the group’s debut project on StowTown Records, produced by Wayne Haun & Rowsey.

The album kicks off with an acapella rendition of Larry Gatlin’s “Alleluia“, which is very well done. The pace picks up a bit with an old standard “Packin’ Up“, and the guys bring in “I’m Getting Ready To Leave This World“. Rowsey is featured on the verses and does a great job. Hickman is featured on a the project’s first ballad, “Another Life To Give“, which is one of my favorite songs on the project. The pace picks up again with “His Truth Marching On“, featuring Rowsey. The guys then do a big arrangement of “What A Day That Will Be“, that features Uhrig on the first verse and Rowsey & Hickman on the second, and the guys also using “Heaven Will Surely Be Worth It All & We Shall Behold Him”. Hickman is also featured on a great uptempo song, “Leaning“.

Rowsey sings another one of my favorite songs that he’s written, “Keeper of The Lost And Found“. I first heard this song several years ago when Ivan Parker cut it on his “Unity” project, but I really love The Guardians arrangement and John Darin’s interpretation of this song is fantastic. Don’t skip this song! Next up is another song written by Rowsey, “There Is A Love“, featuring Uhrig. It’s a fun song, with a great latin arrangement. “Hold On to the Power of the Cross” is a song written by and featuring Hickman. The guys sing another Rowsey song very well known to Gospel Music fans, “Woke Up This Morning“.

One of the most unique songs on this project is “Theme From A Summer Place“, a song written in 1959 that originally came to prominence as an instrumental recorded by Percy Faith, with The Letterman recording a vocal version in 1965. When I asked Rowsey why the group recorded this song, he replied that one of the guys wives had the song as a ringtone on their phone and somebody suggested that he should try and write some Christian lyrics to the song. The end result is featured here on the project, and the guys nailed the “Letterman style” on the vocals!

Next up is another great song, “Present In The Presence of the King“, written by Haun and Rowsey. This is a fantastic song and another one you definitely don’t want to skip. The project comes to a close with a song written by and featuring Hickman, Haun and Joel Lindsey, “Please Don’t Wait Forever“.

In comparison to the groups previous release, “Let My Heart Sing“(which was produced by the late Lari Goss), there is no let down with Lift Him Up. With a mix of driving uptempo songs, orchestrated ballads and great vocal arrangements,  The Guardians have served up one of the best recordings of the year already. With Rowsey’s dynamic lead, Hickman’s fine tenor, and Uhrig’s solid baritone, they have one of the finest blends around. If you haven’t heard them already, this project would be a great introduction!

Rating 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Brian’s Favorites: Packin’ Up, Another Life To Life, His Truth Is Marching On, Keeper of The Lost and Found, Present In The Presence of the King

Review copy provided by StowTown Records.

 

Farewell Martin Cook, Welcome Back Archie!

It’s been the most talked about news item on Southern Gospel social media for the last week, and I’m not talking about Reggie Smith’s addition to the Gaither Vocal Band. The Inspirations announced a monumental change in their group, as founder/pianist/group co-owner Martin Cook resigned all of his roles last Wednesday. Taking over for Cook is another fouding member of the group, former tenor Archie Watkins. A link to the news story can be found here.

Watkins left the group in 2009, ending a 45 year career with the group.Non only was he an original member (along with Jack Laws, Ron Hutchins, Troy Burns and Cook) but his voice was a huge part of The Inspirations sound. He and Mike Holcomb had been anchoring the bass and tenor since 1972, an unprecedented feat for any group in the Gospel Music industry. His retirement was a huge blow to the group, and if you don’t believe that explain to me why 6 different men in the last 8 years (Dallas Rogers, Jodi Hosterman, Darrin Osborne, Mark Clark, Harold Reed, and now Casey Johnson)have tried to fill that position. In that time, Watkins recorded several solo projects and started a group, Smoky Mountain Reunion, with some of his friends and former Inspirations, Marlin Shubert, Eddie Dietz, Burns, and  Laws (before his passing).  Archie was the sound of The Inspirations, he deserves to be with the group again and I for one am glad he is back in his rightful place.

Cook’s “retirement” while although sudden, is very much deserved. For 53 years, Cook has been the only pianist the group has ever had. Not only was he a great musician, but he was a dynamic emcee and did a marvelous job leading the group onstage. For over 30 plus years, his son Myron accompanied his father on the upright bass. Unfortunately, the past several years have been challenging for Cook as he has had to deal with personnel issues in addition to his health. The trademark logevity that had been a staple of The Inspirations seemed to now be foreign. But he kept the group on the road and still deserves credit for his years of service.

With Watkins return to the group, personnel issues continue to be the hot topic. The first group picture that was released on social media saw Watkins, Burns, Dietz, and Shubert together with the current lineup of Matt Dibler, Roland Kesterson, Casey Johnson and Luke Vaught, who will be taking over on the piano. Absent from the photo was the group’s bass vocalist Joe Brown, no announcement has been made on whether Brown will return. While it is unfortunate that the group hasn’t released a statement about its members yet (Cook stopped making announcements the past few years as well), its even more unfortunate the behavior thats been displayed in the comments on Facebook posts related to the incident, which is another post for another time.

Only time will tell if The Inspirations will be successful, but I’m liking their chances so far. Archie will bring back the sound that has been missing since his exit and Luke Vaught will compliment the group’s sound in a way fans haven’t heard in years. But what remains to be seen is if the group membership will remain the same. For the most part, we never knew when it did over the past 9 years anyway so it’s not much different. I wish the group all the best and thank Martin Cook for his contributions to Gospel Music in the last 50 years. 

The Old Paths RETURN!

In one of the first major announcements of 2017, The Old Paths have announced they will be reforming. The lineup will include founding members lead singer Tim Rackley and baritone Douglas Roark, and long time bass vocalist Daniel Ashmore. Joining the group as tenor vocalist will be Steve Ladd. The addition of Ladd, a fan favorite from his years with the Anchormen and Gold City, guarantees this group will be just as dynamic vocally as they were previously.

The Old Paths of 2017 Back Row – Douglas Roark, Steve Ladd Front Row – Tim Rackley, Daniel Ashmore

In a press release posted by Crossroads Entertainment Tuesday morning, Rackley shared the following. “When extenuating family circumstances warranted our departure from the road last December, we didn’t know exactly what God had planned. After much prayer and with our families faring much better—along with their support—we have made the decision to come back on the road for select dates as a group. We are thankful that God has opened this door for us, and we are honored to be able to minister as The Old Paths once again. We appreciate the continuing support of the Crossroads family and Harper Agency that has helped make this return happen. We feel very blessed to share this new phase of The Old Paths with Steve and are excited to see so many of our friends back on the road.”

Ladd states, “I was excited when approached to be a part of The Old Paths return to Gospel music. I have always loved four-part harmony, and these guys are some of the best! I am so thankful for what God has done in my solo ministry. So, to be able to have a solo career still AND sing with these guys on select dates was a no-brainer for me”.

Crossroads boss Chris White shares in the excitement, “What a wonderful opportunity it is to re-unite with The Old Paths. Sonlite Records has had a great relationship with them and certainly look forward to continuing our partnership with them.  With the addition of one of the industry’s most prolific tenor singers, Steve Ladd, we feel the group will be stronger than ever.  We can’t wait to get started and be able to service their loyal fan base once again with more great music and performances.”

And the news gets even better, the guys are working on a new project to be released this Summer. It’s no secret to longtime readers of this blog that I was a huge fan of The Old Paths, there is no one more thrilled & excited about their reforming than me. The Old Paths have been sorely missed by the Southern Gospel industry; I absolutely cannot wait to hear the new sound with Steve and I believe they will quickly regain their position as one of the elite quartets in our field. Welcome back, guys!

Album Review: “Together” by 4 One Quartet

Last year, I reviewed a cd by a great male quartet from Michigan , 4 One Quartet. Since then, the group has gone through some personnel changes. Lead singer/group manager Jim Quales and bass vocalist Will Funk are now joined by Dave Randall (formerly of Canada’s legendary Torchmen Quartet), who takes over the baritone spot, while John Croy steps in at tenor. Together is also the groups first recording on the Chapel Valley label, whom they signed with early this year.

image-27The project starts out with JD Sumner’s classic, “God Made A Way”, featuring Funk who does a great job. Next up is a little hymn medley of “At Calvary/Glory To His Name”, which features Randall & Funk on the verses. Things slow down a bit for a great song, “Again”, that features tenor vocalist Croy. One of my favorites on this project is a song Randall wrote, “I’m Gonna Get My Feet Wet”. Dave originally recorded this with The Torchmen several years ago and its great to hear him sing this one again, the guys did a great job on this one.

The guys slow things down again to close out the first half of the recording with “The River”, a praise and worship song that is arranged and delivered with perfection. It’s great to hear a group cover a modern worship song with a tasteful arrangement and solid harmonies. Next up is a song featuring Dave, “Forever Redeemed“, which is one of two songs on the project written by Dianne Wilkinson. Another one of my favorites cuts on the project features Randall, “I Won’t Forget“. Written by Lee Black, Joel Lindsey, and Sue Smith, its an excellent lyric that focuses on the crucifixion and Dave sings it with feeling and conviction. This is definitely a song you will want to hear.

Bass vocalist Funk is featured on another great song, “Come To The Well“, written by Ray Scarbrough. Will shows a bit of his range on this one, a great song about the woman at the well and the invitation Jesus gives to us as well who are “thirsty and dry”. The guys pick up the pace with another great quartet song, “Shout All Over Heaven“. The project comes to a close with another great new song, “When You Say Jesus“, written by Dianne Wilkinson and Marcia Henry. Lead singer Quales is featured on the verse and tenor vocalist Croy is featured on the bridge. It’s a soulful song with some really nice harmony that is a great song to close out the project.

I really enjoyed Together and highly recommend this cd. When you combine great song selection, with tasteful arrangements, and solid vocals, the result will always be a cd that people will enjoy. There’s a little bit of something for everyone on this project, with hymns, classics, and great new songs that will appeal to listeners. Add to that a great quartet blend that is the best in the group’s history, and theres a reason to check these guys out. Dave Randall is an excellent addition and has a great voice with character that is instantly identifiable. I really enjoyed each cut on this project and commend Jim, Will, Dave and John on a job well done. I give this project 4 out of 5 stars.

To pick up your copy of Together, you can purchase your physical copy from the guys here. It’s also available for download on iTunes and other digital music outlets. You can also take a listen to a couple songs below from these YouTube videos.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Favorite Songs: God Made A Way, I’m Gonna Get My Feet Wet, I Won’t Forget, Come To The Well, When You Say Jesus.

Review copy provided.

 

CD Review: “In The Hands of A Carpenter” by Legacy Five

Continuing our reviews of some of the latest cds to be released, In The Hands of A Carpenter is the latest release from Legacy Five on the Daywind label, the first mainline release with new tenor vocalist Josh Feemster, who replaced the groups former tenor Gus Gaches last year.  It was produced by Wayne Haun and the group’s pianist, Trey Ivey.

thumbnailThe cd kicks off with “Deep In My Heart“, a fun group song that features each group member. Next up is the title track, “In The Hands Of A Carpenter“. I was quite surprised to hear the featured vocalist in the title cut was pianist Trey Ivey, but this is nothing new as singing pianists have been a trend with the group.  Both Roger Bennett and Tim Parton recorded songs on the groups projects. Scott Fowler takes his first feature on “I Trust The Cross“, a big orchestrated ballad that has become his trademark. The pace picks up a bit with Dianne Wilkinson & Rebecca Peck’s, “What All The Shoutin’s About” that features both Fowler and tenor singer Josh Feemster. The first half of the project comes to a close with another orchestrated song featuring Fowler, “Still“.

Bass vocalist Matt Fouch is featured on “Who Knew“, a slow, orchestrated crooner style song that’s a bit different from what I expected from Matt. Feemster steps up to take the feature on “Soul Pilot“. Josh was a lead singer during his time with Mercy’s Mark and N’Harmony. Although the verses are pretty low for a tenor feature, the blend is pretty good on this song. This is one of my favorite songs on the project. Baritone Scott Howard is featured on “Lost In God’s Grace“. Other than Fowler, Howard is the only remaining original member. He’s one of the most solid and underrated baritone singers on the road today. Fowler once again is featured on another ballad, “Grace Will Find You“. The album comes to a close with a huge arrangement of “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross“, that features all the members of the group on step out lines.

I saw a lot of posts on Facebook prior to this album’s release from folks in the industry, about how this was L5’s finest project in several years. Unfortunately, I couldn’t disagree more. At first listen, I wasn’t very impressed by what I heard. L5 has truly become one of the most predictable groups around in terms of their song selection. Too many huge orchestrated ballads (all featuring Fowler). As I continued to listen to this album, I realized that the second half of the project was much stronger than the first half.

There are some bright moments on this one; the uptempo songs are done well, and Lost In God’s Grace and When I Survey are good. But the huge orchestrations overwhelm this cd. 7 of the 10 songs on this project are ballads/slower songs,  4 of them almost reach the 5 minute mark. You can only bore a listener so much. Projects like In The Hands of A Carpenter are proof that too many ballads on a project lose a listener. Although I’m sure Legacy Five fans will enjoy this project, I’m rating this one 3 out of 5 stars.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Favorite songs: Deep In My Heart, What All The Shoutin’s About, Soul Pilot, Lost In God’s Grace

Review copy provided by Daywind Records.

Album Review: “Full Sail” by Mark Trammell Quartet

With the passing of the National Quartet Convention last month, a whole slew of new recordings were released. One of them that I have been anxiously awaiting is the subject of today’s review. Full Sail is the latest recording by the Mark Trammell Quartet. This is the first proper MTQ mainline project to feature both bass vocalist Randy Byrd and tenor singer Blake Buffin, last years release Rewind was a new recording of songs from the group’s Trio years with new vocals. This is also the second recording the group has released on their own label, Crimson Road Productions.

store_cds_fullsailThe project kicks off with “All The Way Home”, a nice uptempo quartet song featuring Nick and Blake on the chorus. We then move on to the first ballad of the project, a cover of an old Gaither tune, “My Faith Still Holds”. Mark is featured on this one and I’ve got to say, it may be one of the finest performances he’s turned in since forming MTQ. He sings with conviction, compassion, and excitement. Next up is “Go Show John”, an uptempo song with a country flavor that features Nick. This song is a great example of Nick’s growth as a lead singer, and I enjoyed his vocal. “Treasures In Heaven” slows things down a bit and features Byrd on the verses. The first half of the recording comes to a close with another uptempo song “Already In Canaan Land”, written by Rodney Griffin. I really liked this song and was even more surprised to find Rodney wrote it. It’s a different song stylistically than what I associate with Griffin and the guys do a great job with it.

The second half of the project kicks off with one of my favorite hymns, “He Hideth My Soul”. The guys used Tommy Fairchild’s arrangement that he made famous with the Blackwood Brothers of the late 70’s/early 80’s. Now, Blake Buffin may not be Pat Hoffmaster, but he does a great job on this song. Randy Byrd steps back out front to take the feature on the classic, “Led Out Of Bondage’. While it is a good cut and I enjoyed Randy’s vocal, I wasn’t really a fan of the arrangement as the guys extended it out a bit.

The guys do another cover, this time of The Imperials “More Than You’ll Ever Know”, which features Blake. This one was surprised me quite a bit and Blake did a fantastic job on it. Mark steps up to the mic to do another cover, “God Takes Good Care Of Me“. I enjoyed this song as well, but once again the arrangement really extended the song a bit more than I thought it should have. The project comes to a close with a great Rebecca Peck/Dianne Wilkinson song, “Redeemer of My Soul”.

For me personally, Full Sail is miles better than their last mainline project, Your Walk Talks. One reason this rings true for me is the addition of Blake Buffin as opposed to the group’s previous tenor, Dustin Black. Blake is a true tenor and has a more pleasing tone which is really an added bonus on this project. The guys have a great blend right now and of course, Mark Trammell is a master at picking the right songs for a project. The song selection and vocals for this project are excellent. However, my biggest critique of the project would be that Treasures In Heaven, Led Out Of Bondage, and God Takes Good Care Of Me seemed to drag on just a bit too long, like the arranger did not know how to wrap it up. Overall, Full Sail is a great project and one of the most enjoyable releases of the year for me, I’m giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Favorite songs: All The Way Home, My Faith Still Holds, Go Show John, Already In Canaan Land, He Hideth My Soul.

Review copy not provided.