CD Review: So Many Reasons (Dixie Echoes)

Rating: 5 stars

Producers: Randy Shelnut, Randy Shelnut Jr., and Stewart Varnado

Song List: I’ll Be Ready To Go With Him; So Many Reasons; Miracles Will Happen On That Day; Until You Find the Lord; Not in a Million Years; Walk With Me; On the Other Side of Jordan; How Big is God; I’m Gonna Move to the Sky; Little is Much.

Available from: Artist.

***

In the two years since the Dixie Echoes released their last release (Sounds of Sunday), they have had two member changes. Former Palmetto State Quartet member Wesley Smith has replaced Dallas Rogers at the tenor slot, and former Diplomats bass Pat Barker has replaced Tracy Crouch at bass. Since every Dixie Echoes project over the past several years has introduced at least one new member, the group has been fortunate to maintain the same core through that time–lead singer Randy Shelnut, baritone “Scoot” Shelnut (Randy Jr.), and pianist Stewart Varnado.

For the last five or six years, the Dixie Echoes have predominantly recorded and staged classic Southern Gospel songs. So Many Reasons continues this trend. However, it differs from the typical table project. Many groups record projects of new songs as their mainline releases and do table projects of classics on the side; these table projects typically feature ten of the 50 to 100 songs instantly recognizable to any Southern Gospel fan. The Dixie Echoes consistently make a concerted effort to find and bring back forgotten gems.

Granted, the project has its familiar songs, three or maybe four songs from that (hypothetical) list of 50 to 100 songs that every Southern Gospel fan knows. But each has a purpose in the album. “Walk With Me” showcases tenor Wesley Smith; “How Big is God” and “Not in a Million Years” introduce Pat Barker. Somewhat like his predecessor Tracy Crouch, Barker is not the lowest bass ever, but has a rich, warm tone and carries a pleasant lead. “Not in a Million Years” might not have been primarily thought of as a bass song before this rendition, but Barker’s vocals make it sound as though it was written for a bass voice.

“Little is Much,” the project’s other instantly recognizable song, features lead singer Randy Shelnut. Undoubtedly, enough fans who have heard Shelnut’s often electrifying live rendition of the song requested for a CD with the song that the group needed to record it eventually.

Probably the project’s best forgotten gem is the opening track, “I’ll Be Ready.” The song was written by David Reese, a member of the Harvesters and Rangers, and recorded by both groups. Other than a splendid rendition on a recent Couriers project–a project that unfortunately stayed unknown to most Southern Gospel fans–the song has been largely forgotten for decades. The Dixie Echoes turn in a great rendition, managing to showcase all four members without any awkward transitions. (Pat Barker even sings some rhythm bass during Wesley Smith’s solo.)

Other project highlights include “On the Other Side of Jordan,” “I’m Gonna Move to the Sky,” and the two songs featuring Pat Barker, “How Big is God” and “Not in a Million Years.” This project will delight fans of classic Southern Gospel, and undoubtedly win a few new ones along the way.

***

A few words about the rating. Since this is only the fourth 5-star rating I’ve given this year, and only the second to a project released this year, it might raise a few eyebrows that I gave the rating to a project of (mostly) familiar classics. I did this for two reasons. First, I compare it against other projects of classic songs, and it’s one of the best in recent years. Second, part of the rating is due to the recording process. They recorded the core instruments on the soundtracks themselves, and recorded the vocals without stacks or auto-tuning. So Many Reasons gets four of its stars because it’s good; it gets its fifth star because it’s real.


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11 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. Great review and perfect rating! I love the extra point because it is real! It is such a pleasure to see these guys in concert. NO TRACKS! NO STACKS! This group and this CD is what SG quartet music is all about.

    Pat Barker is nominated for the Horizon Award this year and I so hope he wins. He truly deserves it. He has a richness and quality to his bass voice that you rarely hear. George Younce could sing lead. Pat Barker can too. What an absolutely pleasant bass voice.

    His rendition of How Big Is God is the best I’ve heard since London Paris and the Apostles.

    I’ve had this CD in my car for two weeks and it has not come out of my CD player yet.

    JEB

  2. Daniel, in regards to your rating explanation…I say…”AMEN!”

  3. I knew that would strike a chord with several. 🙂

  4. Re: I’ll Be Ready To Go — on Statesmen “A Gospel Concert” – 1963 & DE arrangement is pretty much the same.
    “Not in A Million Years” has been done by a bass — Rusty sings it on Goodman’s “Bigger & Better” LP — again a similar arrangement.

  5. Wow. I have both albums, so I really should have caught both. Thanks for pointing that out.

    (I don’t always notice whether Rusty Goodman was singing “lead” or “bass” on a song.)

  6. “I’ll Be Ready” was borrowed from the Oak Ridge Boys of the mid 1960s, “Miracles Will Happen” was originally recorded by Lee Roy Abarnathy and the Miracle Men, “Other Side of Jordan” is a Blackwood Brothers tune, and “Gonna Move to the Sky” was sung by Dale Shelnut with the Tennesseans.

    I gave them “I’ll Be Ready” and “Miracles” on CD a while back (maybe some others I don’t remember, haha), so to hear them sing those makes me feel real good.

    This is one of the best albums released this year. The songs are just about as exciting on the album as they are live. I think Scoot, Stewart, and David Johnson’s expert musicianship has really contributed to that. I love these guys and I’m tickled with what they’ve done on this CD.

  7. The guys really outdid themselves on this one! There’s not a group on the road today that truly represents what our industry is all about like the DE’s. Am I a little prejudiced? Sure! But…I’ve also looked at what else is available. There are a lot of good groups but no one is any closer to true, pure quartet singing than the DE’s. I have been a Pat Barker fan from day 1, I can’t think of a better fit in the bass position than he. Pat’s version of “Not In A Million Years” is a true crowd pleaser and consistantly has people on their feet everywhere they go. Wesley is one of the smoothest, easy sounding tenors today. Not many tenors can sing “Walk With Me” the way it deserves, but Wesley nails it perfectly. I think this album showcases some of Scoot’s best singing ever! He has developed into one of the best baritones in our business today and it is evident by his lead on “Until You Find The Lord”. Of course Randy’s rendition of “Little Is Much” has been a hit since the first time we staged it. I still love to hear this arragement. And certainly the DE’s would not be able to do what they do without the classic touch on the piano provided by Stewart Varnado. The currently line-up of the DE’s is one of the best. In fact, I’d rather hear Pat sing than me any day!

    If someone were to ask me to play a cd of songs that represent what southern gospel music is all about, this would be the cd I’d give them. I’m extremely proud of the work the guys have put into this project and I encourage everyone to get their own copy. You can sample tracks from this album at the Dixie Echoes MySpace page: [EDIT, 11/8/10: The link is broken and has been removed.]

  8. Ok, TC, your check is probably in the mail for that one! haha!

    Thanks, Daniel for giving the cd a great rating. That really means alot. Mainly because I, like Tracy, know how much hard work the guys really put into making their music. It is real, and that’s what the DE fans love them for. The fact that their true talent shines through every single time they step on stage. They don’t have to hide behind anything. The work hard at it, and it’s about time they get recognized for it!!

  9. Another CD moves onto my wish list …

    I wish the tail end of that list didn’t grow so much faster than the top of it shrinks.

  10. I heard those guys sing a LOT last weekend, and I was quite impressed with their sound. Great guys working with great material makes for an excellent CD.

  11. This is one of my current-favorite CDs – extremely well done and a pleasure to listen to.

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