Ovation Awards … and what constitutes “traditional”

SoGospelNews handed out their Ovation Awards last night; a complete list is here. [EDIT, 2/22/13: Broken link removed.] Among the highlights, Kim Collingsworth won well-deserved awards for Musician of the Year and Special Event Project of the Year (for Personal), the Booth Brothers took home the most awards (5), and the Perrys won Traditional Southern Song of the Year for “The Potter Knows the Clay.”

Interesting food for thought: I find the winners (and, for that matter, the nominees) in the Traditional song and album categories to be rather interesting. If I was to suggest nominees for a “traditional” category, it would include albums and songs from groups like the Chuck Wagon Gang, the Dixie Echoes, the Dixie Melody Boys, the Melody Boys Quartet, the Inspirations, and possibly certain table projects from groups like Greater Vision and the Kingdom Heirs. I define traditional Southern Gospel is basically music that sticks to the classic arranging styles and instrumentation from the 20s through, say, the mid-70s, before influences from other styles of music brought in more heavily instrumented tracks.

Much as I love groups like the Perrys, Legacy Five, Triumphant, Greater Vision, and the Dove Brothers, I classify their recording style as middle-of-the-road. Though some tracks are still based on the classic styles, the instrumentation for a number of tracks on each project brings in orchestrated elements that would have classified as song as “Inspirational” in the ’80s.

If a group would have been called “Southern Gospel up to the mid-70s or so, I classify them as traditional. If their big ballads and other tracks bring in more elements from ’80s Inspirational music (Bill Gaither Trio, Steve Green, etc.), then I classify them as middle-of-the-road. And if their music (at least the tracks) would have been classified as 80s or 90s CCM / Adult Contemporary, then I classify them as progressive.

While this is not articulated as well as it could be with weeks of drafts, perhaps it will help illuminate why someone like Chris Unthank and I can talk past each other in the comments section, going around in circles because we define our terms differently.

So how would you define traditional? progressive? and middle-of-the-road?

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  1. I hate the terms “traditional” and “progressive” as far as timelines. My definitions are as follows:

    Traditional – when an artist relies on tried-and-true methods to keep an audience. They stick in their comfort zone and use what has traditionally worked for them.

    Progressive – when an artist experiments, evolves, and grows over time. While they may still remember their heritage, they are not afraid to expand and try new things to grow their audience.

    Given the above definitions, I’d place groups like Legacy Five, Greater Vision, and the Inspirations in the “traditional” category, while groups like Signature Sound, Gold City, and the Gaither Vocal Band would be in the “progressive” spot.

    The Dove Brothers would probably fall more in the traditional definition, although they are expanding somewhat in recent years. The Booth Brothers could go either way, but from the above definitions, I’d lean more toward “traditional.”

  2. I take a similar approach to defining styles as you, but I don’t go back as far. If a group releases a CD in 2009 that sounds like CDs that were being released just ten years ago, that’s traditional.

    Chris Unthank would probably only go back five years.

    It’s only the groups that are doing something that sounds fresh today that are “progressive.” Everything else that falls under the Southern Gospel umbrella of music is either traditional SG, or it’s actually a traditional Country or Bluegrass or the occasional Black Gospel group that SG audiences happen to like.

  3. Hey Daniel – interesting discussion.

    To me – when someone says “Middle of the Road” – my mind immediately jumps to even further out there – somewhere between Progressive and Pop (perhaps today’s inspirational) – a good example of “Middle of the Road” artists to me are Aaron & Amanda Crabb, the now defunct Everyday Driven and Russ Taff.

    You have to understand just HOW hard it is getting every year to differentiate between the three sub-genre categories. We had long discussions of where to put albums like the Dove Brother’s Life (was it Trad. or Country?), Gold City’s Moment of Truth (same question), Mike & Kelly’s Faith to Believe (Country or Prog?), Crabb Revival’s Runaway Train (country or prog?). When those recordings cover so much different kinds of music over only 10 songs – we don’t know where to put it.

    Also – it’s funny to me to see how we view things so differently. To me, about half of the artists on the road are doing what I would consider Traditional Southern Gospel – while the other half are a cross section between progressive and country. You probably view a very small percentage who are doing traditional.

  4. I would consider the Dixie Echoes and Inspirations to be the poster-artists for “Traditional.”

    I would consider the Kingdom Heirs, the Perrys (and more/less, the Booth Brothers) to be examples for a term I call “Modern.” (“Modern” is basically, the 21st century’s version of what was “standard” SG in the days of the Statesman, Cathedrals, and Happy Goodmans, for examples).

    I would consider Crabb Revival, the Gaither Vocal Band, and Gold City’s recent material to be examples for “Progressive.”

    Some groups that are hard to place are groups like Brian Free & Assurance and Karen Peck & New River. I think both of those sort of walk the line between Modern and Progressive.

    Triumphant is another group hard to place; I think they walk the line between Traditional and Modern.

    Groups like the Hoppers, Legacy V, and most of the mainstream SN Fan Awards winners are “Modern” SG artists. A new spin on the same type of songs that people love.

    Traditional artists tend to rely on great songs of the past, and make a distinct effort to preserve and reminisce what “used to be.”

    Progressive artists push and expand the envelope of how SG is defined.

  5. What Tyler says is pretty good. For the SGN Music Awards – his definitions of “Modern” and “Traditional” would be the composite “Traditional” category in the awards program.

  6. If an old fella can put in his two cents worth, the music of the late 60s and early 70s do not fit with the Dixie Echoes, Inspirations, etc…. On the contrary the music of the Dove Brothers, Legacy 5, Greater Vision, and even Gold City fit well into the category of the 60s and 70s Oak Ridge Boys, Prophets, Downings, Imperials, and JD Sumner and the Stamps Quartet.

  7. And remember prior to the late ’70s we didn’t even have the term Southern Gospel, so it didn’t matter the specific style it was all Gospel Music.