Four Southern Gospel websites announced this morning that they will be merging in one week: Diana Brantley’s SGConcerts, Phil Boles’ Phil Boles on Southern Gospel, Steve Eaton’s Southern Gospel Views from the Back Row, and David Bruce Murray’s / Kyle Boreing’s MusicScribe. For now, they will be blogging at sogospelbackrow.wordpress.com.
They announced that they will be accepting suggestions about what domain they should use as their permanent blogging home. I will suggest publicly what I have suggested privately: MusicScribe is one of the most recognizable brands in the Southern Gospel blogging world. With eight and a half years of history, I believe it has been going for over twice as long as any of the other merging blogs. At any rate, David Bruce Murray is an absolute institution in the genre, Steve Eaton has the best column series ideas in this genre, Diana Brantley is the Queen of Southern Gospel on YouTube, and Phil Boles provides a welcome international perspective. So this site will certainly be a must-read.
Marlin Taylor, manager of SiriusXM’s enLighten, gets new CD submissions constantly. However, he notes, more than half of these are of such a low quality that he can’t select even a single song for radio airplay. So he recently posted a challenge to artists to strive for excellence; there is always room for improvement.
Even if you believe you are already a great singer – which may be true – or a group with superb voices and blend, I can safely say there’s room for improvement … especially if you’re thinking of recording. If not, why would the Booth Brothers call on the services of Nick Bruno? Or other top groups depend on Wayne Haun or Lari Goss? …
The next time Legacy Five has an opening … will you be ready and qualified to fill that position? That’s the level of performance we’re expecting to hear when you send us your next recording. Not only are we here at enLighten depending on it … the Lord is depending on it … and the Southern Gospel music industry is depending on it!
Brian Crout has an interesting column up this morning, proposing the term “neotraditional Southern Gospel.” He points out that there is traditional Southern Gospel (Dixie Echoes, Blackwood Brothers) and progressive Southern Gospel, but that many of today’s most popular groups (Perrys, Triumphant Quartet, Kingdom Heirs, Legacy Five, Mark Trammell Quartet) fall somewhere in between.
He notes that in the 1980s, several country stars started fusing traditional sounds with a fresh presentation, and it came to be called neotraditional country. About that same time, the Cathedrals and Gold City were bringing a fresh presentation to Southern Gospel, and he proposes appropriating the term neotraditional.
It’s a fascinating read, and a thought well worth pondering.
Gus Gaches recently posted A New Twist on Groups and Changes at the Legacy Five blog. He asks what Southern Gospel would look like if it were set up with a system comparable to hockey. Numerous aspects are tongue-in-cheek, and, as he notes, “in no way intended to be taken seriously.” But underneath the light-hearted exterior, he offers some interesting musings on what Southern Gospel might look like if the twenty most popular artists invested time and energy in mentoring eight regional or up-and-coming artists, and if those regional artists in turn mentored local artists.
When the Kingsmen released Grace Says this summer, the closing track, “Loving Shepherd, Gracious God,” immediately stood out. When I reviewed the project, here, it was a no-brainer to name the song as one of the three biggest highlights and as a radio single pick. I even interviewed the song’s author, Dianne Wilkinson, about the song.
You can hear the entire song on YouTube:
Now I am often a particular fan of mellow songs; from “I See a Crimson Stream” to “Oh, the Thought that Jesus Loves Me” to “That’s the Place I’m Longing to Go,” these songs are often the ones I play time and again. So perhaps, I thought, I am biased toward the style.
However, other reviewers have agreed. In fact, this consensus has been surprisingly widespread, enough that I concluded it deserved a slow-news-day post of its own.
Ordinarily, I gravitate toward faster songs, but the highlight of Grace Says for me is “Loving Shepherd, Gracious God.” … Hearing “Loving Shepherd, Gracious God” sparked my interest to the point that I’d want to seek this CD out and buy it.
If there were a Ray Dean Reese signature (and there has been), this may be the new one. This song has been a hot topic on other blogs, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. Taken from Psalm 23, this seems fit for Reese at this time in his life, not just because of his bout with cancer, but because of it’s wisdom, because of its signficance, because of its emptiness, because of its overflowing ability to point us to a loving Shepherd who “sympathizes with us in our weakness”. A high priest, a king, a suffering servant, a Shepherd for “normal” folk. It’s smooth and refreshing.
This new song written by Dianne Wilkinson … may be the most lyrically profound on the entire album. It is a beautiful song led by Ray Reese on the verses, and Hutson on the chorus. It is a excellent way to close out an all around fantastic album, Dianne has done it again this time taking a passage out of the bible (the 23rd psalm, and writing a lyrical masterpiece). I have to say that this song has to be my favorite (lyrically) on the entire album.
Reviews of the newest Kingsmen album, Grace Says (including the one upcoming on this site), have all pointed to “Loving Shepherd, Gracious God” as a highlight due to Ray Reese’s touching vocal solo on the second verse. As good as it is on disc, it’s even better live.
Several other reviewers praised the song, but focused their comments more on the performance than the song itself.
All told, this is a rather remarkable testament that a song doesn’t have to be big or fast to touch lives.
Wes Burke has started a timely and relevant discussion at his site, Is Church Music Dying? He discusses the decline of his church’s choir, the decline of his church’s praise band, and the increased notion of his church’s members to view church music as entertainment rather than a participatory activity.
This post brings to mind another that’s been on my to-blog-about list for months, Lifeway Worship’s They are Not Singing Anymore. It focuses on one aspect of the issue Burke raised: Congregations are not participating in the singing the way their parents and grandparents would. It boils this down to four key reasons:
They don’t know the song.
They can’t sing the song. This point specifically references songs with modern and complex rhythms, which flood the CCM market and appear, on occasion, here. They also noted that sopranos and bass singers can’t sing many of the melodies, and suggested moving the key to a lowest-common denominator key. (A better solution would be to teach singing harmony, once again. No key works for everyone.)
They can’t hear the room singing. If the music is amplified too much, people in the audience will hear that, rather than those around them singing.
They think that they are not expected to sing or needed in worship. If lighting, sound, stage setup, and arrangements all point to “concert,” don’t be surprised if that’s how audiences start treating it.
Now it’s easy to just point the finger at contemporary churches, the target audience of the Lifeway article. But Burke’s column brings the same concept a little closer home.
Two points worth considering: (1) Many churches would benefit from some Biblical teaching on the theology of worship. (2) Not all means are neutral. Churches would do well to determine the desired results of congregational singing—hopefully rooted in good theology—and examine whether those means are helping or hurting.
Just to take one, is a four- or six-part band, whether contemporary oriented or bluegrass oriented, more impressive musically? Yes. But does it add to or detract from congregational singing? The churches I’ve personally experienced with the most engaged singing are churches with just unamplified piano, or piano and one other unamplified instrument. Something about having the piano as the primary or sole instrument, and the pianist playing harmony parts, seems to be conducive to encouraging the hesitant harmony-singers to try to find their part. Naturally, others’ experience might be different. But these are discussions worth having.
Danny Jones, who experiences quite a few concerts in the course of promoting Singing News subscriptions, shares one of the funniest moments he has experienced at a concert – the day a Bluegrass audience took a familiar Jim Hamill – originated joke seriously:
But apparently for several hundred of those “die-hard-Bluegrass-fans-who’ve-never-heard-a-Southern-Gospel-quartet-before,” that statement was a whole new thing.
About three notes into the song, people started getting up and heading to the concession stand and restrooms. At first, three or four. Then a dozen. Then three hundred…
Daniel J. Mount has started writing about Christian music again! Check out expositorysongs.com. This website highlights songs where the main idea of a passage of Scripture is also the main idea of a song.
Fifty of the best posts from Southern Gospel journal's eight-year run are now available in book form. Learn more here.