CD Review: Make a Difference (Southern Raised)

Editor’s Note: This review was promised prior to the CD reviews column being discontinued, but it took the CD a while to get here.

make-a-difference-1397571807The four siblings comprising Southern Raised are classically trained musicians who have also performed together as a classical string quartet. But, growing up in Missouri’s Ozark Mountains, they also grew up around bluegrass, and they have come to the world’s attention as a bluegrass band. Their live presentations infuse their classical precision with their bluegrass energy.

Especially once you get past the genre’s headliner groups, you’ll find quite a few bluegrass gospel recordings filled with well-worn classics. Southern Raised’s song selection is on the creative side. There are only two classics that you’ve heard recorded dozens of times (“What a Day That Will Be,” “I’ll Have a New Life.”) There are also three songs written by group members (“Things I’ve Never Seen,” “Ravens Still Fly,” and “River of Rest.”) All three are among the album’s stronger tracks.

Two songs you’ve heard before in a Southern Gospel setting are “Angels Swing a Little Lower” (Mark Bishop) and “Good News From The Graveyard” (Anchormen, Kingdom Heirs). Both are transformed into high-energy Bluegrass jams with fiery instrumental solos and and powerful vocal solos.

Another highlight is “Grandpa’s Fiddle,” written by James Payne and Adrian David Payne, and previously recorded by James Payne. If James Payne’s name sounds little familiar, it’s for good reason; he wrote “The Cloud He’s Coming Back On” and “The Greatest Love Story” for the Happy Goodmans, “The Walls of Jericho” for J.D. Sumner and The Stamps, and “Headlines” for the Florida Boys. This new song is a celebration of a family heritage steeped in both music and faith.

Southern Raised has the chops to make it as a bluegrass band, and they have dozens of bluegrass awards and nominations to back it up. But they also have the vocal talent and the songs to become a dual-genre success in Southern Gospel. And Southern Gospel fans have started to take notice; they’ve had a best-of-showcase appearance on the the National Quartet Convention mainstage, and they’ve received top ten nominations for New Mixed Group in the 2013 and 2014 Singing News Fan Awards. Vocally, instrumentally, and from a songwriting and production standpoint, Make A Difference is a solid all-around project that will make fans of those who hear it.

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CD Review: Into His Presence (The Perrys)

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perrysThe Perrys’ upcoming April 8th StowTown release, Into His Presence, is one of the year’s most highly-anticipated releases. This was a day that many in the Southern Gospel community feared would never come. Over the last fifteen months, during Tracy Stuffle’s protracted, roller-coaster recovery from a January 2013 stroke, there were many points it seemed doubtful he would survive, let alone return to the stage. But he is back, albeit in a limited capacity as his recovery continues, and appears on this CD.

Into His Presence also features the Perrys debut of two new vocalists, lead singer David Ragan, already a young star in his own right, and rookie bass singer Jared Stuffle. Jared Stuffle is the son of alto Libbi Perry Stuffle and bass singer Tracy Stuffle. Last year, the group announced that he would be filling in on bass until his father was able to fully return. He sings a bass harmony part on most songs on the CD, and does an adequate job. His tone has a baritone warmth and clarity, even on bass notes (and make no mistake, that’s intended as a compliment.) Picture what former Florida Boys baritone Glen Allred would have sounded like filling in on bass (and make no mistake, that’s intended as a second compliment.)

When a group has to replace a superstar, as the Perrys did after Joseph Habedank’s departure, they faced a dilemma many groups face. Should they hire the replacement singer who sounds most like his predecessor, or the overall best singer available? The Perrys chose the latter course.

Into His Presence doesn’t have any anthems as gigantic as “Calvary Answers For Me” or “If You Knew Him,” no shouting songs in the vein of “Did I Mention,” and no hard-driving toe-tappers like “I Wish I Could’ve Been There.” When a group hires the overall best singer available, sometimes they keep picking songs that would have been perfect for their old lineup. The Perrys wisely eschewed that approach in favor of a more straight-ahead and subdued repertoire.

Perhaps the crown jewel of this approach is the opening track, “Into His Presence.” This Cathedrals cover is a peaceful, pretty arrangement anchored by David Ragan. Perhaps it’s understated—understated magnificence. It’s hard to imagine it fitting any previous Perrys lineup, but it is perfect for this one.

In a similar manner, Libbi Perry Stuffle’s strongest feature on the project is “Reminders.” It’s more subdued than many of the Kyla Rowland songs that the group has previously recorded; it doesn’t have the drive of “Until I Start Looking Ahead,” “Did I Mention,” or “I Rest My Case At The Cross.” But it’s a perfect fit both musically and lyrically for where the group is at this point in their career.

“Three Men On a Mountain” features Tracy Stuffle. Granted, his voice may be only around 30% of the way back, but a comeback to even this point was so improbable that few Southern Gospel fans will listen to this track with dry eyes.

Two other highlights are a 6/8 song called “Lord, I’m Thankful” and “Sooner Than Later,” a song featuring baritone Bryan Walker that would have sounded at home on a Steeles record in the late ’90s. 

Don’t approach Into His Presence hoping for a lead singer trying to be the second-best Joseph Habedank in the world and a bass singer trying to be the second-best Tracy Stuffle in the world. This Perrys lineup is comfortable in its own skin. 

Song list (songwriters in parentheses): Into His Presence (Mack Taunton); When He Comes Walking On The Water (Wayne Haun, Jeff Bumgardner); I Can Trust Him (Wayne Haun, Joel Lindsey); How Long (Johnny Minick); Reminders (Kyla Rowland, Melissa Dawn Kennedy); Lord, I’m Thankful (Joel Lindsey); Sooner Than Later (Rachel McCutcheon, Adina Bowman); Three Men On A Mountain (Wayne Haun, Joel Lindsey); I Owe Him Everything (Lyn Rowell); Just Stand Still (Rodney Birch); Privilege of Prayer (Rachel McCutcheon). Review copy provided.

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CD Review: Your Walk Talks (Mark Trammell Quartet)

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There are no two ways about it: The Mark Trammell Quartet’s brand-new release Your Walk Talks is a masterpiece.

A great recording starts with great songs. Mark Trammell has proven he knows how to find good songs; it is not a coincidence that his years with the Cathedrals and Gold City were years in which they found and recorded many of our genre’s all-time greatest songs. Just take the Cathedrals: Trammell ran their publishing company during his years in Stow, Ohio, and for part of his time with the group, screened songs to present the best finalists to the group.

This is only the Mark Trammell Quartet’s second recording of new songs since becoming a quartet; their previous one, Testimony, came out over three years ago, in 2010. But Your Walk Talks is worth the wait. Suppose that they had released one recording a year since 2010, and then pulled together all the strongest songs onto one compilation CD. That’s how strong the song selection is here.

“Don’t Stop Running,” written by and featuring Nick Trammell, is a perfect energetic album opener, setting the tone for the rest of the album.

 “God’s Been Faithful” (Dianne Wilkinson, Scott Inman) is one of those simple message songs that are, all too often, easy to skip over when skipping through the album looking for the next hit song. But Mark Trammell’s showstopping vocal solo is probably his strongest vocal performance on the CD.

“When The King Comes To Claim His Throne” (Dianne Wilkinson) is a song about Christ’s millenial reign featuring new tenor Dustin Black carrying the melody in the convention-style choruses. On an album filled with strong songs, it’s one of the strongest.

“Thanks to Calvary” (Bill and Gloria Gaither) is a song that seemingly every group in the industry has recorded, but Pat Barker’s warm, confident solo makes the song worth standing shoulder to shoulder with the new songs.

The next song, “I’ll Go Over Jordan Someday,” is also a cover, but unlike “Thanks to Calvary,” it’s an old Stamps-Baxter song that has been almost completely forgotten since the Happy Goodmans’ rarely-discussed 1974 rendition.

Your Walk Talks isn’t exactly ballad-heavy. “Man of Sorrows,” a powerful Mark Trammell feature written by Dianne Wilkinson and Rebecca Peck, is an orchestrated anthem. The strings are there, and nicely done—incidentally, by a relatively new face on the scene, Luke Gambill of mystringsection.com. But the song’s every bit as much a hymn as it is a Southern Gospel ballad; it wouldn’t be too hard to imagine a pipe organ in place of the strings.

“Your Walk Talks” (written by Rodney Griffin and Babbie Mason) has simple message put in a delightfully fun way: “Your walk talks / and your talk talks / but your walk talks louder than your talk talks.” Bass singer Pat Barker brings the energy the song needs.

“To Know He Knows Me” (Nick Trammell, Rodney Griffin) is a tongue-twister in the great tradition of a song like “Can He, Could He, Would He.” As the chorus says: “To know He knows me like He knows me and to know that He still loves me / Lets me know that it’s a love that is real / The fact He gave me what He gave me when I asked if He would save me / Tells me He will still a promise fulfill / To know that He did when He didn’t have to do what He did / Shows the heart of His compassion and grace / And since He knows me like He knows me yet He saved me like He saved me / Lets me know His love’s a love that’s here to say.”

“I’ll Take it To The Grave” is co-written by Dianne Wilkinson and Rebecca Peck. After nearly four decades writing many of this genre’s greatest songs, Dianne Wilkinson is a songwriting legend in our genre for good reason. Yet this song is one of the five best songs she has ever written—and the single best fast song she has ever written.

 We get to the final song on the project, “I Wouldn’t Have it Any Other Way” (Dianne Wilkinson), before we have a full-scale feature for new tenor Dustin Black. It’s a reflective song with a deeply doctrinal message; how often do you hear a lyric that begins with “The mirror of God’s Holy Word revealed my lost condition”? The musical setting is the old-school bluesy Gospel style innovated by the Statesmen.

Your Walk Talks is easily the best recording of 2014, so far. But that statement’s a little too easy to make, since it is also the first major-artist recording of the year. So let’s go a little farther: It is one of the three strongest releases so far this decade.

Average song rating: 4.8 stars. Overall album rating: 5 stars.

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CD Review: Time Machine (The Browders)

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Time Machine - BrowdersAfter three #1 hits from their final independent release, The Browders teamed up with Daywind to release their major-league debut, Time Machine

It’s a CD that prompted a very different impression on first listen and on subsequent spins. The first time through, the songs that stood out the most were progressive tracks like “Time Machine” and “New Song” and two white-boy-does-rap tracks, “Pick Me Up” and “Whatever You’re Going Through.” My immediate reaction was that this was the single most progressive Southern Gospel CD that had ever come across my desk for review.

But on second and third spins, the songs like “Listening For The Shout,” “The Reason,” “Waiting For You to Get Home,” “He Took My Place,” and “Lift Up His Name” showed their middle-of-the-road appeal. While the progressive tracks probably would not go anywhere on Southern Gospel radio, these probably include several chart-toppers.

The album cover is the coolest Southern Gospel album cover in quite a while—even if there’s a slight irony that its retro look accompanies the year’s most progressive CD.

The Browders’ songwriting has been strong enough to net them several #1 hits. So it makes sense that they would write or co-write all eleven songs. Matthew Browder had a hand in nine of the songs. David Browder co-wrote two with him. Tommy Browder co-wrote one with Matthew and wrote one by himself. Sonya Browder only wrote one song, a solo writing credit on “The Reason,” but it is the project’s strongest song.

Traditional or Progressive: Very progressive.

Group Members: Matthew Browder, Sonya Browder, David Browder, Tommy Browder.

Credits: Produced by Kevin Ward and The Browders. Mixed by Ben Fowler. Mastered by Hank Williams

Song List (songwriters in parentheses): Lift Up His Name (Matthew Browder); He Is Alive (Matthew Browder); Time Machine (Matthew Browder); Listening For The Shout (Matthew Browder, Tommy Browder); He Took The Nails (Matthew Browder, Mike Upright); Whatever You’re Going Through (David Browder); God Knows What’s Best (Tommy Browder); Pick Me Up (David Browder, Matthew Browder); The Reason (Sonya Browder); New Song (Matthew Browder); Waiting For You To Get Home (Matthew Browder, Phil Cross).

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CD Review: The Lord is Good (Collingsworth Family)

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The Lord is GoodYou simply can’t measure a Collingsworth Family recording with the same measuring stick you use for a Perrys or Hoppers recording. They aim for a different target. Their recordings are less in the tradition of the Happy Goodmans or Nelons and more in the vein of a 1970s Bill Gaither Trio or Henry & Hazel Slaughter. They occupy a niche so much their own in today’s stylistic spectrum that it’s hard to compare their new releases with anything except their own previous recordings.

In that light: Their last few mainline releases have had a song or two that stands head and shoulders above the rest, a signature song or defining moment. (Think “Fear Not Tomorrow,” “Resurrection Morn,” or “That’s The Place I’m Longing To Go.”) The Lord is Good doesn’t. This year, they did introduce such a song—”Burdens Are Lifted at Calvary”—but that song ended up on their new hymns release, reviewed here, instead of the mainline release.

Even though The Lord is Good doesn’t have a single defining moment, what it does have is twelve good songs that stand shoulder to shoulder with one another for a consistently enjoyable effort.

There is a mixture of the old and the new. The strongest uptempo song, “Show a Little Bit of Love and Kindness,” is a John W. Peterson song somewhere around a half-century old. “How Great His Love For Me,” a new song, has a bridge of the classic song “Love Found a Pardon”; the bridge is strong enough to make one wish the arrangement team had dispensed with the notion of using it as a bridge and simply added the entire classic to the song list.

Those two songs are also perhaps the two on the recording most likely to stand out to listeners whose frame of reference is other Southern Gospel releases. Both are excellently performed—Phil Jr.’s feature on “How Great His Love For Me” and Olivia’s feature on “Show a Little Bit of Love and Kindness” leave absolutely nothing to be desired. But the Collingsworth Family is probably at their best when they’re doing songs that wouldn’t find a place on most Southern Gospel mixed group projects. This is shown in songs like “There is Healing in His Hands,” “If He Hung The Moon,” or the album’s overall strongest moment, “God is Moving.”

Largely because their strongest performance of the year ended up on a project besides the mainline, The Lord is Good doesn’t quite bump The Answer (reviewed here) and Part of The Family (reviewed here) from their position as the group’s strongest two releases to date. But it’s one of their five best, as well as one of the ten best CDs released this year. It is well worth adding to any Southern Gospel collection.

Traditional or Progressive: Middle-of-the-road.

Group Members: Phil Collingsworth Sr., Kim Collingsworth, Brooklyn Collingsworth Blair, Courtney Collingsworth Metz, Phil Collingsworth Jr., Olivia Collingsworth.

Song List (songwriters in parentheses): I’ve Come Here To Tell You That The Lord is Good (Williams/Talley); It’s Not Too Late To Pray (Dianne Wilkinson, Rebecca Peck); Show A Little Bit of Love and Kindness (John W. Peterson); If He Hung The Moon (Kirk Talley); We Will Serve The Lord (Wayne Haun, Joel Lindsey, Jeff Bumgardner); There Is Healing in His Hands (Allred); My Debt Was Paid (McCutcheon/Gillespie); God Is Moving (Kirk Talley); Living In Love With the Lord (McCutcheon); It Matters to the Master (McCutcheon); How Great His Love/Love Found A Pardon (Lindsey/Bumgardner with Sumner/Brown); I Could Never Outlove the Lord (Gaither).

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CD Review: Cathedrals Family Reunion

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Cathedrals Family ReunionIt was a historic occasion: Five alumni of a group many consider the greatest Southern Gospel group of all time—the two living ’90s alumni and the three living late-80s alumni—gathered together for the first time to do a recording together. Which direction should they take?

Should they record the greatest hits—the ones they’d already recorded on their groups’ individual tribute projects, but for the first time together?

Should they record great songs from deeper in the Cathedrals’ vast repertoire that deserve another hearing?

Should they record new songs in the Cathedrals’ style or update the arrangements?

Should they record songs with just their voices? 

Should they add in one or all of the three bass singers regularly touring with these alumni—Matt Fouch, Pat Barker, and Paul Harkey, because it’s difficult to play tribute to a quartet without a bass part?

Should they do an extended-family choir with all the current members of the groups that they currently tour with?

Should they incorporate old recordings of the three longest-running alumni—Glen Payne (36 years), George Younce (35 years), and Roger Bennett (18 years)—all of whom have passed away?

For better or worse, the answer they selected was “all of the above.” There are some songs with just their five voices, plus a bass singer. There are songs with a full male-voice choir with the voices of other members of Legacy Five, Greater Vision, the Mark Trammell Quartet, and Ernie Haase & Signature Sound joining the alumni. Glen Payne’s, George Younce’s, and Roger Bennett’s voices are also incorporated, courtesy of technology (on “I’ve Read the Back of the Book,” for Roger, and “Search Me, O God” for Glen and George). Each of the bass singers gets at least a few step-out lines; Pat Barker fans will be delighted to hear him nail the project’s most prominent bass solo, “Wedding Music.”

Some songs, like “Champion of Love,” “Oh, What a Savior,” “Wedding Music,” and “Somebody Touched Me,” are among the defining songs of their respective Cathedrals lineups. “We Shall Be Caught Up,” “O Come Along,” and “Blood-Washed Band” are welcome finds from a little deeper in the catalog.

Arrangements generally stay relatively close to the originals. “Yesterday” and “Blood-Washed Band” are both a little more orchestrated than the original performances. But it’s not distracting, because they’re no more fully orchestrated than quite a few of the Cathedrals’ own songs of the 80s and 90s were. It’s easy to imagine that an actual Cathedrals re-cut of either song in, say, 1995 would have sounded exactly like these. It made particular sense to update the arrangement on “Yesterday,” since it’s the oldest Cathedrals song revisited, and the only one from the ’70s.

Cathedrals Family Reunion succeeds in having something for everyone. For the most casual of fans, who don’t have any of the previous tribute projects, it contains a number of the all-time biggest hits. (Including this approach does make sense. Since this is released on StowTown records and has the marketing power of Provident behind it, it will undoubtedly reach many bookstore customers who do not have the other tribute projects.)

For more active fans who have the other tribute projects, it also has several tracks making it worth purchasing. But for active fans, it is perhaps less a full-course menu and more of an appetizer for what the future could hold.

What could this future hold? Well, take a look at the songs these alumni were singing at the reunion event earlier this month. One user posted five videos, “Movin’ Up to Gloryland,” “Into His Presence,” “Whosoever Will,” and two absolutely show-stopping performances in “Thanks to Calvary” and “What a Meeting.” None of these have been overdone; in fact, only “Movin’ Up to Gloryland” has appeared on a previous Cathedrals alumni tribute project. Could these songs be hints as to what we might see in the future? Could there be a Cathedrals Family Reunion 2?

One thing’s for sure: There will only be a chance at a volume 2 if this is a success. And the nice part about having something for everyone is this: It doesn’t matter what you’re looking for from a Cathedrals tribute project; there will be something here for you.

Traditional or Progressive: Traditional to middle-of-the-road.

Credits: This review was based off of a digital edition and, as usual, credits are only available in the hard copies. (Review copy not provided.) 

Song List (songwriters in parentheses): Blood-Washed Band; We Shall Be Caught Up; Wedding Music; We’ll Work; O Come Along; I’ve Read the Back of the Book; Yesterday; Can He, Could He, Would He?; Oh, What a Savior; He Made a Change; Somebody Touched Me; Search Me, O God; Champion of Love.

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CD Review: Have You Heard? (Dixie Melody Boys)

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Have You Heard - Dixie Melody BoysHave You Heard? is perhaps the last thing you would expect from a group that has been on the road for fifty-one years—a breakout album.

A breakout album redefines what we can expect from a group. When we refer to an album as a breakout album, it’s usually for a group that has been in the national spotlight for a decade or less. Typically, when a group has been on the road for fifty-one years, you know what to expect!

The Dixie Melody Boys’ previous recording, their January 2011 release The Call is Still the Same, was a solid step in a new direction for the group, especially in the area of production quality. But Have You Heard? is a landmark recording that solidly exceeds its predecessor in two ways: While maintaining the same production quality, it takes steps forward in vocal performances and song selection.

This is is the strongest collection of vocal performances ever turned in on one Dixie Melody Boys’ recording. We think we know what to expect from Dixie Melody Boys vocals. Thanks to finds like Ernie Haase, Rodney Griffin, McCray Dove, Harold Reed, and Devin McGlamery, Ed O’Neal has gained a reputation for putting an incredible lineup on stage and training tomorrow’s superstars. But it’s still the case that most singers have a vocal maturity at 30-35 that they don’t have at 18-22. Many of the Dixie Melody Boys lineups of the last twenty or thirty years have had one or two (or three!) voices that hadn’t fully matured.

But this lineup is different: Josh Garner, Matt Felts, and Ed O’Neal have all spent years on quartet buses; Aaron Dishman is the only newcomer. It’s quite possibly the strongest vocal lineup the Dixie Melody Boys have ever put on stage; the lineups with Harold Reed on tenor, McCray Dove on lead, and assorted baritones are the only vocal lineups that might match this one. New lead singer Josh Garner is a perfect fit; the Dixie Melody Boys’ style is a brilliant fit for his voice type. 

Second, Have You Heard? is the strongest collection of songs that the Dixie Melody Boys have put on any recording of new songs. Two new songs co-written by Joseph Habedank (“What I Lost in the Flood,” co-written with Lindsay Habedank, and “Valley of Tears,” co-written with Rodney Griffin) are distinct highlights.

Two more co-written by Lee Black also stand out; they’re both testimony songs, but “That Story is Mine” (co-written with David Moffitt and Sue C. Smith) is a three-chords-and-a-cloud-of-dust blazing quartet song, while “When I Called His Name” (co-written with Kenna Turner West) has chord progressions you would only expect to see on a Brian Free & Assurance or Karen Peck & New River recording. It works far better here than one might have expected.

Marty Funderburk and Jeff Pearles co-wrote two more highlights. “What Remains of Me” is an Ed O’Neal feature, with guest vocals from the Isaacs. “Haven Called Heaven” is a subdued song that will be familiar if you’ve heard The Hoppers’ 2006 recording The Ride. Both would be among the strongest tracks on most Dixie Melody Boys releases; they’re somewhere around #5-#7 here, which shows much stronger song selection is this time around.

All this is without even mentioning the projects’ strongest performance, “Death Has Died.” Nine years ago, in 2004, I had only barely heard of Southern Gospel. On a whim, I borrowed the Cathedrals’ recording High and Lifted Up from the library. This song, contained on that recording, was the song that won me over and made me a Southern Gospel fan. Needless to say, I’ve thought for years that this song was long overdue to be brought back. Now, twenty years after that original 1993 rendition, it finally resurfaces. Tenor Matt Felts turns lose and goes all-out on the final chorus of the song, delivering the sort of vocal performance this song deserves.

The graphic design also deserves special mention. Don’t let the straight-ahead cover fool you; the group photos throughout the layout show a lineup that has quite a bit of fun together. There’s a fun photo where Josh Garner is preparing to swing a guitar like a baseball bat at baritone singer Aaron Dishman (who, in turn, is being held down by Matt Felts); there’s also an impossibly cute photo on the back cover (reflecting the title, Have You Heard?) where a little girl is whispering a secret to Ed O’Neal as the other three group members look on in astonishment and dismay. 

This isn’t just a five-star recording and one of the two or three strongest releases of the year. Have You Heard? is the strongest CD the Dixie Melody Boys have ever released.

Traditional or Progressive: Straight-ahead Southern Gospel vocals, with a mix of influences on the tracks.

Group Members: Matt Felts (tenor); Josh Garner (lead); Aaron Dishman (baritone/pianist); Ed O’Neal (bass); Steven Cooper (bass guitar).

Credits: Produced by David Staton and Dirk Johnson. Special guest vocals by The Isaacs on “What Remains of Me.” Tracking engineered by Anthony Johnson. Vocals engineered by Dirk Johnson, Anthony Johnson, Steve Chandler, and Steve Allen. Mixed by Dirk Johnson. Mastered by Anthony Johnson. Photography by Don Olea. Graphic design by Kris Poovey. Musicians: Dirk Johnson (keyboards), Jimmy Carter (bass guitar), Mark Fain (upright bass), Steve Brewster (drums, percussion), Kevin Williams (acoustic guitar), Kelly Back (lead guitar), Sonny Garrish (steel guitar, resophonic guitar, pedabro), Gail Johnson (fiddle), Anthony Johnson (orchestration); David Staton (background vocals).

Five-star songs: When I Called His Name; Valley of Tears; Muddy Water; Death Has Died; That Story is Mine; Haven Called Heaven.

Song List (songwriters in parentheses): Praise the Lord, Hallelujah, Amen (Ben Scraggs); What I Lost in the Flood (Joseph Habedank, Lindsay Habedank); Roll Back (David Staton, Matt Felts); When I Called His Name (Lee Black, Kenna Turner West); God’s Gonna Give You a Testimony (Michael Jason Frost); Valley of Tears (Rodney Griffin, Joseph Habedank); Muddy Water (Jesse Schwartz, Carma Schwartz Kelley); What Remains of Me (Marty Funderburk, Jeff Pearles); Rhythm of Heaven (Toni Clay, Jeff Ferguson); Death Has Died (Ernie Haase, Carolyn Cross English); That Story is Mine (Lee Black, David Moffitt, Sue C. Smith); Have Called Heaven (Marty Funderburk, Jeff Pearles); Praise the Lord, Hallelujah, Amen (encore).

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CD Review: Spreading His Word (Mylon Hayes Family)

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Spreading His Word - Mylon Hayes FamilyOne staple of many Southern Gospel albums is “prodigal son” songs—songs that discuss how wicked and far from God the narrator was before salvation, often in dramatic and emotional terms. But “prodigal son” songs don’t fit every testimony, especially those of children raised in a Christian family who came to know Jesus as Lord and Savior at an early age. Occasionally, Southern Gospel family groups give their children “prodigal son” songs to sing anyhow, sometimes with a rather incongruous end result.

Spreading His Word, the new release for the Mylon Hayes Family, is strong in many areas. But perhaps its most notable strength is that the themes of its songs are appropriate for the family’s stage in life. The songs focus on the themes of the joys of salvation and the importance of Christians living according to Biblical standards. They avoid dwelling too deeply on adult themes, but they also avoid the other extreme of writing lyrics that are cheesy and almost condescending. (How many times have we seen a song written for a Southern Gospel child singer to sing that include a line like, “I’m know I’m little, but…”?)

The style will be comfortable and familiar to fans of Mylon’s past and ongoing work with his parents and siblings in the Hayes Family. There’s a mixture of convention songs (“Oh, What a Morning” and “The Sweetest Words He Ever Said”), middle-of-the-road orchestrated songs (“There’s Still a Refuge”), new songs, and classics.

Vocally, we’ve known for years how strong of a lead/tenor voice Mylon Hayes has. Wendy’s rich Collingsworth-like alto has been a pleasant surprise. Twins Connor and Bailey’s voices are settling nicely into their adult ranges, and improve with each recording. Youngest daughter Kennedy’s voice sounds as young as she is, and fits well where featured.

Because the Hayes Family still tours some weekends, and Mylon remains on the road with them, the Mylon Hayes Family’s touring schedule is limited schedule. But if their first two recordings are any indication, it would be safe to say that the future of the Hayes clan is in very good hands.

Traditional or Progressive: Middle-of-the-road with traditional moments.

Group Members: Mylon Hayes, Wendy Hayes, Connor Hayes, Bailey Hayes, Kennedy Hayes.

Credits: Produced by Mylon Hayes. Recorded at Crowning Touch Studio, Rushing Winds Studio, and Crossroads Studios. Mixed and Mastered by Van Atkins. Additional post production by Mylon Hayes.

Song List (songwriters in parentheses): Don’t Look Back (Edsel Coates); I’m Depending on God (Rodney Griffin); Glad I Know the Lord (Rebecca Peck, John Robinson); There’s Still a Refuge (Sandy Blythe); More and More Like You (Rodney Griffin); A Name I Highly Treasure (Oscar Eliason); Prayer Meeting (Dianne Wilkinson, Rebecca Peck); Jesus Can Change Your Life (Rebecca Peck); The Sweetest Words He Ever Said (Joel Hemphill); The Well (Mark Hall, Matthew West); Oh, What a Morning (Marty Phillips, Ann Phillips).

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CD/DVD Review: Hymns from Home (Collingsworth Family)

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Hymns From Home

The opening has a cinematic elegance: Footage of candles and other scenes from the Collingsworth Family home lies underneath a brief narration from Phil Collingsworth Sr. about the importance and impact of hymns. Then the scene shifts outside, where soprano and oldest sister Brooklyn Collingworth Blair sings the first verse of Amazing Grace solo, against a lush backdrop of rural Ohio scenery. Phil Jr. joins for the second verse. Then the camera’s focus pulls back a little farther, and the other two siblings (Courtney Collingsworth Metz and Olivia Collingsworth) join in. For the final verse, parents Phil Sr. and Kim join the now-complete family ensemble.

Hymns From Home is a CD/DVD combination; the CD contains eighteen songs, while the DVD contains an extra opening song. The CD is not a separate studio recording; it is the audio from the live program, minus the opening song.

The remaining eighteen songs are as diverse a collection of performances as you will hear any Southern Gospel group pull off: Solos, duets, trios, quartets, full family ensembles; acapella, piano-and-vocals, songs with full orchestration; piano solos, violin solos, and violin duets. It would be challenging to find any other six people in our genre who could pull off a program of this diversity and caliber, let alone six members of a single family.

Other genres certainly have talented vocalists and instrumentalists. But many other genres rely on their productions—ten piece bands, hundred piece orchestras, light shows, or smoke shows. Southern Gospel, though, has been blessed with generation after generation of singers who need nothing but three or four vocalists and a piano player to absolutely command the spotlight. Make no mistake, the Collingsworth Family can do that, but they have been blessed with an even rarer and more remarkable talent: They can stand in the spotlight and deflect its focus to the message of the songs.

Nowhere, perhaps, is this more apparent than on this projects’ centerpiece, “Burdens Are Lifted at Calvary.” Its subtle brilliance leaves the spotlight clearly on the message.

Many of the hymns have appeared on the family’s previous projects, but since these are live renditions, there are a number of arrangement variations; also, the children’s voices have matured since the original renditions, leaving these superior in a number of cases. These factors, plus the new songs (including “Burdens Are Lifted At Calvary,” “The Love of God,” and “My Wonderful Lord”) make the project a must-buy for Collingsworth Family fans. It would also make an excellent Christmas present for family and friends who love the great hymns of the faith but are new to this genre.

Traditional or Progressive: Traditional with several orchestrated songs.

Group Members: Phil Collingsworth Sr., Kim Collingsworth, Brooklyn Collingsworth Blair, Courtney Collingsworth Metz, Phil Collingsworth Jr., Olivia Collingsworth.

Credits: Produced by Kim Ryan White. Tracks recorded by Melissa Mattey. Assistant engineer: Steve Blackman. Musicians: Kim Collingsworth (on-site piano), Jason Webb (studio piano, keys, Hammond B3); Dave Cleveland (guitars), John Hammond (percussion); Craig Nelson (upright and electric bass). Vocal and instrumental arrangements by Kim Collingsworth. Orchestrations arranged by Wayne Haun and performed by The Nashville String Machine, contracted by Carl Gorodetzky. Mixed by Melissa Mattey and Tommy Cooper. Mastered by Alan Silverman. Film edited by Jacob Ryan. Filming director: Russell Hall. Lighting director: Jeff Hockman. Behind the scenes and interview footage: Tim Antkowiak, Jacob Ryan. Review copy provided.

Song List: Amazing Grace (DVD only); Brethren We Have Met To Worship; Holy, Holy, Holy; Come Thou Fount; The Lord’s Prayer; Take Time To Be Holy; My Wonderful Lord; And Can It Be; When We All Get To Heaven; Covered By The Blood; Since Jesus Came Into My Heart; Burdens Are Lifted At Calvary; The Love of God; In The Garden; I Need Thee Every Hour; Unclouded Day; At Calvary; My Jesus I Love Thee; Amazing Grace.

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CD Review: Revival (Karen Peck and New River)

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Revival - Karen Peck and New River

Ten or fifteen years ago, Karen Peck & New River transitioned from the live-band era of the group to a more progressive sound. At that point, they were ahead of the curve. But now, that curve has come and gone, and probably 2/3 of what is in the Singing News Top 40 today would have been classified as progressive just fourteen years ago, when the Cathedrals hung up their traveling shoes.
 
With Revival, Karen Peck & New River doesn’t exactly abandon the progressive sound. What they do is incorporate a fresh infusion of Bluegrass. Karen has always had an affinity for that genre, and the group has done Bluegrass-influenced tracks before, but the influence seems to be more significant here. While several tracks remain straight-ahead to-tappers or progressive numbers, there are a number of tracks with a relatively prominent Bluegrass-style banjo, fiddle, and mandolin added into the mix.
 
Three tracks stand out as particularly strong songs. The opening and closing numbers, “Revival” and “I’m Saved,” are both impossibly catchy strong songs about salvation, and, incidentally, are two of the most Bluegrass-influenced songs. “Dancing Like Lazarus,” a Joseph Habedank co-write, is every bit as creative, lyrically and musically, as we’ve come to expect from his pen. It’s probably one of his three to five most innovative songs yet.
 
With Revival’s shift in a Bluegrass direction, is Karen Peck & New River ahead of the curve again? Is a significant Bluegrass influence part of our genre’s future?
 
There’s a sense in which, for the time being, that doesn’t really matter, because it fits Karen Peck & New River, that’s what really matters.
Traditional or Progressive: Middle-of-the-road with flavors of progressive and bluegrass.

Group Members: Karen Peck Gooch (soprano), Susan Peck Jackson (alto), Jeff Hawes (male harmony).

Credits: Produced by Wayne Haun. Tracks recorded by Melissa Mattey at Daywind Studio A, Hendersonville, TN. Vocals recorded and edited by Justin Kropf. Orchestra recorded by Bobby Shin at Little Big Sound, Nashville, TN. Musicians: Gordon Mote (piano, B3 organ); John Hammond (drums); Kevin Grantt (bass); Kevin Williams (acoustic guitar); Pat McGrath (acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo); Glen Duncan (fiddle, banjo); Kenny Greenberg (electric guitar); Scott Sanders (steel guitar).

Song List (songwriters in parentheses): Revival (Kenna Turner West, Karen Peck Gooch, Don Poythress); Oh Hallelujah (Gerald Crabb, Don Poythress); Finish Well (Kenna Turner West, Karen Peck Gooch, Michael Farris); Everybody’s Going Through Something (Kenna Turner West, Karen Peck Gooch, Don Poythress); Dancing Like Lazarus (Joseph Habedank, Sue Smith, Tony Wood); Jesus Remember Me (Wayne Haun, Joel Lindsey, Jeff Bumgardner); I’ve Been Broken (Daryl Williams); Joy In My Heart (Tanya Goodman Sykes, Walter Mills); You Did It Anyway (Don Poythress, Rich Als, John Colgin); I’m Saved (Jason Coxx, Sue Smith, Karen Peck Gooch).

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