CD Review: Here Comes Sunday (Wilburn & Wilburn)


Wilburn and Wilburn - Here Comes SundayHere Comes Sunday is the second mainline release from father/son duo Jonathan and Jordan Wilburn. Their debut release, Family Ties (reviewed here), was likely the most eclectic Southern Gospel release of 2011. Remarkably, Here Comes Sunday is even more eclectic, with a little more electric guitar and a little more soul. In fact, the stylistic range of this project is so broad that there is almost literally something for any Southern Gospel fan’s musical taste—except, perhaps, for people who prefer an album to stick to a single consistent musical identity.

During his twelve-year run as lead singer for Gold City, Jonathan Wilburn became known for a number of soulful signature songs, perhaps most notably the #1 hit “He Said.” Fans who expressed disappointment that Here Comes Sunday didn’t have much in the way of soul will absolutely love one of this project’s strongest tracks, “Funeral Plans.” It is a song Wilburn would have torn up in his Gold City days, and this showstopper proves that his voice didn’t lose a thing in his years off the road.

Much like the overall album approach, the vocal approach is eclectic. Some songs feature tight duo harmonies, while the harmonies are phrased less closely—probably intentionally—on other songs. If you’re expecting duo harmonies throughout, you’ll be disappointed; several songs are either a solo or have the singer not featured so far down in the mix that he may as well have been a background singer. In addition to duo songs and solo-with-background-vocal songs, there are also songs like a rather enjoyable cover of the classic “I’m Bound For That City” which feature a lead singer and a choir.

One of Wilburn & Wilburn’s strengths is song selection. Their song lyrics are fresh and cover new territory, without abandoning our genre’s home turf of Heaven and Cross songs. “If These Old Walls Could Talk” is a delightful bluegrass tune musing on the memories held in an old church building. “Joseph” is similarly reflective, though in a more subdued way; it muses on the challenges faced by Joseph (Mary’s husband, not Jacob’s son). The song might bring to mind the opening two minutes of the timeless classic “Mary, Did You Know,” but while the soaring bridge of the latter has played a major role in its iconic status, “Joseph” remains rather subdued throughout.

“Every Scar” is the most compelling Southern Gospel story-song penned this decade. It has been recorded by The Talleys, Christian Davis (of Dailey and Vincent), Darin & Brooke Aldridge, and now Wilburn & Wilburn. It’s one of those songs that ought to have been a #1 hit, but because it hasn’t (though it charted for four months for Darin & Brooke Aldridge, peaking at #59 in March 2012), one artist after another keeps recording it. And because it is so strong, it’s far from stale; Jonathan Wilburn’s solo here is one of the CD’s highlights.

Far from a sophomore disappointment, Here Comes Sunday is even stronger than its predecessor.

Traditional or Progressive: Eclectic.

Group Members: Jonathan Wilburn, Jordan Wilburn.

Credits: Produced by Ben Isaacs. Musicians: Ben Isaacs (bass), Greg Ritchie (drums, percussion), Kelly Back (electric guitar), Scott Sanders (steel guitar), Gordon Mote (piano, B-3, organ, keys), Aubry Haney (mandolin, fiddle), Bryan Sutton (acoustic guitar), Buddy Green (harmonica), Sonya Isaacs Yeary (mandolin), Jeremy Medkiff (acoustic guitar), Michael Rhodes (electric bass). Background vocals: Steve Ladd, Gene McDonald, Sonya Isaacs Yeary, Chip Davis, Becky Isaacs Bowman, Ben Isaacs. Engineered by Ben Isaacs, Jordan Wilburn, Mark Capps. Mastered by Ben Isaacs.

Song List (songwriters in parentheses): Here Comes Sunday (Lee Black, Jason Cox, Tony Wood); Funeral Plans (Linda Gibson-Johnson); Joseph (Don Poythress, Tony Wood); Nobody Like Jesus (Joseph Habedank); I’m Bound For That City (Albert E. Brumley and the Brumley Brothers); Every Scar (Lee Black, Gina Boe, Jerry Salley); Help Me (Jimmy Yeary, Cletus Judd, Gary LeVox); If These Old Walls Could Talk (Jerry Salley, Dianne Wilkinson); A Man Like Me (Dianne Wilkinson, Jimmy Yeary); Heaven’s Jubilee (Adger Pace, G.T. Speer); Everything’s New (Rebecca Peck), Across the Miles (Karen Staley).

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CD Review: No Two Ways About It (Inspirations)



Since their last CD release, the Inspirations have gone through a time of vocal transition. They had to find new lead and tenor singers, and found two keepers. Lead singer Stephen Srein, who sang with baritone Jon Epley in a regional group several years ago, brings straight-ahead vocals in the classic Inspirations style. And if there had to be a tenor vacancy, they could not have done better than to bring Mark Clark back. It’s not Clark’s first time aboard the Inspirations bus; he filled in with and for Archie Watkins toward the end of his forty-five-year-run with the group.

The Jodi Hosterman era brought a distinctly different feel to the Inspirations’ sound. It won them new fans, but many fans missed the Mountain Gospel stylings that put the Inspirations on the Southern Gospel map. With No Two Ways About It, that classic Mountain Gospel sound is back.

It sure helps to have the right ten songs. Mark Clark is stellar on his cover of the Inspirations classic “On Heaven’s Bright Shore.” “I’ve Got That Old Time Religion” is one of the strongest convention songs that the group has recorded in the last decade or so. (It’s not the rather overdone song by the same name; it’s also a cover and also a convention song, but a different song.) There are also songs like “No Two Ways About It” and “You Can Still Find Forgiveness” that would have felt at home on the last few Inspirations releases, so fans who recently came aboard will still find much to like.

No Two Ways About It is the strongest Inspirations album since their 2006 release I Know. If you loved the Inspirations during their peak years, it’s time to give them another chance.

Traditional or Progressive: Traditional/Mountain Gospel.

Group Members: Mark Clark (tenor), Stephen Srein (lead), Jon Epley (baritone), Mike Holcomb (bass), Martin Cook (piano), Myron Cook (bass), Luke Vaught (utility musician).

Credits: Produced by Jeff Collins, Martin Cook, and Scott Barnett. Engineered, Mixed, and Mastered by Scott Barnett and Van Atkins. Musicians: Jeff Collins (piano), Tim Surrett (upright bass), David Johnson (acoustic guitar, mandolin, fiddle, resonator guitar, harmonica, steel guitar). Review copy provided.

Song List (songwriters in parentheses): Saved, Sealed, and Going (Rodney Griffin); You Can Still Find Forgiveness (Jim Brady); I’ll Be A Friend To Jesus (Johnson Oatman Jr.); He Made A Change (Jim Brady); I’ll Never Get Over (Jeremy Simpson); Just A Little Talk With Jesus (Cleavant Derricks); Jesus Is Coming Soon (R.E. Winsett); No Two Ways (Kevin Jones); On Heaven’s Bright Shore (Roscoe Reed); I’ve Got That Old Time Religion (Terry Pillow).

Five-star songs: On Heaven’s Bright Shore; The Old-Time Religion.

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CD Review: These Truths (Old Paths)


1966CR OldPathsTruths6pg

These Truths is one of the ten strongest Southern Gospel releases this year. There’s a pretty good chance it’s even top five.

Often, when I say that of a project, it is because a project is filled with truly great songs. These Truths is not without good songs, and one (“Long Live the King”) that is the strongest anthem they’ve ever recorded, but the vocal performances are what makes this album stand out. This is the strongest collection of vocal performances in the Old Paths’ career.

Few quartets have vocal talent this strong at every position. Founding members Tim Rackley and Douglas Roark anchor the quartet’s sound at lead and baritone. Roark shines on “If It Were Not For Grace.” Rackley’s performance of “Long Live the King” seals its spot as the single strongest track the Old Paths have ever released. 

With a jaw-dropping performance on “God Said I Love You,” tenor Jeremy Peace proves that he hasn’t lost a note since his Kingsmen years. But then turns around and offers a tender interpretation of “Isn’t That Why He Came.”

Meanwhile, newest member Daniel Ashmore, on his second album with the group, continues to impress. Ashmore is the finest young bass-singing talent to arrive in our genre since Pat Barker’s debut several years back. Their personalities, on and off the stage, couldn’t be more different—Ashmore is the gentle giant to Barker’s life of the party persona—but their talent level is similar. Ashmore probably has the most resonant, open lower bass tones that this genre has seen since Big John Hall’s days with the Blackwood Brothers.

The Old Paths’ previous album, their major-league debut Right Now, was a breakout album for the ensemble, scoring them two #1 hits. Forget any talk of a sophomore slump; These Truths is head-and-shoulders above its predecessor.

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

Group Members: Jeremy Peace (tenor), Tim Rackley (lead), Douglas Roark (baritone), Daniel Ashmore (bass).

Credits: Produced by Danny Crawford. Engineers: Van Atkins, Jeremy Peace. Mixed and mastered by Van Atkins. Musicians: Danny Crawford (piano, keyboards, orchestrations), Tony Creasman (drums, percussion), Jeremy Medkiff (bass guitar, electric guitar), David Johnson (acoustic guitar, mandolin, fiddle, resonator guitar, harmonica, steel guitar, banjo). Review copy provided.

Song List (songwriters in parentheses): We Are Those Children (Jeff Gibson); Isn’t That Why He Came (Karen Gillespie, Rachel McCutcheon); Enough and Then Some (Christie Capps); We Hold These Truths (Steve Marshall, Phil Mehrens); Love Them to Jesus (Rodney Birch); If It Were Not For Grace (Christopher Clayton); Passing Through (Steve Marshall, Chris Binion, John Darin Rowsey); God Said I Love You (Craig Edwards); God’s Gonna Do the Same (Ronny Hinson); Long Live the King (Dianne Wilkinson, Chris Binion).

Five-star songs: Long Live the King.

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CD Review: Born With a Song (Freedom)


Freedom-CD-front-2-FLAT-300Several years ago, this post used statistical analysis to quantify something we already intuitively knew: Southern Gospel table projects tend to use the same songs over and over.

That post has formed the cornerstone of our ratings of table projects ever since. How creative was the group in picking their songs? Anything at or above a 66% creativity rating—meaning that at least two-thirds of the songs aren’t overdone—is considered to be a strong rating. What you almost never see, though, is a table project hit 100% on this meter. But that’s exactly the feat that Born With a Song pulls off.

In fact, there’s a sense in which this is the first truly table project to earn this rating; both previous albums to earn the designation were hybrid albums that mixed in some classic songs and some covers of recent hits.

Put more simply, the song selection on Born With a Song is brilliant. There’s a mixture of songs that everyone knows but that aren’t overdone (“Rise Again,” “Learning to Lean”) alongside songs practically nobody has done for twenty or thirty years that are just begging for a remake of this caliber (“It Made News in Heaven,” “Closer to You,” “On a Journey.”)

Freedom co-owners John Rulapaugh and Josh Garner brought a specific and unique concept to the song selection. As Josh Garner explains:

I was having a discussion one day about the charting history of the Florida Boys’ classic, “Standing On The Solid Rock.” Unsure of my facts, I referred to the Singing News Source Book, which has a list of all the top-ranking radio songs by year. As I searched, I noticed the song charted in 1979, the year of my birth, as well as some other tremendous hits that I had not heard in a long time. The wheels were already turning, so I scanned the 1977 chart, the year of John Rulapaugh’s birth, and once more saw a list of songs that were begging to be sung again. In the end, we chose four songs from each chart to record and rounded out the album with two top charting songs that gave birth to two of our all-time favorite groups: “Somebody Touched The Lord” by Perfect Heart and “On A Journey” by Greater Vision.

The production quality is a step above many table projects. With Gerald Wolfe producing tracks and Arthur Rice producing vocals (and adding a guest baritone vocals), the CD sounds like a mainline release.

Born With a Song is strong all-around, but Rulapaugh and Garner are probably at their strongest when they’re tearing up the Kingsmen classics “One Way Flight” and “It Made News in Heaven,” and “On a Journey,” known as a Greater Vision song but another song that would have felt at home on a Kingsmen album. Rulapaugh’s tender vocal on “Closer to You” is one of the finest vocal performances of his career.

Between mainline-quality tracks and vocal production, genius song selection, a memorable concept, and vocal performances by three of our genre’s strongest vocalists, Born With a Song deserves to go down as one of the year’s two or three strongest table projects.

Traditional or Progressive: Fairly traditional.

Group Members: John Rulapaugh (tenor), Josh Garner (lead), guest vocals by Arthur Rice on baritone.

Song List: Somebody Touched The Lord (Sandy Knight); I Won’t Walk Without Jesus (Ronnie Hinson); One Way Flight (Jim Wood, Roger Holmes); What Sins Are You Talking About (Harold Lane); Learning To Lean (John Stallings); It Made News In Heaven (Gordon Jensen); Standing On The Solid Rock (Harold Lane); Rise Again (Dallas Holm); I Believe He’s Coming Back (Charles F. “Rusty” Goodman); On A Journey (Joseph DiQuattro); Closer To You (Dave Clark). Review copy provided.

Song Selection Creativity Meter: 100%. In place of radio single picks and an album rating, table projects featured in a 3:1 review are measured by a different metric—what percent of the songs on the album are pulled from outside of the 200 Most Frequently Recorded Southern Gospel songs.

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CD Review: Committed to the Call (Rick Webb Family)



The Rick Webb Family is one of the hidden gems on the Southern Gospel scene. Their albums are consistently produced at a level comparable with the genre’s strongest mixed groups. In fact, on Committed to the Call, they bring in pianist/producer Jason Webb, who has co-produced the last several Talleys releases with Roger Talley.

The only thing advantage they don’t have that a Hoppers or Talleys would have is the pick of the cream of the crop of the best songs from the genre’s finest songwriters. But they more than compensate for this with their creativity in finding forgotten gems from our genre and strong songs from related genres. They pull from the choral world for “I’ll Say Yes Lord” from the choral world (Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir), “All Rise” from Inspirational (Babbie Mason), and “See, What a Morning” from the modern hymn genre (Keith & Kristyn Getty).

They also find forgotten Southern Gospel gems like “If Not For the Old Rugged Cross” (LordSong, 2001), and “Valley Of the Shadow” (Old Time Gospel Hour Quartet, 2000). The latter song deserves special mention for creativity; once a song gets pegged as a quartet song, few artists or producers see past the vocal configuration and re-invent it as adeptly as it has been here.

A trio of hymn arrangements are also worthy of special mention. Instrumental creativity breathes fresh vitality into “I Will Sing of My Redeemer,” “Satisfied” (the hymn, not the soul-influenced quartet song), and “Unclouded Day.”

Committed to the Call is the strongest mixed group release so far this year.

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

Group Members: Not credited.

Credits: Produced by David Staton and Jason Webb. Vocals Produced by David Webb and Dirk Johnson. Engineers: Dirk Johnson, Anthony Johnson. Orchestra arranged and produced by Jason Webb. Track engineer: Randy Poole. Mixed by Dirk Johnson. Mastered by Anthony Johnson. Musicians: Jason Webb (piano, keys, Hammond B3); Kelly Back (guitars); Pat McGaff (acoustic guitars); Matt Pierson (bass guitar). Review copy provided.

Song List: See, What a Morning (written by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend); I Will Sing of My Redeemer; Satisfied; Let the Rocks Keep Silent (Wayne Haun, Joel Lindsey); Send Me (Joe Johnston, Kim Patton Johnston); All Rise (Babbie Mason); If Not For the Old Rugged Cross (Marty Funderburk); Valley of the Shadow (Robbie Hiner); I’ll Say Yes, Lord (Carol Cymbala).

Album Rating: 4.5 stars.

Five-star songs: See, What a Morning, In the Valley of the Shadow, All Rise, If Not For the Old Rugged Cross.

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CD Review: For All He’s Done (Greater Vision)



When Greater Vision launched in 1990, they were known for straight-ahead Southern Gospel instrumental tracks. Sure, there might be strings on one track and steel guitar on the next, but the piano led the tracks and the vocals were squarely out front. In the late ’90s and early ’00s, they went through a stylistic phase of heavier orchestrations produced by Lari Goss. For All He’s Done continues the trend started by their previous album, The Only Way (reviewed here), of a return to the style that put them on the map. Lari Goss remains on the production team, but his orchestrations tend to be less dominant in the mix.

Most of the album’s songs are fast or on the fast side of medium; only three tracks are longer than four minutes long, and two of those are 4:01 and 4:06! This hardly ends up being a bad thing, though, as fast songs provide most of the highlight moments. “Forever Is Sure” and “Looking For the Grace” are both strong toe-tappers. And don’t let the fact that the words in “Preacher, Tell Me Like It Is” fly by quickly dim their impact:

Preacher, you say you want to be my friend
Don’t be afraid to call my sin what it is
And preacher, tell me I can overcome
But it’s only by the blood of the Lamb
Don’t tell me like I wish it was
Preacher, tell me like it is 

The bridge’s allusion to I Corinthians 1:18-21 is sheer brilliance:

Life is quickly passing; the world is fading fast
And the foolishness of preaching is the only hope we have

For All He’s Done doesn’t have any show-stopping, massive anthems—nothing that would suggest comparisons to Gerald Wolfe’s landmark renditions of “Till the Storm Passes By,” “It is Well,” or “Oh Holy Night.” In fact, Gerald Wolfe doesn’t have many solos, period. He sings a verse of “Looking For Me,” and you can hear his voice here and there on other songs, but the under-utilization of one of Southern Gospel’s all-time most awarded vocalists is the project’s greatest weakness.

On the bright side, Chris Allman proves once again why he’s one of the greatest tenors on the road; his Midas touch turns anything he sings into musical gold. Rodney Griffin ably anchors his features, including the project’s strongest slow song, “This is Mercy.” It’s a song Griffin co-wrote with Natalie Harp; its imagine-if perspective on a familiar Biblical story is a device that has served Griffin well, anchoring previous songs like “They Should Have Cried Holy,” “No Longer Chained,” and, of course, “My Name is Lazarus.”

For All He’s Done features top-notch vocals and production quality and a number of strong original songs; it’s an able and competent entry in the Greater Vision discography.

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

Group Members: Chris Allman (tenor), Gerald Wolfe (lead), Rodney Griffin (baritone).

Credits: Produced by Gerald Wolfe. Orchestrations by Lari Goss. Rhythm tracks and vocals recorded by Van Atkins and Scott Barnett at Crossroads Studios, Arden, NC. Additional vocals recorded by Bob Williams at Playground Studios, Nashville, TN. Mixed and mastered by Bob Williams. Background vocals on “For All He’s Done” by Chris Allman, Jim Brady, and Melissa Brady. Orchestrations recorded at The Sound Kitchen, Franklin, TN. Engineered by Bob Williams; assistant engineer Adam Deane. Performed by The Nashville String Machine; conducted by Carl Gorodetzky. Musicians: Gerald Wolfe (piano, keyboards), Mylon Hayes (bass guitar), Jeremy Medkiff (bass and electric guitars), Tony Creasman (drums and percussion), David Johnson (guitars, fiddle, banjo, steel guitar), Jason Webb (Hammond B-3). Review copy provided.

Song List: Come Unto Me (written by Chris Allman); Looking For the Grace (Rodney Griffin); This is Mercy (Rodney Griffin, Natalie Harp); The Blood Hasn’t Ever Changed (Chris Allman); Forever is Sure (Jim Brady, Rodney Griffin); Seeking For Me (Lanny Wolfe); Preacher Tell Me Like it Is (Rodney Griffin); I Can Trust You (Chris Allman); I Will Take Care of You (Rodney Griffin); For All He’s Done (Chris Allman).

Five-star songs: This is Mercy; Forever is Sure; Preacher Tell Me Like It Is.

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CD Review: The Greatest Story (Triumphant Quartet)



The Greatest Story is a hybrid album; it occupies ground somewhere between a table project and a normal mainline. A normal Southern Gospel mainline recording features all or mostly new songs, with lush, fully produced arrangements; a table project features simpler arrangements of classics. Over half the songs on The Greatest Story have been previously recorded—some only once or twice, some dozens of times. But the tracks and vocal performances are on par with Triumphant Quartet’s strongest previous mainlines.

The two strongest tracks on the project are both new fast songs. “Take it From Me, Meshach,” penned by fourteen-year Songwriter of the Year winner Rodney Griffin, is the current radio single; “Heaven Will Be Mine Someday” is a convention song co-written by group member Scotty Inman and Dianne Wilkinson.

The strongest slower song is “There is a Fountain,” a new song written by Rebecca Peck and Daryl Williams that shares a title with the classic hymn. It’s a pleasantly mellow song with a groove reminiscent of The Kingsmen’s “Sweeping All the Debt Away” or The Collingsworth Family’s “Oh, The Thought that Jesus Loves Me.”

The song covers are all over the map. “There’s No Such Thing” brings a fresh twist and new energy to the familiar Poet Voices song. “I Saw the Light” is a Jeff Stice / David Sutton piano / harmonica duet. “The Greatest Love Story,” made popular by Rusty Goodman and previously recorded by Triumphant Quartet in 2004, is brought back as a feature song for Eric Bennett and as the album’s title track.

Then there are several songs—”If You Had the Only Key,” written by Tim Lovelace and previously recorded by the Palmetto State Quartet, and “I Can’t Help But Smile,” written by Dianne Wilkinson and Scotty Inman—that can only be described as novelty songs.

Some Southern Gospel fans prefer to purchase albums of new songs; others prefer to hear their favorite singers’ voices on songs they’ve heard many times before. The Greatest Story offers something for both sets of fans.

Traditional or Progressive: A mix of everything found on the Southern Gospel spectrum.

Group Members: Not credited, but David Sutton (tenor), Clayton Inman (lead), Scotty Inman (baritone), Eric Bennett (bass), Jeff Stice (pianist).

Credits: Executive Producers: Triumphant Quartet. Produced by Wayne Haun and Jeff Stice. Recorded by Kevin Ward, Greg Alexander, and Ben Isaacs, assisted by Michael Stankiewicz. Vocals recorded by Danny Brown. Mixed by Danny Brown. Mastered by Alan Silverman. Packaging and design by Tribute Media Source. Review copy provided. Musicians: Jeff Stice (piano and keyboards), Duncan Mullins (bass), Craig Nelson (bass), John Hammond (drums), Zak Shumate (percussion), Joel Key (acoustic guitar, banjo), Dave Cleveland (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, banjo), Kelly Back (electric guitar), Scott Sanders (steel guitar), Randy Miller (harmonica), BJ Cherryholmes (fiddle), John Bowman (fiddle), David Sutton (harmonica on “I Saw the Light”), orchestra recorded by Bobby Shin.

Song List: Because He Loved Me (written by Morris Stancil); I Go to Calvary (Gene Ezell, Tim Maggart, Terry Franklin); Thomas Never Doubted Again (Rodney Griffin); Take it From Me, Meshach (Rodney Griffin); He Was There All the Time (Gary S Paxton); There’s No Such Thing (Mark Lanier, Phil Cross); He Would Do it All Over Again (Jeff Bumgardner); There is a Fountain (Rebecca J. Peck, Daryl K. Williams); Heaven Will Be Mine Someday (Scotty Inman, Dianne Wilkinson); I Saw the Light (Hank Williams); I Can’t Help But Smile (Scotty Inman, Dianne Wilkinson); Jesus is the Anchor (Wayne Haun, Joel Lindsey); I’ve Got Confidence (Andraé Crouch); If You Had the Only Key (Tim Lovelace); The Greatest Love Story (Joel David Byerly, James J. Payne).

Album Rating: 4 Stars.

Five-star songs: Take it From Me, Meshach; Heaven Will Be Mine Someday.

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CD Review: Living in the Moment (Beyond the Ashes)

Beyond the Ashes - Living in the Moment3:1 Reviews offer three highlights of an album and one area that could have been improved.

After singing with groups like Heaven Bound and the Journeymen, Anthony Facello joined Garry Jones’ Mercy’s Mark Quartet as a founding member in 2004. Shortly after he left that group in 2006, he started his own group, Anthony Facello and Crossroad. (They would later be renamed Beyond the Ashes.)

Beyond the Ashes carved out a spot on the Southern Gospel spectrum that moved the markers and left groups like Brian Free & Assurance or the Crist Family, by comparison, labeled as “moderately progressive.” Through a couple of personnel changes, they have maintained a consistent progressive trio sound. They spent several years with Vine Records (run by Wayne Haun and Kevin Ward); Living in the Moment is their debut release for Stow Town Records (run by Wayne Haun and Ernie Haase).

Their diverse influences show in their song selection. They cover songs from artists as diverse as the Collingsworth Family (“Oh, the Thought that Jesus Loves Me”) and pop singer Jason Mraz (“Living in the Moment.”) It doesn’t seem that Mraz, who co-wrote the latter song, intended it as an overtly Christian song; he describes himself as a syncretist who doesn’t “follow any type of religious doctrine or any type of rules that any one religion creates”; however, the case can be made that the song’s lyrics, including “peace in my heart / peace in my soul,” “I’ve let my past go past / and now I’m having more fun” and “wherever I’m going, I’m already home / I’m living in the moment” allow room to be interpreted within a Christian context.

Perhaps to counterbalance the lyrical risk in the title track—many of the other lyrics on the album cover familiar turf in familiar ways: No sin is greater than grace. Jesus gives us peace in the storm. Jesus loves us. Love whispers our name. Love comes shining through.

Fans of progressive Southern Gospel are likely to enjoy Living in the Moment. If your tastes run more middle-of-the-road (Perrys, Triumphant) to traditional (Dixie Echoes, Blackwood Brothers), it is unlikely to be your cup of tea. But even then, you may well enjoy several individual tracks, like “Where Gold Begins” and “Oh, the Thought that Jesus Loves Me.”

Traditional or Progressive: Very Progressive.

Group Members: Anthony Facello (tenor), Dustin Doyle (lead), Kellan Monroe (baritone). (Note: This review was written before Kellan Monroe’s departure, announced on his Facebook page this week.)

Credits: Producer: Wayne Haun. Recorded by Kevin Ward at The Sound Emporium, Studio B Nashville, Tennessee, assisted by Michael Stankiewicz. Additional tracking by Steve Dady. Mixed by Jeff Pitzer. Mastered by Alan Silverman. Musicians: Jason Webb (piano, keyboards, B3 organ), David Huntsinger (piano, B3 organ), Virgil Stratford (piano, B3 organ), Gordon Mote (piano), Hans Nelson (keyboards, programming), Duncan Mullins (bass guitar), Craig Nelson (bass guitar), Mark Hill (bass guitar), Kevin Ward (bass guitar), Danny O’Lannerghty (bass guitar, acoustic bass), Ricky Free (drums & percussion), John Hammond (drums & percussion), Steve Brewster (drums & percussion), Zak Shumate (drums & percussion), Kelly Back (electric and acoustic guitars), Dave Cleveland (electric and acoustic guitars), Joel Key (acoustic guitar), Scott Sanders (steel guitar, resophonic guitar), Jeff Pitzer (accordion), Randy Miller (harmonica), Wayne Haun (orchestrations).

Song List (songwriters in parentheses): So Amazing to Me (Wayne Haun; Rachel McCutcheon); Living in the Moment (Jason Mraz; Richard Nowels); Oh the Thought that Jesus Loves Me (Wayne Haun; Lyn Rowell); No Sin Greater Than God’s Grace (Anthony Facello; Rachel McCutcheon); Peace In the Midst of the Storm (Stephen Adams); Walking With My Eyes on Jesus (Rachel McCutcheon); I Can’t Do This By Myself (Joel Lindsey, Wayne Haun); Where the Gold Begins (Carl Cartee; Joseph Dustin Daniels; Allen Stanford Dukes; David Blake Neesmith; Aaron Daniel Tomberlin; Nathan Timothy Tomberlin); When Love Whispers Your Name (Ernie Haase, Joel Lindsey); Your Love Comes Shining Through (Wayne Haun, Jimmy Yeary); Over For Good (Marcy Each, Karen Gillespie, Kimberly Walling Ford).

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3:1 CD Review: The Story of His Grace (Sounds of Jericho)

Sounds of Jericho - The Story of His GraceSounds of Jericho is a new male quartet founded by bass singer Stacy Bragg and tenor Stephen Sigmon. Both were founding members of the Mike LeFevre Quartet; Sigmon stayed from 2005-2007, while Bragg stayed from 2005-2009. They are joined by lead singer Matt Tyler, baritone singer Ken Thomas, and, evidently since the recording’s photo shoot was completed, by arranger/pianist/guitarist Matt Dowdy.

The Story of His Grace is a surprisingly solid debut recording. As one might expect, with multiple members’ histories in professional groups, the tracks and vocal performances alike are professional quality. The arrangements are middle-of-the-road, leaning slightly progressive—reminiscent of current Kingsmen or Kingdom Heirs tracks. 

There are a number of strong tracks. “Ten Thousand Angels” is the anchor anthem, sure to be a concert show-stopper. It’s not the familiar song by the same name (Happy Goodmans, Blackwood Brothers, et cetera); it’s a song that suggests comparisons to Brian Free & Assurance.

Other strong tracks include “Deeper Journey,” the mid-tempo opening track; “Jesus Never Changes,” a lyric-driven slower song, and “Resting Place,” a hymnlike song in a stunningly beautiful acapella setting. (The latter is not the same song as the Wilburns’ hit song by the same name).

There are twelve tracks; most are new, but four are classics (“Wayfaring Stranger,” “If the Lord Wasn’t Walking By My Side,” “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” and “Operator”). The new songs are strong enough that they don’t need the classics to raise the average song quality; in fact, the album would probably have been stronger overall as a ten-song collection, dropping two of the classics and putting the focus more squarely on the new material.

if The Story of His Grace is any indicator, expect to be hearing from Sounds of Jericho for years to come.

Traditional or Progressive: Middle-of-the-road, leaning slightly progressive.

Group Members: Matt Tyler, Ken Thomas, Stacy Bragg, Stephen Sigmon.

Credits: Producer: Mark Dowdy. All arrangements and tracks: Mark Dowdy, recorded at Rivercrest Music, Gainesville, Georgia.

Song List: Deeper Journey (written by Rob Johnson, Gene Pistilli, Michael Puryear), If The Lord Wasn’t Walkin’ By My Side (Henry Slaughter), Living Testimony (Michael Puryear, Gina Vera), Resting Place (Rob Johnson, Gene Pistilli, Michael Puryear), Wayfaring Stranger (Charlie Tillman), Spread it Around (Joseph Habedank, Dwighy Liles, Michael Puryear), Jesus Never Changes (Paula Stefanovich, Michael Puryear), Standing in the Storm (Michael Puryear, Dwight Liles, Laureen Smith, Gwen Moore), I’d Rather Have Jesus (George Beverly Shea, Rhea F. Miller), Leave the Light On (Kenna West, Dwight Liles, Michael Puryear), Ten Thousand Angels (Mark Dowdy, Vince Wilcox), Operator (William Spivery).

Album Rating: 4 stars.

Five-star songs: Ten Thousand Angels.

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CD Review: Soulace 2 (Soul’d Out Quartet)

Soul'd Out Quartet - Soulace 2Last August, Soul’d Out bass singer Matt Fouch left to join Legacy Five; in October, Soul’d Out announced that his replacement would be Ian Owens, who had recently left Ernie Haase & Signature Sound. The group introduces Owens to their fans with a reissue their most recent mainline release with Owens’ vocals added, and with this table project.

Losing a bass singer of Fouch’s caliber would be a blow to any group, but Soulace 2 shows that they’re as strong as ever. Signature Sound fans who were hoping that Ian Owens would be the next Tim Duncan were disappointed, but Owens is no disappointment here. He fits Soul’d Out’s sound and style.

The project is filled with highlight performances. Among the fast songs, “I Can Tell You Now the Time” gives Owens a chance to shine, while “I’ve Never Been This Homesick Before” spotlights lead singer Bryan Hutson. Hutson, lead/baritone Matt Rankin, and tenor Dusty Barrett shine on “I Stand Amazed (My Savior’s Love).” Bryan Hutson’s years on the Kingsmen bus help towards a solid rendition of the forgotten Kingsmen gem “Say a Prayer.” But perhaps the strongest track of all is the tender closer, “Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus).”

Soulace 2 avoids over-done songs; it strikes a solid balance between classics familiar to casual fans and forgotten gems that deserve another turn in the spotlight. It’s one of the strongest Southern Gospel table projects of 2013.

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

Group Members: Dusty Barrett (tenor), Bryan Hutson (lead/baritone), Matt Rankin (lead/baritone), Ian Owens (bass), Michael Hayes (pianist).

Credits: Producer: None credited. Musicians: None credited. Engineer: None credited. Mixed and Mastered by: None credited.

Song List: Old Gospel Ship; I Stand Amazed; Say a Prayer; I’ve Never Been This Homesick Before; I’d Rather Have Jesus; I Can Tell You The Time; Standing On The Solid Rock; I Will Serve Thee; Jesus is Coming Soon; Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus).

Song Selection Creativity Meter: 90%. In place of radio single picks and an album rating, table projects are measured by a different metric—what percent of the songs on the album are pulled from outside of the 200 Most Frequently Recorded Southern Gospel songs.

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