The Old Rugged Cross and Tent Revival Homecoming: How a Taping Became a DVD

You’ve seen reviews of Gaither Homecoming DVDs. You’ve even seen occasional reports from news websites allowed into Gaither Homecoming tapings. But you probably have not seen coverage that starts with reporting from the live concert (found in its original form here) and focuses on the transition from the live event through the final product.

  • Daddy Sang Bass (#15 on Tent Revival Homecoming): The requisite fixes to the live performance were made. The humor in the live skit translated well to DVD.
  • On the Other Side of the Cross (#7 on The Old Rugged Cross): The intro was replaced by a post-production voice-over.
  • Yes, I Know (#1 on Tent Revival Homecoming): Unlike the other opening track, this one did feel like the start of a concert on the DVD. (Dailey & Vincent’s songs were taped ten or fifteen minutes before the main program began, to allow time for instrument set-up and tear -down,
  • When the Saints Go Marching In (#2 on Tent Revival Homecoming).
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3:1 DVD Review: 100 Years: A Celebration of Southern Gospel Music

3:1 Reviews offer three highlights of an album and one area that could have been improved.

1. Gold City set: When Brian Free, Ivan Parker, Mike LeFevre, and Tim Riley stepped on stage together for the first time in nineteen years, the atmosphere was electric. And they did not disappoint: They reminded everyone why that lineup of Gold City has been called all-star.

2. The Live Band: This is the way Southern Gospel is supposed to sound. Not only was there a live band, but the live band was in-the-pocket, knew the material, and delivered an all-around solid performance.

3. Groups Appearing: While it would be impossible to assemble an all-star program featuring every classic group with living members, Daywind accomplished more than anyone thought was possible. If you were stranded on a tropical island and could only take one DVD with you, this is the one.

:1. One thing I would change: Interlacing: The video was recorded with a professional camera and lighting crew, and looks excellent. But it would look even better if it wasn’t interlaced. (There were also a few audience shots where the aspect ratio was incorrect, but they went by fast enough that it’s a minor quibble.)

DVD Rating: 5 stars.

Cinematography: 4 stars. Average song rating: 4.5 stars.


Producer: Norman Holland. •  Review copy provided.  • Song list: This Great Caravan (New Gospel Singing Caravan); I Found a Hiding Place (New Gospel Singing Caravan); The King of Who I Am (Lulu Roman); Medley: Things Are Gonna Get Better / When I Lift Up My Head / New Shoes / Mama’s Teaching Angels How to Sing / Holy Hills of Heaven / Sheltered in the Arms of God / Remind Me Dear Lord / Too Much to Gain to Lose / He Looked Beyond My Fault (Rambos), Medley: Tears Will Never Stain / Things Are Gonna Get Better (Rambos); O For a Thousand Tongues (Nelons), We Shall Wear a Robe and Crown (Nelons); Operator (Downings); Greater is He that is In Me (Downings); I’m So Glad He Found Me (Hinsons); He Can (Hinsons); Lighthouse (Hinsons); When I Get Carried Away (Gold City); I Think I’ll Read it Again (Gold City); Midnight Cry (Gold City); Keep on the Sunny Side (Lewis Family); Something About That Name (Cathedrals Tribute); Champion of Love (Cathedrals Tribute); Home (Singing Americans); I Bowed On My Knees & Cried Holy (Singing Americans).

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National Quartet Convention 2011, Day 1

This live blog will be updated throughout the evening.

Moment of the Night

The Perrys’ “Plan of Salvation.” It would have been one of the evening’s strongest moments with no introduction, but with Tracy Stuffle’s introduction (see below) tying it to the one-year mark of his return to the stage, it was an incredibly emotional moment.

Runner-up: Collingsworth Family, “At Calvary.”

Brian Free & Assurance (10:38)

Set list: What a Beautiful Day, Anything is Possible; I Believe; God Will Close the Door; Long as I Got King Jesus.

Highlights: “Long as I Got King Jesus,” of course. The Collingsworth Family came back up for the encore, and the groups left the audience on their feet.

Collingsworth Family (10:18)

Set list: I Feel Like Traveling On (with Brian Free & Assurance), Part of the Family; Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho; I Found It All (When I Lost Everything);  At Calvary.

Highlights: Kim’s piano solo on “Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho” got a standing ovation—despite the late hour.

“At Calvary” was utter magnificence. The hymn has quite possibly never been done better. It, too, got a standing ovation.

Click “more” for the rest of the coverage: 

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Health Updates: Ed O’Neal, Rick Francis, Ray Dean Reese, Shaye Smith

Normally, multi-artist stories are reserved for Saturdays, but so much has happened in the last few days to necessitate an exception.

  • The Kingsmen announced yesterday that Ray Dean Reese has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. He expects to be able to stay on the bus and keep singing with the Kingsmen each weekend.
  • Singing News radio chart editor Rick Francis has been hospitalized with a stroke.
  • Andy and Shaye Smith welcomed a baby girl, Chloe Victoria Marie Smith, Tuesday morning. Shaye sings alto for and manages the Chuck Wagon Gang.
  • On Sunday morning, Dixie Melody Boys bass singer/manager Ed O’Neal fell six feet, stepping out a door where the steps had been removed. He broke his leg and needed eight stitches in his hand. Nevertheless, once he returned from the hospital, he insisted on coming out on stage to sing with the group. An unidentified fellow group member who wrote a newsletter update recounted: “When he arrived back, Matt told him he should stay in the bus and rest and that we could do the concert without him, the church understood. Ed refused and came in and did a full concert sitting on a stool, leg in a brace. It was inspirational and moving to the crowd and the group. Ed reminded everyone there that no matter the cost, the Gospel of Jesus must be told. He expects a quick recovery and will not miss any scheduled dates. … Just think, all he ever wanted to do was sing a song.”
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Saturday News Roundup #81

In the News

  • Former Dixie Echoes / Inspirations tenor Dallas Rogers launches Restored Trio.
  • The Dixie Echoes are closing in on a decision on a bass singer. They are still seeking tenor auditions. Past tenor Gerry Stroup will be filling in.
  • Dixie Echoes baritone Scoot Shelnut (Randy Shelnut Jr.) got married to former Chuck Wagon Gang alto Penny Greene on Thursday.
  • Perrys alto Libbi Perry Stuffle will be releasing a solo project at NQC. The CD will feature nine classics and songs she’s previously recorded (Did I Mention, Holy Hills, His Grace Will Lead Me Home, Still Blessed, March Around The Throne, God Walks The Dark Hills, Jesus Hold My Hand, Mountaintop For Me, and Now I Have Everything) and three new songs (Reunited, The Broken Heart Sings The Sweetest Song, and I Have Failed But I’m Not A Failure).
  • Former Gold City tenor Jay Parrack is now singing with a group called Vocal Event. [EDIT, 2/21/13. Broken link removed.] He will be joined by Anthony Hallman and Darren Morton. It is unclear whether he will also continue to do any select concert dates with Wilburn & Wilburn.
  • Past Statesmen bass Ray Burdett passed away earlier this week.
  • Worth Reading: McCray Dove’s recent experience at an outdoor festival featuring both CCM and Southern Gospel groups. He noticed that youth on their way to a CCM act walked directly by the Southern Gospel area without stopping when a tracks-only group was on stage, but when their band hit the stage, these youth would stop to listen for a song or two before going to see their favorites.
  • Gold City is preparing their Collection of Favorites project, released at NQC last year, for a re-release with the new lineup’s vocals. It is unclear whether they are also planning to stick with their earlier plan of getting their next mainline project out by September.

Open Thread

As always, consider the comments section an open thread. Have a great weekend!

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Saturday News Roundup #80

In the News

  • Former Florida Boys tenor Rick Busby will be launching the Rick Busby Trio. He received a Dove Award nomination for Male Vocalist of the Year and was nominated five times for Favorite First Tenor in the Singing News Fan Awards. Joining him in the trio will be his wife, Cyndi Busby, and Mike Manning.
  • Chuck Wagon Gang manager/alto Shaye Smith will be taking a leave of absence for several weeks surrounding the birth of her child. The group announced via their email newsletter that previous alto Penny Greene will fill in during this period.
  • The Crist Family announced in their email newsletter that their bus’s engine has to be rebuilt, to the tune of $22,800.
  • Gold City is leaving the Beckie Simmons Agency and taking their booking in-house. Friday Night Revival offers analysis here.
  • The Diplomats, on the other hand, have joined BSA’s roster.
  • Bobby Clark told that he will be at the Grand Ole Gospel Reunion next month in Greenville, South Carolina. He will be autographing copies of his autobiography.

Video of the Week

After a string of landmark live albums through the 70s and 80s, the Kingsmen were quieter on that front in the 90s and since. But they came back in a big way with 1995’s Georgia Live, which captured the spark of their earlier days. (I featured it three years ago, here.) I had not known (or had forgotten) that the project was also available on video at the time. But I just came across this video of the evening’s big moment:

Open Thread

As always, consider the comment section an open thread. Enjoy the weekend!

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Saturday News Roundup #73

In the news

  • Chuck Wagon Gang alto Shaye Smith and her husband Andy are expecting a daughter, Chloe, on August 23rd. She is planning on taking a leave of absence from August 6 to October 23rd. The group is presently rehearsing with a young lady who will fill in for those eight weeks. Smith is also looking for a nanny, to help once she gets back on the road.
  • Ryan Seaton announced on Facebook that his next album will feature love songs. Most or all will be covers from assorted secular artists. [EDIT, 6/18/12: Broken link removed.]
  • Worth reading: Wes Burke’s take on a Dills concert.

Video of the Week

Most of you know Anthony Facello from Beyond the Ashes and Mercy’s Mark, and some of you remember his Journeymen days. Here’s a young Anthony with Heaven Bound:

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Dave Emery leaves Chuck Wagon Gang; Jeremy Stephens joins

The Chuck Wagon Gang announced in their email newsletter last night that bass singer / guitarist Dave Emery will be leaving the group on May 31. He has dreamed of moving to Florida with his wife, Phyllis, and this was a stated factor in the decision. He said: “To have been a member of The Chuck Wagon Gang has been a great honor, and to have sung their songs has been a real thrill. I have had a wonderful time and great experience with The Chuck Wagon Gang, and wish the group well as they continue a 75-year legacy, but I can’t wait to move back to Florida!”

Besides singing bass, Dave also emcees concerts, handles booking, and shares group management with alto singer Shaye Smith. When Smith was off of the road for a couple of years and was replaced by Penny Greene, Emery handled all road management. Former CWG member and current office staffer Harold Timmons will handle booking.

Jeremy Stephens, who filled in during tenor Stan Hill’s recent leave of absence for his wife’s surgeries, will be joining as bass singer and guitarist. He has been involved in bluegrass music for years; he started playing fiddle and banjo at age five. Since banjo is his primary instrument, he has played it with several bluegrass groups over the last seventeen years. He has collected Chuck Wagon Gang records for years and particularly loves the original group (Rose, Anna, Dad, and Jim).

Emery appeared at Tuesday’s Gaither Homecoming taping, in one of his final appearances with the group.

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Concert Report: The Homecoming that Nearly Sunk (Charlotte, NC)

Last night, I attended a Gaither Homecoming concert and videotaping in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was held in an open canvas tent on the grounds of the Billy Graham library.

  • Daddy Sang Bass: Bluegrass mega-group Dailey and Vincent wowed the audience and proved why they have been winning seemingly every award Bluegrass has to offer these last few years. They did a tenor and bass routine that featured tenor Jamie Dailey trying to sing bass and bass Christian Davis successfully singing tenor. This was taped before the main program commenced due to the setup time a bluegrass group needs, but the audience ate it up anyhow. It is tough on a group to sing a song this challenging first thing in the program, without any warm-up, and so they will probably do some vocal fixes later. But they got what they needed visually for what will probably be one of the favorite numbers on the DVD.
  • On the Other Side of the Cross: Dailey and Vincent, who recently recorded a Statler Brothers tribute album, did this song with Jimmy Fortune. Their vocals were much stronger here; the additional time warming up with the previous song helped. This was also warmly received.
  • Yes, I Know: This featured solos from Ivan Parker, Jason Clark (of the Nelons), TaRanda Greene, Reggie Smith, and one or two others whom I couldn’t quite pick out from the back row.
  • When the Saints Go Marching In: This featured Stephen Hill (I think) and Ivan Parker.
  • Jesus, Hold My Hand: This featured the Gaither Vocal Band and TaRanda Greene. The vocal dynamite of this interaction makes it quite likely this one will make the cut onto the final product.
  • When He Calls I’ll Fly Away: This didn’t get as strong a response from the live audience as later songs, due to live sound issues. Yet it appeared to be a visually solid performance and, perhaps with audio fixes, should play quite well on the videos.
  • Just Over in the Gloryland: This featured a verse from the Hayes Family—a strong rendition vocally, but again plagued by live sound issues.
  • Life’s Railway to Heaven: This strong and energetic arrangement featured Marshall Hall, TaRanda Greene, Karen Peck, Sue Dodge, and several others. (Sitting in the back row, with about 1/3 of the stage obstructed by the center video camera setup, limited ability to see everything.
  • My Savior’s Love: This classic hymn featured three singers; the second two were TaRanda Greene and David Phelps. Greene’s and Phelps’ powerhouse renditions brought strong reactions.
  • The Old Rugged Cross: Bill Gaither set up the song by saying that Franklin Graham had told them to sing whatever they wanted—but to be sure to include songs about the Cross. Gaither said that he’d replied that that certainly wouldn’t be a problem, with this bunch! The live sound was much better with this song—and remained better than for the opening songs from here through the end. Partially because of this, and partially because it was perfect for that moment in the program, Ben Speer’s solo got what was one of the warmest responses of the night to that point.
  • The Ninety and Nine: When this song was recorded on a Gaither Homecoming several years back, it featured Donnie Sumner and the Talley Trio. The Talley Trio was not there, and I didn’t notice Donnie Sumner (not to say that he definitely wasn’t there.) This time, then, the song featured Guy Penrod and the Nelons. While I consider the Talley Trio’s rendition of the “But none of the ransomed ever knew” verse to be one of the strongest performances of their career, if not the strongest, this rendition will certainly hold its own.
  • Then came the highlight of the night. Bill Gaither introduced George Beverly Shea and Cliff Barrows, and the audience came unglued. They got a standing ovation at their introduction, and the audience remained standing throughout the entire segment. George Beverly Shea—now 102—delivered a remarkably strong rendition of “The Love of God.” Even if his voice isn’t quite what it used to be, it is still as strong as probably any centenarian’s voice has been, at least since the advent of recorded music. Shea and Cliff Barrows sang “He Whispers Peace” together. Then Cliff Barrows led the audience in singing “Blessed Assurance.” It is hard to say how this will play in the more sterile setting of a commercially released video, but on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library, this was the moment that the live audience will never forget.
  • It wasn’t just the live audience that was moved by the Shea/Barrows segment. Before the program could proceed, makeup artists had to come on stage to fix many of the ladies’ makeup.
  • Down to the River to Pray: This featured a number of ladies—Charlotte Ritchie, Becky Isaacs, Karen Peck, Janet Paschal, and others—and Stephen Hill.
  • Greatly Blessed, Highly Favored: The Gaither Vocal Band and the Gatlin Brothers traded verses on the song, and got a huge response.
  • Heartbreak Ridge and New Hope Road: The Gatlin Brothers turned in a strong performance that had the audience on their feet.
  • I Need Thee, Oh I Need Thee: This featured Buddy Greene on harmonica and Jeff (Easter? not sure) on pump organ.
  • Precious Lord, Take My Hand: Marshall Hall kicked off the song. Jason Crabb took a verse, and Angela Primm—a black female vocalist whom I had not seen before—brought the song to a powerhouse ending.
  • I’m So Glad Jesus Lifted Me: Angela Primm was featured on the song; she did a dueling power soul vocal lick conclusion with Jason Crabb.
  • Heavenly Sunrise: The Hoppers pulled out a hit from way back. If my notes are correct, and I’m not mixing songs up, they were joined on stage by Gene McDonald, Reggie Smith, Kelly Bowling, and Charlotte Ritchie.
  • I’ll Worship Only at the Feet of Jesus: The Hoppers offered a standout amidst an evening of strong performances with this one. Mike Hopper joined the group on stage, doubling Claude on the bass part.
  • How Beautiful Heaven Must Be: This featured Mitchel Jon.
  • I Don’t Want to Get Adjusted: While Mitchel Jon stayed in safe, mellow territory for much of the night, he let loose on this one. Before the song was up, he was joined by Larnelle Harris, Michael English, and Angela Primm.
  • His Eye is on the Sparrow: This featured Larnelle Harris; afterwards, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see it edited to be an intro, Bill Gaither talked with Cliff Barrows about Ethel Waters’ landmark performance at the New York City crusade.
  • At this point, the Oak Ridge Boys did some secular song. Since I needed to take a bathroom break at some point, this was the most natural opening. (Gaither said the cameras weren’t rolling; they were changing tapes, or something to that effect—seemingly odd, now that camera systems have rolled over to digital.)
  • Lead Me To That Rock: The Oak Ridge Boys engaged an enthusiastic audience with this one.
  • Bill Gaither brought Reba Rambo McGuire, her husband Dony McGuire, and their daughter Destiny on stage. He led the Homecoming choir in a Rambos medley that included “Sheltered in the Arms,” “Holy Spirit, Thou Art Welcome,” “Remind Me, Dear Lord,” and “He Looked Beyond My Fault.”
  • At this point, there was a probably unplanned interruption; Cliff Barrows said that there was a sweet, sweet spirit in the room, and volunteered to lead the audience in “Sweet, Sweet Spirit.”
  • Reba, Dony, and Destiny then sang “When I Lift Up My Head”; they were joined by Buck Rambo for “Too Much to Gain to Lose.”
  • Gaither brought Stuart Hamblen’s daughter and grandson on stage, and talked about his friendship with Hamblen and Hamblen’s connection with Billy Graham. The homecoming choir sang “It is No Secret,” and then Gene McDonald and Larry Gatlin sang what was evidently an unrehearsed version of “This Ole House”—made evident since Larry Gatlin forgot the second half of his verse!
  • At this point, a rain storm started coming in. Trust it to a stage full of lifelong performers to know how to kill time; Mark Lowry sang part of “It Won’t Rain Always” and did some impromptu comedy with Bill Gaither.
  • Returning to the Hamblen segment, Janet Paschal sang “Until Then.”
  • Do Right and Come Smiling Through: Stan Whitmire did a convention-style piano solo.
  • At this point, a thunderstorm came on in full force, and recording had to be shut down for a half-hour or more. Fierce winds started blowing the tent, shaking lighting and sound structures vigorously, and blowing in heavy rain to flood electronic equipment.
  • Trust it to lifelong performers to live it up; Ben Speer and Sue Dodge came down for a totally impromptu rendition of “Didn’t it Rain,” and, naturally, Sue Dodge’s “Rain rain go away come again some other day” got a soaked audience laughing.
  • It looked as though the taping might have to be scrapped, but after 30-45 minutes, it resumed with “Heaven’s Jubilee,” featuring Gordon Mote, Michael English, and Larnelle Harris.
  • Rock My Soul: Featuring one of the Imperials groups—it appeared to be the one with Terry Blackwood, Royce Taylor, Darrell Toney, and Joe Moscheo (hat tip, Dean).
  • Old White Flag: Triumphant made a triumphal Homecoming debut with their perennial concert favorite.
  • Since Jesus Came to Live Inside of Me: Booth Brothers
  • In Christ Alone medley: Booth Brothers – Michael Booth acknowledged Michael English when they got to his “In Christ Alone”
  • Consider the Lilies: Charlotte Ritchie led a ladies’ trio
  • This is Just What Heaven Means to Me: Tanya Goodman Sykes led this Goodmans classic; she was joined by Charlotte Ritchie and Becky Isaacs Bowman.
  • I Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary: Isaacs
  • I’ll Meet You in the Morning: This was done by a quartet with Ben Speer, Gene McDonald, and two others whom I did not see
  • Old Camp Meeting: Les Beasley led a scrap-iron quartet (also including Gene McDonald) on his first-ever Homecoming solo.
  • Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho: The Martins
  • Help Me: Russ Taff
  • Now More than Ever: Karen Peck and New River
  • Sometimes I Cry: Jason Crabb’s live band took over the band area, to give his song a distinctly different feel than the songs from the remainder of the program.
  • Then Came the Morning: Guy Penrod delivered a performance that would have gotten a standing ovation with a crowd with more energy. In a sort of odd symbolism, Guy began the song almost precisely on the stroke of midnight.
  • There Is a Fountain / The Blood of Jesus: Courtney Collingsworth did a violin solo on “There is a Fountain”—amidst an evening of big ballads and high energy, the stark simplicity was a perfect and memorable change of pace.
  • Before Jeff & Sheri Easter sang, Jeff Easter did a comedy monologue about his daughter, drama, and puppies. Though this is perhaps unlikely to make the final cut, there was some great impromptu humor here for the live audience; after the craziness of the evening, when Jeff Easter started talking about puppies, Gene McDonald offered a monster bark into his bass microphone. Jeff Easter looked back at the bass section and said “What?” – at which point Gene barked again, and assorted other performers began barking and yapping!
  • Sweet Bye and Bye: Jeff and Sheri Easter
  • That Sounds Like Home to Me: Michael English had the solo, with the rest of the Gaither Vocal Band (except possibly one of the two tenors) joining on the choruses.
  • He’s Alive: David Phelps hit a home run with this big finish.

A few general observations:

  • The parking situation was atrocious. The staff was going to start parking at 5:30, and they didn’t have either the capability or the infrastructure to handle the influx of cars. The cars backed up down their entrance, down the access, road, and quite a ways down the Billy Graham parkway. Meanwhile, they reassigned a number of the early birds (including me) to park in the other direction, facing out the exit ramp—leaving it to us to figure out how to work our way back into the line, much later, without any guidance.
  • Oddly, they didn’t have the infrastructure to check tickets, either. I came in the entrance by which about half the traffic was coming in—the entrance where people who walked across the grounds of the library from their parking lot, instead of taking the shuttle, came in. I eventually figured out where my seat was, but oddly they did not check my ticket at any point.
  • Also oddly: This was the first live taping I’ve attended where there was apparently nobody designated to enforce a no-cameras-or-video-devices rule. I saw several cameras rolling at points. This was completely understandable during the time period when the building was shut down and flooding, but it was rather irksome during the regular program. If you are sticking a video camera (cell phone or otherwise) over your head and obviously recording a video during a professionally produced live video taping, it both obstructs the view of those around and behind you and gets them thinking that you must clearly be too cheap to buy the real thing when it comes out!
  • It took about eight songs for the live sound crew to dial in the live sound. Since I was sitting in the back row, I could see the monitor for the sound crew’s Pro Tools setup, and they were recording all microphones—not the live mix—so this should not affect the final product. Yet as they were scrambling to find out who was on each microphone, several of the early songs had unamplified vocals for most or all of the verses.
  • If the extent to which she was featured tonight is any indicator, expect to see TaRanda Greene playing a role as one of the most prominent Homecoming soloists in the future. (That’s not a bad thing at all, since she was easily one of the most talented and versatile vocalists on the stage.)
  • There were about 124 performers on stage. Since they kept moving around practically every verse of every song, it was hard to get a precise count.
  • Though they will undoubtedly work fine on the video, several of the slow songs, particularly the second-to-last “That Sounds Like Home To Me,” were actually rather challenging in the live setting. At 12:30 AM, it was hard to focus on a song that mellow; my mind shifted to planning an escape route for a prompt and efficient exit walking across the grounds to my car, and then in the car out of the rather confusing complex layout!

A Homecoming live video taping experience is not for everyone. Five and a half hours—perhaps without a break, since the only one here was unplanned—is not for the faint of heart. Yet there are also sure to be numerous memorable moments you will never forget.

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CD Review: Keeps On Rolling Along (The New Gospel Singing Caravan)

New Gospel Singing Caravan Keeps On Rolling AlongIn the 1950s and the 1960s, the Blackwood Brothers and Statesmen set the pace for the Southern Gospel industry, and defined the genre as we know it today. From the mid-1960s through the 1970s, multi-artist television shows and tours defined their era. The Gospel Singing Jubilee and the Gospel Singing Caravan were the two most prominent, and numerous well-known groups found their launch onto the national stage through appearances on the programs.

The Jubilee was the best-known of the shows/tours, so it was a natural choice for a name when the Booth Brothers, Legacy Five, and Greater Vision decided to launch a multi-artist tour. Since the Gospel Singing Caravan was the second-best-known brand, it was a logical choice once members of the LeFevre Quartet and Blackwood Brothers started talking with one another and with a publicist and a booking agent. (The Chuck Wagon Gang joined the project a little later.)

The New Gospel Singing Caravan made their debut last September, opening Daywind’s 100 Years of Gospel Music showcase. Keeps on Rolling Along is the ensemble’s first release. The title is a play off of the Gospel Singing Caravan’s theme song, “This Great Caravan Keeps on Rolling Along,” included as the project’s opening track.

The song selection is remarkably strong. There are a few songs (“How Great Thou Art,” “O the Glory Did Roll,” “Sinner’s Plea”) which practically every group has on one (or two or three) table projects. Thankfully, though, these are in the minority; while it probably helps a project of this nature to have a few songs any Southern Gospel fan would know, the remainder of the selection is more diverse. Several classic convention songs which haven’t been done frequently in recent years (“Daniel Prayed,” “Wait Upon the Lord”) shine in sparkling new arrangements.

“I Always Have a Song to Sing” is the same new convention song cut in 2008 by the Mark Trammell Trio. There are two songs on the project both titled “Crown Him King”; while both are strong convention songs, it would have made sense to bump one to the ensemble’s second release. One is the classic convention song cut by the Cathedrals in the early 1980s; the other is the new Dianne Wilkinson song which earned the Inspirations acclaim on their 2009 release The Son Came Down. The Wilkinson tune is one of the strongest on the project, highlighted by bass solos from Randy Byrd, Dave Emery, and Mike Allen.

When I saw this ensemble’s first joint performance, at the aforementioned 100th Anniversary of Gospel Music showcase, I said:

The clean and precise enunciation of this twelve-piece ensemble was pretty remarkable; even the best choirs frequently have a muddy sound due to enunciation, even with members staying reasonably on key, but this ensemble had great pitch and well-matched enunciation and placement.

The enunciation remains remarkable in the studio setting. These three groups have evidently spent more time working together on enunciation, placement, and phrasing as an ensemble than a number of lazier professional groups spend on their individual group sound!

Keeps On Rolling Along takes the concept recently re-popularized through the New Jubilee series—and improves upon it. The careful attention paid to enunciation, placement, and delivery, coupled with the well-matched voices—it would be hard to find three bass singers who could do a better unision than Byrd, Emery, and Allen—moves the album to the head of its class. It’s the strongest multi-group Southern Gospel project in modern times.

Especially where there is more than one voice per harmony part, ensemble singing is naturally muddy. It takes hard work to match enunciation, placement, and phrasing—hard work that is rarely done to perfection, even with choirs at the talent level of a Gaither Homecoming choir. For song selection and delivery, and for the tightest multi-group ensemble sound in Southern Gospel, Keeps On Rolling Along earns The New Gospel Singing Caravan a five-star rating.

Produced by: Not listed on pre-release copy. • Group Members: The Chuck Wagon Gang (Julie Hudson, Shaye Smith, Stan Hill, Dave Emery, Joe Rotton), The Blackwood Brothers (Wayne Little, Jimmy Blackwood, Billy Blackwood, Randy Byrd, Mike Hammontree), The LeFevre Quartet (Jeremy Easley, David Staton, Mike LeFevre, Mike Allen, Jordan LeFevre. • Review copy provided. • Song list: This Great Caravan Keeps On Rolling Along; Crowin Him King; Sinner’s Plea; I Always Have a Song to Sing; Wait Upon the Lord; Revival Days; I’m Too Near Home; O the Glory Did Roll; Crown Him King; Daniel Prayed; I’ve Found a Hiding Place; How Great Thou Art. • Average song rating: 4.33 stars. CD rating: 5 stars.

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