Kelly McCrae to leave McRaes

Southern Gospel blogger Daniel Britt is reporting on the Musicscribe blog that Kelly McRae Free (who recently married Brian Free & Assurance drummer Ricky Free) is going to leave the McRaes. [EDIT, 6/6/12: Broken link removed.] Sister Annie intends to stay on the road and will probably find two other vocalists and start a trio, which may or may not keep the McRae name.

Daniel Britt also mentioned a rumor that Ricky Free will also come off the road with Brian Free and Assurance. Whether or not Ricky will come off the road, and whether or not Kelly Free stays off the road, it is certainly understandable that they would want to spend the first few years of their married lives spending more time together than those passing moments when both of their groups happen to be off the road.
Behind the Headlines analysis
The Crabb Family’s recent announcement of their retirement came shortly after they canceled their much-anticipated “Blur the Lines” tour. Those who attended early concerts in the tour have said that attendance was below what was anticipated, and speculated that the low attendance may have led to the cancellation of the tour.

While I do not know anything about the attendance at recent McRae concerts, this announcement makes the McRaes the second Crabb Jam Tour progressive Southern Gospel act in as many months to announce a group retirement to form separate ministries.

This could, of course, be a completely random coincidence, or it could mark a deeper trend. Over the past several years, there has been a concerted effort to push Southern Gospel in a progressive direction. Vocals that reflect a country or mountain Gospel influence are backed by instrumentation that sounds like 1980s CCM. Could it be that this progressive effort has been unsuccessful?

Mistake me not, there always have been and always will be Southern Gospel groups who expand the art form while staying completely within it. The Statesmen were unmistakably a Southern Gospel Quartet, as were the early Imperials. Signature Sound is unmistakably a Southern Gospel Quartet, and is so good at singing traditional quartet music that many traditional quartet fans find themselves inclined to forgive the occasional progressive numbers.

But with the disbanding of the Crabb family and of the McRaes as we know it, the effort to make Southern Gospel sound like 1980s CCM has taken a hit that it may not survive.

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Ron Grimes joins Old Time Gospel Hour Quartet

The Old Time Gospel Hour Quartet announced during the National Quartet Convention that Ron Grimes had joined them as their new baritone. [UPDATE, 3/26/13: Broken link removed.]

Jeff Stanley, one of the two remaining founding members of the quartet, resigned his position on September 5th due to health reasons. Stanley was probably the group member with the best stage presence. In the streaming video clips on the group’s website, he looked like he was relaxed and enjoying himself. [UPDATE, 3/26/13: Broken link removed.]

Extensive searching for information on Ron Grimes only revealed the fact that his wedding anniversary is in a few days, on October 26th.

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NQC 2006 Highlights

I listened to this year’s National Quartet Convention via the live Solid Gospel feed on my local radio station. For those who could neither attend nor listen, here are a few highlights.

Memorable New Songs
The anthem “Truth is Marching On” was introduced by no less than three grouls at this year’s National Quartet Convention–Gold City, the Talley Trio, and Legacy Five. Gold City will send it out to radio as their next single. That’s not a bad thing, because their rendition was probably the best.

Quite possibly the most memorable song debut was the Hoppers’ introduction of “The Dove.” They brought songwriter Ronny Hinson on stage to help them introduce and sing the song. Hinson, who has written classics like “The Lighthouse” and “Jesus Pilots the Ship,” said that this was the best song he had ever written–and he may be right.

Most Memorable Song Intro
The most memorable song intro this year was Roger Bennett’s introduction to “Truth is Marching On,” when Legacy Five performed it on their Saturday Night set. He talked about how the divinity of Christ was coming under attack, and specifically discussed Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. His concluding observation also provided a smooth segue into the song: “Long after those 52 million copies of the Da Vinci Code are dust, the Word of God will still stand.”

Fan Awards Ceremony
The Singing News Fan Awards ceremony was marked by the humbleness and graciousness with which Kim Hopper, the Perrys, and the members of Greater Vision accepted their awards. Kim Hopper said that she knew that one day the Female Singer and Soprano of the Year awards would go to other singers, and that when that happened, she would be content to sit in the audience and cheer them on.

Tim Duncan (of Signature Sound) won a well-deserved award for best Bass Singer for the first time.

The most memorable event of the fan awards, and quite possibly of the entire convention, would have to be a tie between the Inspirations and Signature Sound for Quartet of the Year. The Inspirations accepted their award in person, while Signature Sound accepted theirs via video.
In their Saturday Night set, the Dove Brothers did their rendition of “Stand By Me,” complete with choreography and short ties (after Tim Lovelace came on stage to cut the ties in half). But the most interesting part of McCray Dove’s setup for the song was his reference to Signature Sound as “the hottest group in Gospel music today.” From anyone else, that would be a nice compliment, but it was a classy move from the manager of the group that was probably the hottest act in Southern Gospel until Signature Sound formed.

Members of some Southern Gospel message boards have portrayed new Gold City bass Aaron McCune as singer with a stiff, dry stage presence. Jonathan Wilburn helped him overcome that image in Gold City’s Monday set, where he explained that McCune was a card-carrying native American and used an Injun joke to set McCune up for the least expected one-liner of the night. McCune pretended to be greatly offended by Wilburn’s joke, and looked at Wilburn with such an angry look that Wilburn asked him what was up. Aaron said, “I’m admiring your scalp.” The skit ended with Jonathan begging Gold City road manager Danny Riley to calm Aaron down.

Special Moments
During the Fan Awards on Thursday, an All-Star Quartet composed of Inspirations tenor Archie Watkins, former Rebels / Kingsmen lead singer Jim Hamill, Florida Boys baritone Glen Allred, Dixie Melody Boys bass Ed O’Neal, and pianist Eddie Crook performed the song “I’m Winging My Way Back Home.” Jim Hamill was in classic form, making Ed O’Neal repeat his bass lines until he thought O’Neal had done a good enough job.

During the Kingsmen set Saturday night, Tony Peace announced that it was bass guitarist / vocalist Jason Selph’s final night with the Kingsmen, and brought him up to sing the song “Wish You Were Here.”

During the Crabb Family’s final set, Jason Crabb reminisced about the days he would set in the “nosebleeds” (balcony) as a child, wishing that someday he could sing on the mainstage. As he did it for the last time as a member of the Crabb Family, he thanked everyone for fulfilling his dream.

One final special moment was Nick Trammell’s first NQC appearance as the baritone for the Perrys. After Tracy Stuffle introduced Nick as their new baritone, he described how nervous Nick was, and that his daddy was probably even more nervous. He said that Mark walked all around the stage taking photos during the sound check. Then he said he hadn’t told Nick he would do this, because he would have been even more nervous, but he said he was going to do a song that featured Nick. He had him step forward and sing “The Blood of an Old Rugged Cross.” He told him to step forward, smile big, and show the audience what he could do. Nick, to no surprise, hit the ball out of the park and did a good job.

NQC set their 2006 Main Stage schedule well before Nick joined the Perrys, so it had to be a coincidence that the Mark Trammell Trio was scheduled to follow the Perrys’ Tuesday performance. Coincidence or not, it was quite a moment for Mark Trammell, who did a song or two before he started talking.

He told how before his son made the final decision to accept the Perrys job, they met together and Nick asked for his father’s blessing. He said he’d tried everything he could to keep Nick off the road, but as they met in that room, Mark told him that he was grown-up now and could decide for himself. But Nick insisted that he didn’t want to do it without his father’s blessing. So Mark said that if Nick could look him in the eye and tell him that he believed God had laid it on his heart to do this, that Nick would have his blessing.

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Concert Review: Ernie Haase and Signature Sound

I saw and reviewed an August Signature Sound concert. I pulled this review out of the archives to get the website off to a good start with plenty of content for new visitors to read.

They started off the concert with a familiar Cathedrals song, “Plan of Salvation.” Bass singer Tim Duncan did a moving performance on the solo.

The tempo went up a few notches when they launched into two new songs from their upcoming CD and video, “Someday” and “Our Debts Will Be Paid.”

They proceeded to an uptempo rendition of the Christmas song “Glory to God in the Highest.” The complex four-part harmony was executed flawlessly, even in the acapella part of the song. Few groups even attempt harmonies this complex, and even fewer do it well.

They did their comedy routine on “Telling the World About His Love,” featuring Roy singing three words (“of the Lord”). After this, they did another song that will appear on their next video / DVD, the old Bill Gaither Hymn “Lovest Thou Me.”

The audience was more subdued than some EHSS audiences have been known to be through the first part of the concert. However, “This Could Be the Dawning of That Day” got a positive response, with some of the audience standing for an ovation. However, with the next song, “Forgiven Again,” there was no question as to the reaction; everyone was on their feet by the big ending. Ernie took his time introducing the song, setting it up well and leaving the audience in just the right mood to appreciate baritone Doug Anderson’s performance on the song.

By this point, they had won the audience over to the point that even traditional quartet fans didn’t seem to mind “Do You Wanna Be Forgiven” and “Pray for Me.” They did a little comedy routine with “Pray for Me,” telling lead singer Ryan Seaton that his passport back to the bus depended on his performance. A quick check of Signature Sound’s website confirms that Ryan must have done a suitable job. [UPDATE, 3/26/13: Broken link removed.]

At about this point in the program, they did “Get Away Jordan.” To digress slightly, sometimes people on message boards will make comments that cause people to create impressions so extreme that the real thing is surprisingly normal. To correct a possible mistaken impression, Signature Sound stands relatively still for most of their songs, and only does noticeable choreography on some of the faster-paced songs. On most songs, they don’t do much more than any other quartet (stepping back as another member has a solo, moving together around one microphone, et cetera). With that said, they certainly had the choreography going on “Get Away Jordan.”

With that, Ernie brought the Ball Brothers on to sing two songs. They started off with a smoothly executed rendition of the familiar hymn “I Sing the Mighty Power of God.” They also did a semi-contemporary song, “All Right.” Between the choreography, the volume of the soundtrack, and the arrangement, it was rather difficult to understand the words to the second song.

Roy Webb then did the first of two piano solos for the evening, “When We All Get to Heaven.” After he was done, Ernie Haase came on stage and, without any introduction, launched into “This Old Place,” a touching Dianne Wilkinson song that Signature Sound did at last year’s National Quartet convention.

To digress slightly, in the middle of Ernie’s introduction to the song at NQC, the radio feed went dead. He was referring to his father-in-law, George Younce, at the time. But after Ernie had referred to Younce in passing during “Get Away Jordan,” he probably felt that too many references would be overkill and would lessen the impact of “Suppertime” toward the end of the program.

The most unusual number of the program came next. Ernie Haase sang “When I Move to that Heavenly Land” without a microphone, and filled the 1,500+ seat theater with his voice alone. A hush came over the room; whie it might be a slight exaggeration to say that you could have heard a pin drop, since Ernie has a powerful voice, you could most certainly have heard a CD drop.

Signature Sound sang one of their more progressive numbers, Godspeed, next. They closed the first half of the program with their song “Then Came the Morning.” The room was completely darkened except for a blue light that silhouetted the four singers, and a video of three crosses on the video screen. As they came to the chorus of the song, the lights brightened and filled the room. (This is one of several songs in the program that the Cathedrals popularized; they recorded it in 1982 on Something Special.)

After the intermission, the Ball Brothers sang two songs, a smooth song entitled “Peace of God” and their current radio release, an uptempo number entitled “I’m Already Living Forever.”

Signature Sound took the stage again with four consecutive up-tempo songs, Heavenly Parade, Happy Rhythm, Dem Bones (Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones), and Stand By Me. Ernie Haase told a story about how a little boy met them in the parking lot before the concert and asked them to sing “Dem Bones.” They said they would see if they could fit it in, at which point the little boy asked them to do it first, because he was going to fall asleep after the first song. (Side note: The story is a regular part of their comedy routine for the song.)

The Ball Brothers joined them on stage for a reprise of “Stand By Me.” Both groups stayed together for the rest of the concert. Doug Anderson was featured in the song “Who am I,” an arrangement that Ernie said that they had worked out specially for the occasion, the final stop of the Summer Tour. The groups also sang “Something About that Name” together before Roy Webb did his second solo of the night, “Softly and Tenderly.” They then sang backup vocals on a video of “Suppertime” that featured George Younce.

Ernie closed the concert by taking the time necessary to properly introduce his signature song, bringing the audience to their feet with his rendition of “Oh, What a Savior.” After a prolonged standing ovation, during which the group left the stage, they came back on stage to sing a reprise of Get Away Jordan. The enthusiastic audience stayed on its feet for two or three encores of the song. Each time they left, until the last time, the bass part of the soundtrack kept going. Knowing the song, I knew that it wouldn’t end until Roy left his piano bench, where he had stayed during each of the times that the group had left the stage. After the final reprise, he got up and left the stage with the rest of the group.

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