Singing Americans CD Set: My CD For Christmas

Nate posted his list of Southern Gospel CDs that he got for Christmas yesterday.  I got one, well really two if you want to be precise, this year: the double CD set of the Singing Americans with Black and White and Live and Alive.  After years of listening to cassette copies that were of, shall we say, less than stellar quality, it is very nice to listen to remastered versions of these albums.  Listening in true CD quality really highlights the greatness of these two albums.  Of course, they held down the #3 (Live and Alive) and #4 (Black and White) spots in my industry survey of the Top 5 SG albums of all time about a year or so ago.  These are two of the most respected and influential albums in SG history, and are well worth the price of the CD set.  If you don’t have copies of these albums, or even if you do, you really should pick up this CD set.  You can order the set from Dwayne Burke at Burke Music Group here.

CDs for Christmas 2011

Time for my annual list of SG music that I got for Christmas.  To give a little background; 8 plus years ago I was single and without a local SG station so I would buy dozens of CDs throughout the year, forming a collection on about 1000 CDs in a 10 year period.  I had to start watching my money better once I got married and bought a house, and later having a child.  I still buy a few throughout the year but I get the majority of them on Christmas and my Birthday.  This year there aren’t many to report since my wife was generous enough to get me a tablet, but here is my list.

  • Booth Brothers – Let it Be Known
  • Gold City – Somebody’s Coming
  • The Isaacs – Why Can’t We
  • Kingdom Heirs – We Will Stand Our Ground
  • In the non-SG category I got The Best of Rascal Flatts Live

What did you get this year?

Harold Reed Departs Kingsmen, Joins LeFevre Quartet

News has broken this morning that Harold Reed has departed the Kingsmen and is joining the LeFevre Quartet. This is the second tough loss for the Kingsmen in about as many weeks, as Bryan Hutson recently announced his departure as well. Harold will make an immediate impact on the LeFevre Quartet, bringing a top notch sound to their tenor slot. I will be very interested in hearing their new sound. The Kingsmen are asking for auditions, if you are interested email ray@kingsmenquartet.com or brandon@kingsmenquartet.com. Best wishes to Harold, the Kingsmen, and the LeFevre Quartet in their transition periods.

Merry Christmas 2011

From Burke’s Brainwork to all of you readers:

Merry Christmas!!!!

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas holiday with your families, and take a moment to remember the Christ child that gives us salvation and a reason to celebrate.  I always read the familiar Christmas story from Luke 2 to my kids before bed on Christmas Eve, continuing the tradition my dad started with the three of us.  I’m looking forward to our first Christmas with Molly Cate as well.  So far she hasn’t pulled the tree down on top of herself….

The Beach Boys Are Reuniting

The past couple of years have seen several reunions we never thought were possible.  In the Southern Gospel world, we’ve seen the 1980s Gold City supergroup reunite, with another reunion coming up in a few weeks, as well as the Downings, the Hinsons, and the Michael English era Singing Americans.  In the secular world, another reunion was just announced that was even more unlikely.

The Beach Boys are reuniting for their 50th anniversary next year.

All 5 surviving members are involved: Mike Love, Bruce Johnston, Al Jardine, David Marks (who replaced Jardine for a couple of the earliest albums), and…..Brian Wilson.  After all of the public bickering, lawsuits, and general bad relations between the band members, they’ve managed to leave all of that behind and reunite focusing on the thing that made them all rich and famous: music.  The group is planning a 50 concert tour next year, starting with a performance on the Grammy Awards telecast in February, there has been mention of a new boxed set of Beach Boys material, and they are also working on a new album, with both Beach Boys classics and new material from Brian.  Brian Wilson is serving as producer for the album, with Mike Love serving as executive producer.  Below is a YouTube video for the group’s new version of their 1968 hit, “Do It Again.”

If you’ve read my blog for very long, you’ll know that I am a huge Beach Boys fan.  To date, SG albums have been all that I’ve reviewed on this blog, with a “mini-review” of Brian Wilson’s That Lucky Old Sun as the lone exception, but I do believe I will be making another exception and doing a full review of the new Beach Boys album.  (I can’t believe I just typed those words….)  To quote J.D. Sumner: “I Can’t Wait!!!”

Review: Crist Family – Timeless: A Christmas Collection

Recorded over a period covering a couple of years, this is the Crist Family’s first Christmas project, and it is the first project released since Tom Joyce departed as bass vocalist.  The vocals on this album are by Jackie Crist, Tami Crist Starkel, Breana Crist, Lisa Crist, Rich Crist, and John Starkel.  An unique aspect to this project is that the group’s own Lisa Crist created the cover art, and it reflects the title of the collection very well.  Timeless has gotten some particularly notable nods from Gerald Wolfe and Mark Trammell.

Tracks:

  1. Love Me Some Snow – The album opens with a medley of sorts that includes part of a song many listeners will recognize immediately as the song from the “train scene” in the movie White Christmas.  Right off the bat, the Crist Family establishes that this album is going to be a retro, jazzy listen, and they weave through the big band harmonies of this song expertly.  9/10
  2. Christmas Time Is Here – From the beloved TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, comes this beautiful piece.  This is is given a shimmering acappella that wraps you up in thick blankets of harmonies.  Lisa Crist has a few solo lines with swirling harmonies behind her.  It’s sheer beauty in a two and a half minute song.  Wow.  10/10
  3. Christmas Waltz – This Christmas classic popularized by the Carpenters finds a home here in a nice performance by Tami Crist Starkel.  A classic waltz orchestration fits neatly behind Tami’s vocal.  It really sounds like it came straight from the classic era of the 40s and 50s, which in this case is a very good thing.  After a instrumental interlude, the Crist Family’s vocals come in with the big band era harmonies that are so prevalent on this recording.  9/10
  4. I Love Those Jingle Bells  – This was likely one of the first songs recorded for this album, as it was made available as a free download promo for the group a year or so ago.  There’s a nice male trio at the beginning, as well as female only harmonies.  The chorus features thick jazz harmonies.  It’s instantly Christmas time when this comes on.  9.5/10
  5. Jesu Parvule – The heavy jazz/big band style takes a backseat to a gorgeous classical piece that is performed acappella.  This sounds like something you would hear at a Christmas concert by a university choir, and that is absolutely meant to be a compliment.  This song shows that the Crist Family are well trained and very capable vocalists.  10/10
  6. Pine Cones And Holly Berries – This is another of the earlier cuts, as Crossroads had a free Christmas album download promo last year that included this track.  It’s a fun little song that includes snippets of other Christmas songs woven into the main theme.  Again the thick, lush harmonies highlight this track.  9/10
  7. I’ll Be Home For Christmas – This track is a bit of a mix of Carpenters-style vocals, along with the solo piano work of producer Jeff Collins.  Collins is definitely one of our most unsung pianists.  Look on a lot of Crossroads albums and you’ll find his name with a piano credit by it.  The vocals are lush and very well done, and Collins’ piano playing highlights a very good cut of this song.  9.5/10
  8. In The Bleak Midwinter – This song returns to a more classical approach.  These more classical moments break up what could be an overwhelmingly heavy amount of thick modern harmony and lighten the overall sound of the CD.  They are both done very well, and really showcase the fine vocals of the group.   10/10
  9. What Child Is This – I love the eerie string intro with a few brass accents toward the end.  An acoustic guitar enters and the song takes on a bit of a folk feel for the first verse, before becoming a bit more of a straight forward gospel ballad feel for the first chorus.  This is probably the closest to a traditional Southern Gospel arrangement that you will find on the album.  There are some nice surprises in the chord progression toward the end of the song, and the high ladies harmony on the line “The virgin sings her lullaby” is nice as well.  It is very well done.  8.5/10
  10. What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve – A breathtaking couple of acappella lines of “Auld Lang Syne” lead into a smooth jazzy rendition of Frank Loesser’s 1947 classic romantic Christmas tune.  You’re absolutely drowning in jazz harmonies and it’s a masterful performance by the entire ensemble.  Again I have to hearken back to the multi-layered harmonies of the Carpenters.  This is one of my favorite vocal performances on a CD that is full of great ones.  10/10
  11. Silent Night – This Christmas classic carol is performed in a style that has become a Crist Family trademark with a melody that is wrapped in tight, full harmonies.  It was this type of vocal arrangement and performance that drew me to the group in the first place, and this is no exception to the rule.  It’s a great arrangement and great performance.  9.5/10
  12. Winter Wonderland Medley – The album concludes with this medley that was another cut that was previously available as a special download from Crossroads.  The song that gives the medley its title is first and is done with some nice girls vs. guys sections.  Sleigh Ride comes up next with the full jazz chording in the vocals.  White Christmas is next up with a nice vocal passage to change keys to get there.  I know I sound like a broken record here, but the harmonies are just impeccable all throughout the medley.  They finish with a bit of a reprise of the opening to the medley.  9/10

Overall:  9.5  This album had a very definite vision.  The Crist Family, along with producer Jeff Collins, wanted to create a Christmas album that hearkened back to the classic sound of Christmas music of years past.  They wanted this album to remind listeners of the classics from people like Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, the Carpenters, and other classic artists that are associated with the Christmas holiday season.  There are secular and sacred tunes present, and they all come together to create one of the best Christmas albums I’ve heard in a while.

Jeff Collins needs special mention here, as he wore several hats for this album, contributing as co-producer and arranger alongside Rich Crist, but also contributed his piano skills, and also his bass vocal talent as well.  When Tom Joyce left the group earlier this year, the group removed his vocals from the project, and for the acappella pieces, Collins lent his vocals to fill in the bass part.

From a pure vocal standpoint, the Crist Family has been one of my favorite groups for several years now.  They have always included some adventurous vocal arrangements on their projects, but with this one, they have raised the bar.  There are no simple vocal arrangements at all on this album.  Literally every song on the project contains full, complex and thick vocal harmonies, which makes Timeless all the more impressive.  I’ll echo what DBM said in his review and state my hope that this level of vocal complexity continues on the group’s subsequent albums.  If you are a fan of the classic era of Christmas music, you absolutely need to add this album to your collection.  In this reviewer’s opinion, Timeless lives up to it’s name and vision very well.  Great job!

Bob Sellers Announced As New Kingsmen Lead

The Kingsmen have just sent out a press release naming Bob Sellers as their new lead singer.  As I understand it, Bob has been filling in with them recently while Randy Crawford has been dealing with his heart issues, so that should lead to a fairly smooth transition.  Here is the text of the press release:

The Kingsmen are pleased to welcome Bob Sellers to the quartet, filling the vacancy created by the departure of Bryan Hutson. “I am so excited to become a member of the legendary Kingsmen Quartet family,” says Bob. “I’m thankful for this opportunity that Ray and Brandon Reese have given me, and I look forward to meeting every single Kingsmen fan.

“The first song I recall singing with my mom and sister in our little country church was ‘A Place Where The Hungry Are Fed,’ so it is a dream come true to now stand on stage with the group that introduced that song and so many other great songs to Gospel music. I will work with all that is within me to continue the proud tradition that is The Kingsmen Quartet and, most importantly, to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ in song effectively. I cannot wait to see what God has in store!

Bob’s first concert will be in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada on December 31, 2011.

Be sure to go check out the Kingsmen when they are near you and welcome Bob to the group.  Congratulations to Bob and the Kingsmen.

Fiery Darts

I give shoutouts to new SG bloggers from time to time, but today I wanted to recommend a fairly new Christian blogger that has nothing to do with Southern Gospel.  My pastor’s wife, Janet Warren Lane, has written and published a book entitled Fiery Darts: Satan’s Weapon of Choice, and in conjunction with her book she has started a blog.  You can find it on WordPress at http://fierydarts.wordpress.com.  I take every opportunity I can to brag on my church and church family, and I think you readers will find her blog very timely and thought-provoking.  I helped her get moved to WordPress and get going with it, and she has done very well.  Give her blog a read, I suspect the quality of her posts will keep you going back.

Bryan Hutson Departs Kingsmen, Joins Soul’d Out

Bryan Hutson has announced his departure from the Kingsmen, and will be joining Soul’d Out Quartet.  Here is an open letter from Bryan:

I want to thank the many friends that I have made while being involved in Gospel Music as well as Worship Ministry. You have embraced me since I began singing with my brother in “The New Generation” in 1985. I started traveling fulltime with “The Heartland Quartet” in 1993. Your continued support, love and encouragement through both my tenures with “The Kingsmen” is deeply appreciated. In early November, I decided to follow God’s leading and give my resignation with “The Kingsmen.”

January of 2012 will mark a new chapter in my gospel music career. I will be joining one of America’s best new groups, “Soul’d Out Quartet”. In fact, the group was awarded “Horizon Group of The Year” (Favorite New Group) in the Singing News Magazine Fan Awards in 2010. Matt Rankin (lead), Dusty Barrett (tenor), Matt Fouch (bass) and Michael Howard (piano) make up “Soul’d Out Quartet”. I will share lead vocalist duties with Matt Rankin. SOQT is a solid quartet who sings straight ahead Southern Gospel Music with a progressive sound. I’m very excited to see what God has in store for our future! Over the past several years, I have developed a friendship with members of the group. I believe the men of “Soul’d Out” are men of integrity and have a heart for ministry that mirrors my own passion. I know my friends and family will love the music and ministry of “Soul’d Out” as much as I do.
My wife, Yvonne, and I have been seeking God and wise counsel about this decision and feel that this is a door God has opened. The tour schedule for “Soul’d Out” is a better fit for me as a husband and father. This opportunity will also allow us to reach our long term goals as a family.

I joined my all time favorite group “The Kingsmen” in 1996 under the late Eldridge and Greg Fox. The 5 years that I spent learning from the Fox’s, the late Jim Hamill and Ray Reese were some of the best years of my life. Upon returning for my second run with “The Kingsmen” in 2007, we have seen lives changed through our music. I want to thank Ray and Brandon Reese and “The Kingsmen” for allowing me to be a part of the continuing Kingsmen legacy.

I would like to ask for your continued support, encouragement and prayers for my family and both groups. I am looking forward to seeing each of you at upcoming “Soul’d Out Quartet” concerts. Please check our website for upcoming performances www.souldoutquartet.com .

In His Will,
Bryan

Brandon Reese of the Kingsmen has sent out this press release as well:

Bryan Hutson will be leaving the Kingsmen this December and will be joining Soul’d Out Quartet.

Brandon Reese states, “In November Bryan came to me and stated that he felt it was time to make a change in his professional career. He also told me that he had been seeking God’s will in an opportunity to stay home more with his family. I commended him for letting the Lord lead in his life. The door opened for Bryan to join Matt Rankin and the rest of Soul’d Out (who are based out of Columbus, OH) and as many of you know is only an hour or 2 from where Bryan grew up in Batesville, IN. Bryan stated to me that joining Soul’d Out is perfect for the long term goals of his family and until then will maintain his residence in Asheville, NC with his wife Yvonne and four children Alexa, Jake, Bailey and Jordan. I, along with the other Kingsmen members, wish to thank Bryan for his two tenures here and his continuing friendship.”

While I hate to see Bryan leave the Kingsmen, as I’ve always loved him in the lead singer position with the group, Soul’d Out is one of the top up and coming quartets in Southern Gospel today.  The arrival of a vocalist with the talent and reputation of Hutson may be just what  sends them over the top into the upper tier of quartets.  Prayers and best wishes to Bryan, Soul’d Out, and the Kingsmen as they begin the search for a new lead singer.

YouTube Killed The XM Star

An intriguing phenomenon has been slowly materializing recently in Southern Gospel: concept videos.  The Ball Brothers did one for “About The Cross”, the Booth Brothers just released one for “She Still Remembers Jesus’ Name”, the Dills had “God Is In Control”, and Red Roots also released one fairly recently for “Double Wide Church.”  There are probably more than this floating around on YouTube, these are just the ones I could think of in a pinch.

Those of you who are of my generation will probably recognize the title of this post as a play on the rock song “Video Killed The Radio Star”, which came out shortly after the rise of MTV.  It seems there is truly nothing new under the sun, as the YouTube concept video phenomenon is seemingly a return of the music video, just on the net instead of over the cable “airwaves”.  Of course, this is also not an entirely new phenomenon, YouTube has been creating celebrities for a while now.  Justin Bieber, Rebecca Black, and the entire premise of the Nickelodeon show iCarly (which my 6 and 4 year olds LOVE) have gotten their notoriety due to the influence that YouTube has had on our culture, among others.

During the music video TV heyday, the phenomenon really never took off in Southern Gospel.  I remember watching GMTV on my cousin’s satellite a few times, but it never became readily available, and the quality of videos shown, especially in the early days, left a lot to be desired.  So call me skeptical in the ability of the YouTube concept video to catch on and have any staying power, but you never know.  Maybe the fact that some better known artists are participating this time will create more sticking power.  What do you think?

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