Mike Rogers Joins Brian Free & Assurance

Brian Free & Assurance announced tonight on their Facebook page that Mike Rogers will be joining the group as baritone starting at the Memphis Quartet Show on June 20.  Rogers had been singing lead for the Dixie Melody Boys for just short of a year.  Consequently, the Dixie Melody Boys are now searching for a new lead singer.  Here is the text of the press release:

Brian Free announced today a decision has been made in filling the baritone position. Joining the BFA family will be Mike Rogers of Kinston, NC who fans will recognize from his recent position as lead singer for the Dixie Melody Boys. Mike will join the group on June 20th at the Memphis Quartet Show.

Twenty-four year old Mike shares, “The warmth and humility from Brian and the guys when I auditioned made me feel this was truly a God-thing, and confirmed for me that I wanted to be a part of their ministry. BFA is very family-oriented, which means a lot to me. Ministry is important, but after God, family is top priority. Quartet music doesn’t get any better than BFA. They are top notch, and I am honored to join them.”

Brian states, “When I received the audition info for Mike I was very impressed with his vocal ability and the gift to deliver a song. After spending some time with him, his wife Bekki and daughter Coraline at my home, I knew he was the one God had sent to be a member of our family. I love his heart and the love he has for people. He will be a wonderful addition to BFA.

Having over 300 people apply for the job, it was a hard decision due to all the talent I heard. I want to thank each person who took their time and effort to apply for the position. I am truly honored that so many wanted to be a part of our ministry. I know God has a place and time for you to use your talent for him.”

Brian Free & Assurance’s first single I Want To Be That Man off their current project, Nothing But Love, went to number one the month of February on the Singing News Charts. Their follow up single, Calvary’s Cry has quickly climbed the charts and currently holds number six for the month of May.

To keep up to date with Brian Free & Assurance visit their website at: http://www.brianfreeandassurance.com/

Congratulations to Mike and the rest of BFA, and best wishes to the Dixie Melody Boys as they search for a replacement.

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Derrick Selph Leaves Brian Free & Assurance

Brian Free & Assurance announced today on their Facebook page that Derrick Selph is stepping down as baritone vocalist (hat tip, Lauren).  The group’s post states that Derrick and his wife are expecting their second child, so he is leaving the road to be at home with his family.  Selph has actually had two tenures with the group, the first from 2003-2009, then after a year’s hiatus, he rejoined in 2010, so he has been the baritone for the group 9 of the last 10 years and has been on many of the group’s recent hits, including the iconic “Long As I Got King Jesus.”  I’ve always felt his finest performance was the song “Healed” from the Live In New York City album.  Best wishes to Derrick and his wife on the arrival of their new baby, and to Assurance as they begin searching for a new baritone.

Review: Brian Free & Assurance – Nothing But Love

This is the follow up album to BFA’s acclaimed Never Walk Alone project.  As with the previous release, this project features Brian Free – Tenor, Bill Shivers – Lead, Derrick Selph – Baritone, and Jeremy Lile – Bass and was produced by Ricky Free.

Tracks:

  1. Nothing But Love – The album starts off with the title track, that is a mellow, bouncy, midtempo song with an infusion of what I’ll term muted brass.  While there’s heavy electric guitar, drums, piano, and organ, the brass almost gives the tune a Russ Taff era Imperials feel.  Brian Free takes the lead on this song that lyrically is a reminder of the forgiveness that exists for the child of God.  It’s a good solid start to the album.  8.5/10
  2. It’s Quite A Valley – Bill Shivers steps to the forefront on this flowing 6/8 tune that is more than just a little reminiscent of “If It Takes A Valley” from the It’s So God project.  Shivers is one of the most overlooked (and highest!) lead singers in the industry, but if I were starting a quartet from scratch, Bill Shivers would be the first lead singer I would call.  Another good, solid song with a message of encouragement that Shivers communicates very effectively.  8.5/10
  3. If The Lord Says Do It – This is a driving mid to up tempo song that features Jeremy Lile on the verses, with Shivers taking the lead on the choruses.  Lile has really grown into a fine bass vocalist during his time with Brian Free & Assurance.  As was once observed about George Younce, Lile is a singer first who happens to have a voice in the bass register.  He is a very good communicator when it comes to handling solos.   8/10
  4. I Will Be Praying – Another driving midtempo number, this a modern pop/country feel and features Bill Shivers.  It has a sound somewhat similar to “You Must Have Met Him” from Worth It.  I love the background harmony on the phrase “miracle for sure” in the second verse.  Shivers does a nice job with his solo “bridge” that is actually just a slightly slower solo rendition of the chorus.  I also like Jeremy Lile’s descending bass part on the tag.  This is another very slick sounding, radio ready tune.  To me, this is one of the strongest styles for the group.  9/10
  5. Guard Your Heart – This is a very contemporary sounding ballad that features Jeremy Lile on the first verse.  Aside from the fact that it is a bass solo on the verses, this song would sound at home on a 4Him or FFH CD.  The chorus has some really interesting chords and vocal parts, and .  Lile’s bass notes at the beginning of the chorus stand out, as they aren’t simply the root of the chord.  Shivers takes the second verse and does a fine job.  Lile drops his bass part an octave on the second chorus from where he was on the first one on the “Guard your heart” phrases.  One of the best ballad bridges I’ve heard in a long time follows the second chorus.  Love the lyric, love the arrangement.  After a couple solo lines from Shivers, they take the key up and invert the harmony up on several phrases leading to some incredibly high harmonies.  It’s amazing how high Free can still sing after roughly 30 years of full time singing.  I love this tune.  10/10
  6. There Is Power – Derrick Selph takes the lead on the verses of this mid to uptempo tune.  Shivers takes the melody on the chorus that features an interesting descending chord pattern.  This song begs for a chorus of “Power In The Blood”, and the chorus to that old hymn indeed finds itself here as a bridge.  It almost is a bit too cliche, but I also think the lyrics to both songs are so complementary that I’d have missed it more if it wasn’t there.  It does lead to a very odd key change leading to a high tag, not a typical half step.  Solid song.  7/10
  7. Calvary’s Cry – This is a power tenor ballad that Brian Free has made a staple of his musical diet over the course of his career.  It’s an interesting lyric, as the first verse talks of things that would cause Calvary pain, the cross piercing the hill, bearing the weight of the world’s sins, etc.  The chorus reveals Calvary’s “cry” to be an invitation to find salvation, not a cry of pain.  It’s a very well executed lyric, and Free knocks it out of the park.  No one can sing these ballads like Brian.  Moving, powerful, and a great vocal performance from Brian and the rest of the group.  There’s some incredible high harmony on this song.   10/10
  8. You Can Be A Bridge – After starting with the title of the song done acappella with some robotic effects applied, the song kicks in with a driving country arrangement with Bill Shivers featured on the verses.  The chorus features some high, smooth harmonies from the quartet.  Lyrically the song speaks of the importance of showing our walk with Christ in our words and actions.  It’s a good message that is performed well.  8/10
  9. I Want To Be That Man – This is another power tenor ballad that sounds like it came off of the Courageous movie soundtrack.  It’s the right message at a time when it is sorely needed, and is a bit in the forefront because of the aforementioned movie.  It’s a call for men to stand up and be the spiritual leaders in the home.  If the line “I’ll lead my family as I hold the Father’s hand” doesn’t fill your soul with conviction, you really need to check yourself.  It’s easily the most challenging and poignant message that the group has committed to record.  This has the potential to be an absolutely huge song for the group, the biggest since “For God So Loved”, and because of the closeness of the lyric to Courageous, I think Daywind should send this song to CCM radio as well.  It could easily fit on K-LOVE.  It’s a tremendous message that any male that calls himself a child of God needs to hear, regardless of music styles or genres.  10/10
  10. Revival – This is a neat mid to uptempo that features Derrick Selph on the verses and Bill Shivers on the chorus.  The verses are in a minor key, but changes to a major for the chorus.  It’s a catchy chorus that is sure to get your toes tapping.  The musical style may make you take this song as lightweight, but it’s a stronger lyric than what you expect to find, echoing the call in the book of Revelation for the church to return to its first love.  The tag actually ends the song and the album on a minor chord, which is very unusual, especially in this genre.  It lends a nice touch.  9/10

Overall:  9  While most reviewers have said this recording is good but not great, I’m going against the grain and going to agree with Brian Fuson’s opinion that this album exceeds the previous release, Never Walk Alone.  Brian Free has an absolute knack for picking songs with great messages and that play to the strengths of each of his various members.  With a parenthetical year or so where Selph came off the road and was replaced by Randy Crawford, this lineup has been pretty stable for the last 5 years or so, and they have really gelled together well.  I mentioned in the review Lile’s abilities to carry a solo vocal, but he really adds a solid foundation to the group harmonies.  He may not be the lowest bass singer around, but he has a nice tone and cut to his voice that makes it seem like he is singing lower than he really is.  Selph is a solid baritone, and has also improved in his time with the group.  His voice just fits the sound of the quartet like a glove.  Bill Shivers is worth his weight in gold.  You can’t say enough good things about him.  Brian Free has withstood the test of time, and is singing just as good as ever.  If you like quartet singing with a bit of an edgy sound, this is a CD you will not want to miss.  It’s a good collection of songs and full of fine performances, with a few fantastic cuts thrown in for good measure.  “I Want To Be That Man” may become for BFA what “There Rose A Lamb” was to Gold City, namely a second huge signature ballad.  Great job by all involved with the album!

SG Quartets: Walking In Memphis

As was announced on Daniel Mount’s blog today, plans are moving along for an all male quartet event called the “J.D. Sumner Quartet Show” in Memphis, TN to be held June 19-22, 2013.  This is the brainchild of several quartet leaders and concert promoters, and is being held in conjunction with the 15 year anniversary of Sumner’s death, in the city where he and James Blackwood started the National Quartet Convention in 1957.  James’ son Jimmy is one of the organizers of this event, along with Stewart Varnado of the Dixie Echoes.

I was just in the auditorium of the Cook Convention Center, known as the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, for a business meeting a couple of weeks ago and it’s a beautiful facility that seats about 2,100 people, give or take.  There is also an exhibit hall attached to the facility that should rival Freedom Hall’s in Louisville.  The facility sits on the north side of Downtown Memphis with entrances on both Main St., and Front St. overlooking the Mississippi River.

The event has a website here, and a Facebook page here.  The initial lineup of groups already committed is extremely strong, with names like Brian Free and Assurance, Ernie Haase and Signature Sound, Gold City, The Kingsmen, The Dixie Echoes, and Triumphant Quartet, among others.  Also, there are plans underway to add more “up and coming” type quartets to the lineup as well.

If you can’t tell, I’m very excited about the possibilities of this event coming to my hometown, and I’ll see you all there!

Thrift Store Finds

I had 45 minutes or so to kill Friday afternoon before I met my wife and kids for a birthday party for one of my son’s friends.  Down the street from where the party was being held, I came across a thrift store that had a name like “Hands of God Thrift Store” or something similar.  I figured I could look around for a while, and I’m glad I did!  I ended up walking out of the store with the following:

  • Booth Brothers – Harmony still sealed CD ($1)
  • Brian Free and Assurance – Requests cassette (the ultra rare original trio project, $0.50)
  • Gold City – Requested Hymns vol 1-3 cassettes (Brian Free/Ivan Parker/Steve Lacey lineup, $0.50 each)
  • Imperials – Now LP ($1)
  • A various artists LP from the early – mid 60s ($1)

The various artists LP is a bit intriguing, it’s a HeartWarming album, but on an early budget label.  It includes songs from Ira Stanphill, Dottie Rambo, The Gospel Echoes (Rambos, I’m guessing), the Imperials, the Plainsmen, and several other well known names.  More on that album when I get a chance to rip it to mp3.  Thrift stores have always been good to me!

NQC Coverage, and Day 1 Summary

Once again, the NQC train is passing me by.  However, I was able to catch a couple of hours of the broadcast via enLighten.  Those of you who follow the blog on Twitter will notice I was doing some tweeting as I was listening.  I will attempt to continue to do so the rest of the week, though most likely not Wednesday or Thursday (church and my son’s soccer practice, respectively).  If you’d like to follow along, you can get to the blog’s Twitter page here.

Of the limited sets I heard last night, the highlight was definitely the Perrys, and specifically Tracy Stuffle singing “Plan Of Salvation.”  What a touching tribute to Tracy’s hero, George Younce, and Tracy more than held his own singing George’s bass lead.  I’m glad I was able to hear it.

The next best set I heard was the New Gospel Singing Caravan.  You can really tell those groups are having fun on stage doing their set, and they were joined in a surprise appearance by the Nelons.  My wife made the statement while we were listening to their set that the Caravan CD was probably her favorite of the CDs I’ve forced her to listen to while I was reviewing them.  🙂

Greater Vision had some sound issues, at least over the radio feed, but once they got them done they turned in a very credible set, with one outstanding performance: Chris Allman singing “I Know A Man Who Can.”  Chris has made that song his own and he absolutely nails it.

Highlights that I didn’t hear personally, but have noticed on Twitter include Karen Peck and New River singing “On The Banks Of The Promised Land” and Karen’s version of “The Star Spangled Banner”, Gold City’s set overall and debuting a new song “Peter, James, and John”, and the sets of the Collingsworth Family (again, they were the major buzzworthy artist last year as well) and Brian Free and Assurance.

That’s about it for day 1.  Follow along on Twitter tonight, I’ll do my best to post some more comments.

Forgotten Albums: Brian Free and Assurance – Doing This For You

Brian Free and Assurance is currently one of the hottest quartets going.  They’ve been in around for about 17 years now, but their history is unique in that it contains a parenthetical period.  There was a time from 1998 or so till 2001 when Brian disbanded the group and performed as a soloist while in seminary.  Released in 1998, Doing This For You was the last project of the pre-solo quartet era.  It featured Brian, Randy Crawford on lead, Jon McBroom on baritone, and Bob Caldwell on bass.

This is an interesting album in that it really didn’t have any mega chart hits, but it did produce several mid-level charting songs.  However, don’t let the lack of charting action fool you, this is a tremendous CD that was easily the best of the pre-solo quartet days.  The song begins and ends with two tremendous acappella pieces, opening with a lively “Heavenly Parade” and closing with a beautiful hymn medley.  Jon McBroom has an incredibly pleasing baritone voice, and his performance of the title track is not to be missed.  It definitely qualifies as “Hidden Gem” worthy.  Though it has been recorded by several other groups, the power ballad “Who Is This King?” finds its definitive version here, with an outstanding lead vocal from Crawford.  There’s some great uptempo stuff here two, with two big winners in “This Is Still My Father’s World” and the Michael English penned “Sign Me Up.”  Ernie Haase had the hit with the song, but I’ve always preferred this recording of “What A Difference A Day Makes.”  This version features some great power harmony from the quartet.

Quite possibly the strongest song on this album is the power tenor ballad, “So We Could Become Like Him.”  Brian Free has always been known for the high tenor ballads, but this one is definitely one of the best.  Brian turns in a masterful performance, and by the end of the song the harmony is soaring in the stratosphere.  If you’ve never heard this song, you’ve missed a real treat.  Great lyrics and a powerful performance highlight this track.

Luckily, BFA is good about having pretty much all of their previous recordings available.  If you don’t have this CD, pick it up the next time you see them, or order it from their website.  If you already have it, dig it out and stick it back in the CD player.  It’s an incredible CD that you’ll enjoy listening to again!

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