Breana (Crist) Henderson Departs Crist Family

In a press release this afternoon, the Crist Family have announced the departure of alto Breana Henderson. Here’s the press release:

After traveling full-time with The Crist Family for the last eight years, Breana Henderson (formerly Breana Crist) is leaving the road.

Here is a quote from her farewell letter, which can be read in full at www.cristfamilymusic.com: “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under Heaven… a time to plant and a time to uproot… Now, after eight years and over a thousand concerts later, I am writing this letter to tell you that the time has come for me to ‘uproot’ from this ministry and follow God with my husband to the next stage of life He wants to take us through together. I am so excited to see where God takes Josh and me as we seek to follow his leading in our marriage.”

Breana’s father, group manager Rich Crist, says, “We will miss Bre a whole bunch! We are so thankful that God gave us these years with Bre and we will never forget the blessing of traveling and singing together side by side. Our love and support go with her and Josh as they step into the next stage of life together. Now…how ‘bout some grandkids!”
The Crist Family is grooming sixteen year old Valerie Crist (Breana’s younger sister) to step into Breana’s alto role. You will begin seeing Valerie on a limited basis starting in February on their three week long west coast tour. Breana’s last date with the Crist Family will be January 26th.

I’ve had the opportunity to be around the Crist Family several times, as we’ve had them in concert at my church. Breana has a fine alto voice, and her performance of “My Oasis” from the group’s Oasis project was one of the true standout performances on the disc. Breana will be missed, but I’ll be interested to hear what Valerie brings to the musical table, so to speak. Best wishes to Breana and Josh, and congratulations to Valerie. Don’t miss the Crist Family when they are near you!

Concert Review: Crist Family

Thursday night, March 15, my church hosted the Crist Family in concert.  It had been two years since we’d had them, so this was the first chance I’ve had to hear the material from their Oasis CD live and my first time to see them since the departure of Tom Joyce.  The crowd was incredibly disappointing.  I’d estimate at 100, maybe 125 if I were to be generous.  Not sure what caused such a low turnout, we did nothing different than normal in promoting the concert.  That being said, the Crist Family was very professional and sang just as hard for the 100 as they would have for 1000.

Here is their set list from the night:

  • When I Get Carried Away
  • I Believe He’s Coming Back
  • My Oasis
  • Joy’s Gonna Come
  • He Is Amazing
  • I Love Lovin’ Jesus
  • His Strength Is Perfect
  • I’ll Sing A New Song
  • My Heart Knows
  • The Rock

Intermission

  • Jesus Hold My Hand
  • I Must Tell Jesus
  • It’s Been A Journey
  • Great Beyond

The concert started with a couple of well known SG classics, and though the crowd was sparse, it was readily apparent that those who were there were in good spirits and quickly became attuned to the group.  One positive of the smaller crowd was that it led to a much more intimate feel that carried on throughout the evening.  Breana Crist did a fine job on “My Oasis.”  It’s a very soothing, smooth song that seems to be made for Bre’s voice.  It has always been one of my favorite cuts on Oasis.  Tami Starkel has a big, powerful lead voice, and “Joy’s Gonna Come” really gives her a chance to showcase some powerhouse vocals.  It really gets the energy going in the crowd.

Highlight number one followed though, with the mellow, big band harmonies of “He Is Amazing.”  The group did something unusual with this song, however, they started the song acappella.  The first line is all the ladies unison, then the guys join for the second line, still in unison, then on the third line of the first verse the parts all split into some tight big band jazz harmonies.  They muted the track until they hit the chorus.  So we got the entire first verse, including the harmonic split and beyond acappella before kicking in the track for the chorus.  When all those voices split into the 5 and 6 part harmonies with no accompaniment, it will send chills down your spine.  Wow.

Another highlight followed right on the heels of “He Is Amazing”, and that was the next song “I Love Lovin’ Jesus.”  To date, this is the highest charting single for the Crist Family, as it climbed all the way to #3.  It’s a simple lyric, with a fairly simple (for the Crist Family, anyways) arrangement, but it’s a catchy tune, a memorable message, and a marketable sound.  Jackie Crist really shines on it.  Tami Starkel shared a powerful testimony of her struggle with epilepsy before singing their cover of Steven Curtis Chapman’s “His Strength Is Perfect.”    It’s a moving performance that coincides with a touching testimony.  Jackie Crist’s performance of “My Heart Knows” alongside of her dad and sister is also a highlight of their set.

During the intermission, the group introduced Tami and John Starkel’s son, Luke.  Luke took his guitar to the front of the stage, sat on a stool and proceeded to sing a couple of songs that he had written.  Luke’s style is much more contemporary oriented, but he is VERY talented.  I thoroughly enjoyed both of the songs he performed, and his performance added even more variety in style to the Crist’s concert experience.  GREAT job, Luke, and be watching out for this young man.  He absolutely has a bright future ahead of him in Christian music.

After Luke’s mini-set, the group returned to the stage with “Jesus Hold My Hand.”  The next major highlight of the evening came next.  The group put their mics down, walked to the center of the auditorium, and sang their arrangement of “I Must Tell Jesus” acappella, and without any amplification.  One thing I can brag about my church on is that the acoustics in our sanctuary are great, and this performance was an evidence of that fact.  Wow.  No stacks, no tracks, not even microphones, just pure, sweet harmony on a timeless hymn.  My brother took a video of it.  You will have to excuse my son climbing around to get a better look, he was captivated, and I hope mine and my wife’s heads aren’t too in the way.  🙂

The mood became quite reflective at this point, and after a testimony of the things that Rich and the group have been through, he pulled out one of their earlier songs, “It’s Been A Journey”, that they hadn’t performed in quite a while.  It really fit the atmosphere at that point of the concert, and led wonderfully to an invitation.  After the invitation, they closed with the upbeat “Great Beyond.”

It had been a couple of years since we’d had the Crist Family, they’d released two CDs and had the departure of Tom Joyce, but this group continues to grow and develop their niche in the Southern Gospel industry.  Their harmony is terrific, their testimonies moving, and their concerts are always enjoyable.  The Crist Family is one of the true rising stars in this genre, and for good reason.  I hope they continue to push themselves musically, and through many discussions with Rich Crist, I’m confident that they will.  He’s the only person I know with a more eclectic collection of music on his iPod than mine!  Seriously, don’t miss the Crist Family if they are in your area, they are a great group with a great sound and a powerful message.  You will be glad you went.  Thanks guys for a terrific concert!

Photos:

Concert Reminder: Crist Family

Just a reminder for my Memphis area readers that the Crist Family is in concert tonight at 7:00 at Faith Baptist in Atoka, TN.  No admission and a love offering will be taken.  As always, I will do a full concert review on the blog.  Come out and enjoy a great evening of gospel music!

Upcoming Concert: Crist Family

For my Memphis readers, next Thursday night, March 15, my church (Faith Baptist in Atoka, TN) will be hosting the Crist Family in concert. The concert starts at 7:00PM, and as always there is no admission charge, but a love offering will be taken. Come out and enjoy a great night of Southern Gospel music with the Crist Family!

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!

Tom And Gail Joyce Depart Crist Family

According to this concert review by DBM, Crist Family bass vocalist Tom Joyce and his wife Gail, who served as the group’s road manager, have departed the group and will be leaving East Tennessee for Montana to care Joyce’s mother.  While I’m sad to see them depart, as I’ve really enjoyed Tom’s bass vocals with the group, I completely understand their reason for doing so.  Please be in prayer for Joyce’s mother, as well as the rest of the Crist Family.  As of now, the Crist Family is planning to just travel with the six remaining vocalists.

Singing News Curse 2010

One of the common jokes about SG is that we have our own version of the NFL’s “Madden Curse”, the “Singing News Curse.”  With just one cover left for the year, let’s review the status of the curse for the year, shall we?

  • January: Dixie Echoes (Pat Barker departs)
  • February: Crist Family (no changes)
  • March: Brian Free & Assurance (Randy Crawford departs)
  • April: Greater Vision (Jacob Kitson departs)
  • May: Hoppers (no changes)
  • June: McKameys (no changes)
  • July: Mark Trammell Quartet (no changes)
  • August: Gold City (Roy Webb, Josh Cobb depart)
  • September: Blackwood Brothers (no changes)
  • October: Kingdom Heirs (Billy Hodges departs)
  • November: Booth Brothers (no changes)
  • December: ????

Unless my math skills have dulled over the years, that’s 5 out of 11.  It’s interesting to note of the groups that haven’t had changes, 3 are primarily family based groups, which tend to experience less turnover by nature, and one has been in existence less than a year (Mark Trammell Quartet).  That leaves us with two established non-family groups that have been stable since their cover appearance, and 5 that have experienced changes.  I’d say the curse is still alive and well!

NOTE:  This post is solely intended to be read in a good-natured, tongue-in-cheek manner.  If you have not read it as such, please check the batteries in your sarcasm meter.  🙂

Review: Crist Family – Oasis

This is the Crist Family’s second release on Horizon Records, after being promoted to Crossroads Music’s top label before their previous release,  Declaration.  Once again, the group indicates featured vocalists in the liner notes of the CD, which with 7 vocalists is a big help in reviewing the disc.

Tracks:

  1. He Is Amazing – This song by Amber Maxwell is an interesting way to start the disc.  A prolonged introduction (over a full minute) using simply strings leads into a beautiful ballad that is similar stylistically to a ballad from 1930s or 1940s.  Beautiful lyrics are complemented well by some gorgeous big band harmonies.  It’s a unique start to the CD, but it works!  9.5/10
  2. I Love Lovin’ Jesus – Contributed by Rebecca Peck and Marty Funderburk is this upbeat tune that has a bit of a new pop/country feel to it.  Jackie Crist is given the lead on this song, and she proceeds to deliver what I consider to be the most radio ready song the Crists have ever recorded.  In fact, this song was just released to radio this month.  Be looking for it to move up the charts quickly as it just has that “radio sound.”  You will find yourself singing the chorus to this song all day long as it has an infectious melody and catchy lyrics.  One of the picks of the album to be sure!  10/10
  3. My Oasis – Breana Crist has her first vocal feature on this midtempo country influenced tune from the pen of Mike Spanhanks.  Breana does a fine job on the song, and is a bit comparable to Courtney Collingsworth in that she tends to be a bit overlooked, but is a fine vocalist in her own right.  This song fits Breana very well and is a beautiful reminder of God’s provision in times of trouble.  This could also find its way to radio fairly easily.  9.5/10
  4. Rhythm Of Grace – This may go down alongside of the Booth Brothers “All Over The World” as two of the most original sounding songs recorded in SG in a long time.  The song starts out with an African men’s ensemble singing in Swahili, and keeps the African feel throughout .  Written by Kenneth Mullins and Rebecca Peck, Rich Crist delivers a great vocal on a really enjoyable song.  The song feels like a sibling to the old Newsong cut “Rhythm Of The World.”  When they were recording this album, Rich Crist and I had a long conversation one night on Facebook about this song.  He was really excited about the song, and for good reason.  It’s a great song, and a really different feel.  I don’t know how well the more traditional element in SG would receive this on radio, but it’s a great cut.  10/10
  5. His Strength Is Perfect – Bringing things back down to earth somewhat is this Steven Curtis Chapman (yes, that Steven Curtis Chapman) and Jerry Salley penned ballad that is sung expertly by Tami Starkel.  The song has a light pop type feel to it, and really contrasts from the previous cut.  It’s a very pretty song with some incredible lyrics, which if you know the trials Chapman has been through in the accidental death of a daughter, make the lyric even more profound.  It’s a powerful song, and a good way to rein things back in after the “wild” cut in “Rhythm of Grace.”  9/10
  6. Deeper – Jimmy Buffet meets Southern Gospel is the best way I can describe this song by Russell Dean.  Rich Crist carries this midtempo tune that has a bit of a tropical feel to it.  It’s a shame that I didn’t get this CD until after my week of vacation at the beach.  I could have really gotten into sitting in a beach chair listening to this song with the sound of the ocean in the background.  Southern Gospel Beach music…who else but the Crist Family would come up with this?  9/10
  7. Voice Of The Father – Jackie Crist takes the lead on this flowing ballad from Rebecca Peck.  It’s a beautiful song and Jackie does a great job on it.  It has a bit of a minor feel, and is similar stylistically to what you might hear from the Isaacs.  Good, solid cut.  8.5/10
  8. Anyway – The arrangement on this song from Kelly Garner and John Darin Rowsey is about as frenetic as the day described in the lyrics.  It’s a great way to connect the music of the song to the story in the lyrics and reinforce the message of the song.  Tami Starkel does a great job of selling the song, as you can really picture her going through the things she describes in the verses.  Solid song.  8/10
  9. I Love You Son – This is a country ballad contributed by Quint Randle, Patricia Smith, and Jeff Hinton.  Typically, this is a bit more of a heavier country feel than where my tastes lie, but as a father of a 5 year old son, the lyrics to this song really speak to me.  Rich Crist gives a good performance on this song, and the only other vocal on the song is some duet harmony with Jackie on the chorus and bridge.  It’s a pretty song with lyrics that will especially speak to fathers.  8.5/10
  10. There Is A Fountain – This is a big power ballad written by Jim Brady.  Tami Starkel takes the lead on this song ,and it is huge.  The first verse features a quartet of Tami, Lisa Crist, Rich, and Tom Joyce.  Those four could rival any mixed quartet on the road.  This song would have been right at home had Jim kept this one for the Booth Brothers and their Declaration release earlier this year.  The chorus features some really smooth harmony from the group.  A bridge of a couple lines of “Nothing But The Blood” really starts to build the intensity, and the momentum continues through a repeat of the chorus and reaches its zenith in a huge tag.  Great song.  9.5/10
  11. Until He Comes – This is a smooth, flowing ballad written by Deborah Egle.  Lisa Crist gets her first feature on a Crist Family project here, and turns in a fine performance.  The song has a smooth, understated feel to it, and Lisa gives her vocal the same kind of feel.  Sometimes getting the message across doesn’t require big, flashy vocals.  On songs like this one, it’s best to stay within the melody from the songwriter and let the beauty of the lyrics and melody carry the song.  It’s refreshing to see and hear an artist that understands this concept.  Lisa’s melody is accentuated with smooth harmonies from the rest of the group.  This is a great song to close with, as the lyrics provide a great wrap up to the disc.  As Rich quotes in his liner notes, “Until He comes, may he find me faithful.”  8.5/10

Overall: 9.5 With 7 vocalists on board, the Crist Family is musically the most versatile group in SG today.  The single biggest thing that has impressed me about them over the past few years is their willingness to experiment and take risks musically.  This CD doesn’t push the envelope nearly as far as Declaration did, but they still display their sense of adventure with “Rhythm Of Grace” and to a lesser extent with the tropical flavored “Deeper.”  The two Crist daughters, Breana and Jackie, really shine on their contributions to the album, and really seem to “steal the show”, so to speak.  “I Love Lovin’ Jesus” just screams radio hit, so be sure to be listening for it soon.  Lisa Crist’s debut on “Until He Comes” is the perfect way to conclude the CD.

While Declaration served as an announcement of the group as taking a big step forward and showcasing the group’s versatility and musical “guts”, Oasis seems to be more content to bring them back a little into the mainstream of Southern Gospel and show their ability to stand toe to toe with more established artists in the genre.  As such, it succeeds.  The Crist Family, with producers Rich Crist and Jeff Collins, have produced a very enjoyable CD filled with some strong songs, great lyrics, and good arrangements.  This is one that you’ll definitely want to add to your collection.  Great job by all involved!

Complete NQC Schedule Released

The NQC has released their full schedule for NQC 2010, you can find the master schedule here.  Noticing in the evening concerts that the Collingsworth Family, Crist Family, Ball Brothers, and Liberty Quartet all are making mainstage appearances.  Nice to see these up and coming groups continuing to get some love from the NQC!

Crist Family’s New Project

I had a nice conversation last night with a little birdie on Facebook who informed me that the Crist Family will be finishing up vocals today on a new project, entitled Oasis.  Be looking for the CD to release sometime around September, and it will apparently have some very unique and different sounding songs on it, as well as some traditional SG sounds.  All indications are this is going to be a really good one!

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