Southern Gospel, Remixed

The other morning, I was listening to my iPod on the way to work, when The Cathedrals’ “Have You Visited Heaven Lately” came across. While it is a great song, I noticed in listening that the mix was a bit shaky and Danny Funderburk’s tenor vocal is mixed very low throughout most of the song. In secular music, remixes are a fairly common occurrence. I received the newest box set from The Beach Boys for my birthday back in September (it is fantastic, by the way), and one of the big selling points of that set are the remixes on it that bring previously hidden vocals in the mix out front, or to make different instruments more prominent.

Why couldn’t Southern Gospel do this? It would open up the market for compilations greatly. I think that the basic formula that is used by The Beach Boys would work well for Southern Gospel projects. The Beach Boys use a team of three respected producers/engineers that are also fans of the group, and those three guys are responsible for actually doing the remixes, then the final product is approved by the group, whether it is a greatest hits type compilation, a complete album remix, or a large boxed set. This could work well in Southern Gospel. For example, I’d love to hear what Garry Jones and Ricky Free could do with classic Gold City songs or albums. Imagine Jones and Michael English or David Phelps tackling The Cathedrals, or Madison Easter and Michael Sykes remixing classic Oak Ridge Boys material.

The advantage here is that the artist doesn’t have a huge commitment other than giving a thumbs up to the final product, and the actual work becomes a labor of love for qualified, talented people who are fans of the group they are working with anyways. That’s a key point, but it works. The biggest obstacle? While the owners of the masters for these projects aren’t the ones doing the remixing, nearly all of these masters were recorded to analog tape, which means they would have to be digitally converted, which could be a time consuming and potentially expensive proposition, before they were turned over to the engineers for remixing.

Still, I think this could be a pretty successful venture. Who wouldn’t want to hear restored and remixed versions of classics by the Statesmen or the Blackwood Brothers? I’d love to hear a tighter mix of “Have You Visited” that smooths out the blend and brings what sounds like a great high vocal from Danny Funderburk out front so it can be better heard. Who is willing to take the first step?

Mark Lowry Departs Gaither Vocal Band

Yes, I know, I’ve been gone far too long.  Life has kept me away….a new job, 3rd grade homework (why don’t I remember doing this much homework in 3rd grade?), and life with kids who are growing up far too quickly has kept me away.  And yes, I still owe you guys a review of the latest Old Paths CD, I’ll get to it.  THIS news, however, is enough to bring me back.  As was speculated on Daniel Mount’s blog late last week, Mark Lowry announced via Facebook this morning that he is indeed leaving the Gaither Vocal Band at the end of the year.  Lowry cites the need to slow down and a desire to focus more on his solo career as his reasons for leaving.  He will still appear at some of the larger Gaither events, like the cruise and FamilyFest, and will finish out the year with the GVB, but will be embarking on a solo tour with the Martins after the first of the year.

This is interesting.  The five man, all-star GVB has been the talk of the SG world since its inception.  Also, Lowry was the true baritone vocalist in the harmony.  It will be interesting to see how the voices stack now back at a more traditional 4 part lineup.  My gut feeling is that Hampton and Phelps will alternate on the tenor and lead parts more frequently, and that English will assume more baritone duties, with David or Wes stepping to the baritone part when English is featured on lead.

Best wishes to Mark, and to the GVB as they enter their new phases.

“Super High Tenors”: The End Of An Era?

Daniel Mount has an interesting post today that asks the question “Has the era of the super high tenor in SG ended?”  He gives a brief summary of three “eras” of tenor singing philosophy: the early classical trained era (think Bobby Clark, Sherill Nielson, Denver Crumpler, Bill Shaw), the super high era (Ernie Phillips, Brian Free, Jay Parrack are his examples) and the current power, belting style tenor (Danny Funderburk, Ernie Haase, Harold Reed).

It is striking to see the lack of the “super high” tenors today, especially among the younger generation of tenor singers.  I agree with Daniel’s assertion that the super high tenor era has ended, and I’ll go as far to pinpoint when.  Two things occurred that marked the end of this era:

  1. Jay Parrack’s departure from Gold City
  2. Jerry Martin’s departure from the Kingsmen

Parrack and Martin will go down as the last, and arguably the best, of the dominant super high tenors.  Parrack has all but disappeared from SG completely, having served as a minister of music since his Gold City days and only making intermittent appearances since then.  His replacement, Steve Ladd, started out emulating Parrack’s style to an extent, but it wasn’t long before he started employing more of a power style, and less of the ultra high notes.  Subsequent Gold City tenors have followed that same style, notably Josh Cobb and Brent Mitchell.

Martin left the Kingsmen and joined the Dove Brothers, whose songs were keyed much lower than the Kingsmen.  While the jury is still somewhat out on if he returns to that style to a great extent with the Kingdom Heirs, his first CD with them did not feature any “super high” notes from him, and while he will still do it occasionally in concert (a la the second verse of “Look For Me At Jesus’ Feet), as Daniel posits, Jerry has been moving toward the power, belting style of tenor singing.

One thing that doesn’t come out in Daniel’s post is that while there have been more prevalent styles of tenor singing, all 3 of these approaches have always seemed to exist in SG music.  Willie Wynn was an ultra high tenor all through his tenure with the Oak Ridge Boys, Lew Garrison was the same with the Prophets.  Bill Baize was a power tenor back in the early to mid 70s with the Stamps.  Today, John Rulapaugh can be considered a throwback to the classically trained sound.  You can tend to find tenors to fit all three categories in any era.  I’d also posit that Wynn was the primary catalyst for the move toward the ultra high tenor sound, long before Ernie Phillips.  A listen to either of the “live” versions of the Oak Ridge Boys singing “Jesus Is Coming Soon” is more than enough to cement his place.  Johnny Parrack also was heavily responsible for the switch, especially due to the huge popularity of the Kingsmen’s “Big and Live” project.

What do you think?  Has this era ended?  Are you glad to see it go, or will you miss the thrill of seeing how far up the tenors can go?  Can you think of any new “super high” tenors in SG today?

Revisiting The All-Star Quartets

Yesterday’s Hidden Gem post got me to thinking about the unrealized potential in the All-Star Quartets series.  I’m not sure how sales were of those CDs, but I’d guess not as strong as they could have been.  For instance, how many of you would like to hear David Phelps in a quartet setting outside of the GVB?  How about Phelps and Daniel Riley in a quartet together?  You could on that album.  One song (which appeared minus the bass vocal on Lordsong’s debut CD) featured Phelps, Michael Lord, Daniel Riley, and Bill Lawrence.  For completeness’ sake, the song is “Trial Of The Heart” and is probably the best song on the disc.

I’d think that doing more of these type of discs would be a great thing today.  The “Hymns” side is actually a little less appealing to me than the current material.  Let’s take Daywind as an example.  They’ve got quite a stable of songwriters.  Names like Lindsey, Peck, Funderburk, Habedank, Haun…these folks are constantly churning out songs.  Some probably never get recorded that are incredibly strong.  Why not take a bunch of these great songs that haven’t had any exposure yet and put some all star groups together to record them?  I’d also like to see the groups expanded to include some mixed groups as well.

How would you like to hear these four together?  Katy Peach, Kim Ruppe Lord, Paul Lancaster, and Glenn Dustin.

No thanks?  Well how bout this?  TaRanda Greene, David Phelps, Scott Inman, and Chris West.

I’d tend to think that this would be a win for all involved.  The writers and publishers get more great songs out, and marketed well, I’d have to think folks would eat them up.

Crossroads, Daywind, Mansion, Gaither Music Group, New Haven, I’m looking at you guys.  Make it happen!

The Modern Day Larnelle and Sandi

We were watching Gaither’s “Classic Gospel” PBS special last Saturday night, and one of the featured performances was Natalie Grant singing “I Am Not Alone” from 2002, I believe. I really don’t listen to much CCM, especially since the days of vocal group prominence like 4Him, Point of Grace, FFH, and Avalon seem to be dwindling. So I had heard of Natalie, and heard a few songs when I’ve listened to K-LOVE on occasion, but I wasn’t all that familiar with her. That being said, I was impressed with her performance. She has a huge, powerful voice with great range.

I turned to my wife and said, “You know, she would sound incredible doing a duet with David Phelps.” I don’t know, maybe they’ve even done one before, but I can’t help but think that those two would give Larnelle Harris and Sandi Patty a run for their money…

All Star Trios?

A few years ago, there were a couple of Daywind releases called All Star Quartets, where different combination of singers from different groups recorded songs together.  One was “new” songs, the second was a hymns recording.  I’d love to see some both male and mixed trios put together and release another couple of CDs.  Could you imagine a trio of say, Taranda Greene, Kim Lord, and David Phelps?  I have both of the All Star Quartets CDs and really enjoyed them.  I’d love to see more of this kind of stuff done.  That’s part of what makes the Jubilee release by Greater Vision, Legacy 5, and the Booth Brothers so intriguing.  Surely Daywind, Crossroads or one of the other bigger labels could make it happen.

YouTube Clip #15

Well, last week I booked a hotel room and got tickets for the Gaither concert in Greeneville, SC April 24th.  I’m really excited about seeing Mark, Michael, and David back in the Vocal Band again.  It’s been fun looking back at the old videos and seeing them sing together.  Here is a clip of the three of them plus Guy Penrod singing House of Gold.

Major Gaither Vocal Band Shakeup

The GVB has experienced a major upheaval.  Effective immediately, the Gaither Vocal Band consists of David Phelps, Wes Hampton, Michael English, Mark Lowry, and Bill Gaither.  Lowry will finish his solo dates currently booked in 2009 before joining the GVB full time.  Speculation has run rampant about the future of Guy Penrod and the GVB for some time, but Marshall Hall’s departure is unexpected.  Stay tuned folks, this is going to get real interesting.  Check out Gospel Music Update’s information here.

Free David Phelps Download

Susan Unthank over at SGN has provided a link to a free David Phelps download from

UPDATE: Don’t get too excited, I downloaded the track, and it is actually an audience sing-along of “Silent Night”.  While it is very pretty, I wouldn’t exactly call it a representative sample of Phelps’ CD, as you barely hear David on it at all.  Amazon could have picked a MUCH more representative song to give away.  You know, one that actually features David Phelps SINGING would have been nice, but since it’s free, beggars can’t be choosers.  Still, you have to wonder who made the decision to offer this particular cut.  I dare say it wasn’t the smartest decision they ever made.  Someone unfamiliar with Phelps’ music who stumbled onto the free download would come away with no better idea of who David Phelps is as a singer than they had before they started.

David Phelps With GVB

Daniel Mount has posted a video of David Phelps singing “Alpha and Omega” with the Gaither Vocal Band.  Wes Hampton drops down to the lead spot on this particular song.  Check it out here!

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