Forgotten Albums: Ernie Haase & Signature Sound – Great Love

Ernie Haase & Signature Sound is one of the most polarizing groups in our industry today, but there’s no denying their immense popularity.  This year marks 10 years since the group hit the scene running, and they’ve had immense success, especially after they hooked up with Gaither.  They have released album after album to market success and critical acclaim, but one album seems to be forgotten in the group’s history, and I consider it to be one of their best: 2004’s Great Love.  This was their second major label release, the first to feature Roy Webb and Ryan Seaton with Haase, Doug Anderson, and Tim Duncan, and the last to be on the now defunct Cathedral Records.  While their following self titled album on Gaither’s label may have launched them to supergroup status, this album laid the groundwork for their meteoric rise.  The title track is a glistening Lari Goss masterpiece reminiscent of Friends IV with close, tight harmonies.  Goss’s epic arrangement of the Gaither classic “This Could Be The Dawning” found its way into the EHSS set list for quite a while, and for good reason, as did their version of the quartet standard “Will The Lord Be With Me.”  The latter tune made for a great stage song around 2 vintage microphones.  There is another great ballad toward the end of the disc called “When He Comes Again”, and another great classic quartet tune in “Down In My Soul.”  The real gem on this album, though, is a pop flavored ballad sung by Doug Anderson called “Even Now.”  Anderson’s vocal is flawless, and the harmonies that back him are fantastic.  Easily hidden gem worthy, this song alone makes the album worth obtaining.  If you’ve been a fan of EHSS from day one, you probably know how good this album is, but may have simply forgotten.  If you’re on the other side of the EHSS spectrum, give this album a chance, as it features some great singing, very good material, and excellent arranging.  Either way, Great Love is still a great listen.

Thoughts On The Tracy Stuffle Benefit

I watched the large majority of the benefit concert for Tracy and Libbi Stuffle online last night. What a tremendous outpouring of love and support by our fellow SG artists. I thought Jason Crabb and Joseph Habedank did marvelous jobs hosting the concert, and there were a lot of highlights. Former Palmetto State tenor Robert Fulton was singing with Gold City, and they sounded pretty solid.

There was quite a unique lineup of The Hoppers last night as well. Kim is very ill with sinus problems, and may even be facing surgery, sloshed and Dean were at home. Taranda Greene filled in for Kim, and Jason and Joseph alternated filling in Dean’s part. “I’ve Come Too Far” was fantastic, Connie and Taranda both nailed their parts of the song, and on the encore, Tim Riley supplied some incredible bass vocals.

The Booth Brothers did their two songs with only piano accompaniment from Nick Bruno, and it showcased their amazing blend and harmonies. The Collingsworth Family did an exquisite version of “Fear Not Tomorrow”, with Olivia joining what was a trio of her mom and sisters. I’ll disagree with my esteemed colleague Daniel Mount, as to my ears it sounded like Olivia was doubling Courtney, not Brooklyn. Mark Lowry was hilarious, and Paul Harkey was impressive with EHSS. The Oak Ridge Boys also sang with only piano accompaniment as well, and they were very genuine in their love and support for Tracy and Libbi.

More important and significant than all of this, though, came with The Perrys set, and the surprise appearance by Libbi, who sang a heart wrenching performance of “ThroughThe Night.”. After the set, Dr. Phil Hoskins took the stage and had a time of anointing and prayer for Libbi and Tracy. Seeing all of the artists in attendance gathered at the altar with their arms outstretched toward Libbi in prayer was the single most powerful moment I’ve witnessed at a concert. After several minutes of prayer, Libbi began singing “‘Tis So Sweet” from the midst of the group, and the rest of the artists and congregation joined in singing acappella. It was an incredibly sweet moment.

I have no idea how much money was raised last night, but judging from the crowd it had to have been a significant amount. Even,ore important though, 25 or so people rededicated their livestock Christ, and 8 or 9 were saved when Dr. Hoskins gave an altar call. This is what Southern Gospel is all about, and it made me proud to be even peripherally involved with this industry. All in all, a great night, and I was thankful to be able to watch the online stream.

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Ian Owens Departs Signature Sound, Paul Harkey Joins

Yesterday afternoon, Ernie Haase and Signature Sound announced via Facebook that Ian Owens had tendered his resignation with the group.  Owens’ last date will be October 13.  Joining Signature Sound will be Paul Harkey, a young man who has made quite a name for himself both with the Anchormen and, most recently, the Lefevre Quartet.  Harkey has not been with the Lefevres very long, but when an opportunity of this magnitude arises, you have to jump at the chance.  While I think Owens was a better fit with the Imperials than with EHSS, he is a good bass vocalist, and has a real talent at carrying a solo in the bass register.  His plans are forthcoming, but he would make a great addition to any quartet needing a bass singer.  The press release makes it sound like Owens already has his next step lined up, so we will see what happens with him.

I’m not very familiar with Harkey, so I’m looking forward to hearing him step up to the plate with EHSS.  As polarizing as they seem to be within SGM, there is no denying that Signature Sound has been taking Southern Gospel music to places where it is not typically found, and exposing it to a wider audience than about anyone else in the business, save the exception of Gaither.  Best wishes to Ian, Paul, and all of Signature Sound as they make their way through this time of transition.  The text of the press release is below:

For the past two years the EHSS team and fans have been enriched by the voice and personality of Ian Owens. Ian has announced that he will be pursuing other interests (both musical and personal) and we fully support him and wish him great success. Ian’s last date with EHSS will be October 13th, 2012 in Sunnyvale, TX. Come out and support Ian and please pray for Ian and his wife Megan as they follow this new path.
We will miss Ian dearly. He is a funny, FUNNY man who has become a great friend and that will never change.  We will update you at a later date with all information concerning Ian and his plans.
Our new bass singer is a young man you are going to love. His name is Paul Harkey. We will fill you in on all of his information soon. Pray for EHSS as we navigate through this transition time.

Review: Ernie Haase & Signature Sound – Here We Are Again

This is the first CD of primarily new material for EHSS since Devin McGlamery and Ian Owens joined.  To call this a highly anticipated release would be a bit of an understatement, so let’s just get to the tracks.

Tracks:

  1. Swing Low Sweet Chariot – The track starts with the sound of a movie projecter and and old-timey piano, before the song kicks off with a chorus from the quartet.  The retro feel continues throughout the song with the background “ba-ba-ba-ba-da-da” vocals behind the lead vocal on the verse.  After the first verse, there’s a “Dixieland” style vamp section before Ian Owens sings another verse.  The key changes and Ernie Haase takes the lead on the chorus.  This is a fun, light hearted tune that probably goes over well in concert.  8/10
  2. Singing In The Midnight Hour – Doug Anderson is to Ernie Haase what Bill Shivers is to Brian Free: worth every penny he is paid and then some.  This a very bluesy tune that really shows Anderson’s strength as a vocalist.  He’s got just the right soul to really pull this song off.  It’s a great tune and one of the best cuts on the album.  10/10
  3. Here We Are Again – This is a flowing, mid-tempo song with a little country flavor.  This song actually sounds like something you’d have heard from the Cathedrals in the early to mid 90s.  Ian Owens sings the first verse as a solo and does a magnificent job.  After a group vocal on the chorus, Ernie Haase sings the second verse leading into a key change before the chorus.  The chorus is then reprised with the harmonies inverted up.  This song shows that if you strip away all the showiness and cheesiness from the group, these guys can really sing.  Another great cut here.  9.5/10
  4. I Believe – This is Ian Owens’ signature song, beginning with his days in the Imperials.  As this is his first mainline release with Signature Sound, this is a great opportunity to showcase his abilities with a song that he is familiar and comfortable singing.  It’s a solid rendition and a nice arrangement.  7.5/10
  5. I’ve Been Here Before – Devin McGlamery gets his first mainline feature on this song.  It’s a mid-tempo song in 6/8 time with a bit of a soul/pop feel to it.  There are some really nice chord progressions in the verse, and a nice arrangement in the chorus.  McGlamery really does well with this sound, it really fits him well.  After the second verse, there’s a neat transition to a new key with Ernie Haase taking the melody.  Another strong song from the guys.  9/10
  6. You Are Welcome Here – Wayne Haun steps up to the plate with this song.  It has a bit of a pop ballad feel.  It’s a challenging lyric about the church fulfilling it’s purpose as the place for the hurt and downtrodden to find healing and restoration in Christ.  It hearkens back to the words of Christ that the healthy don’t need a doctor, the sick do.  There’s some nice background harmonies to Haun’s lead vocal in the chorus.  I really like this song.  9/10
  7. Love Carried The Cross – This is the lone power ballad on the album, and it’s a great one. Doug Anderson sings the first verse and carries the melody through the chorus, and does a fine job on it.  After the chorus , the key changes and Devin McGlamery sings the second verse.  Ernie Haase follows with the third verse leading to another chorus.  Much like “Here We Are Again”, this song strips away the show and allows the group’s vocals to shine.  As others have said, this is much like a power ballad you’d have heard from the Cathedrals during Haase’s tenure with the group.  9.5/10
  8. Stand By Me – This was the first song that the group really pushed hard when they organized, and Tim Duncan’s rendition became a standard for the group.  I get that.  Ian Owens is given the song to reprise here.  While the original was a great arrangement that went over well, this one is given an “over the top” treatment that just doesn’t do much for me.  I much prefer the original version.  I can see that it’s probably a fun performance in concert, but to me it doesn’t translate well in the studio.   4/10
  9. Everytime – This is a big risk.  No, this is a HUGE risk.  Let me first go on record as saying I LIKE the arrangement, the overall style of this song.  It’s different, it’s Motown/Soul meets Southern Gospel.  It sounds like something  off of the Blues Brothers.  Lyrically it’s a nice message of encouragement.  Ernie Haase takes the lead on this song.  The backing harmonies from the rest of the guys on the chorus are very well done.  Where this song falls a bit short is similar to “Stand By Me.”  It’s performed in a way that is probably great fun in a concert setting with people clapping and smiling, but on a studio CD it comes across as a little too much, almost sounding self-indulgent.  I get what Ernie was trying for here, and I’m sure it succeeds in concert (I’d LOVE to see/hear it), but not so much on a studio CD.  Maybe he should have saved this one for a live concert CD.  6/10
  10. Sometimes I Wonder – After a couple of misses, the album goes back to the hit side with this flowing acoustic flavored song sung beautifully by Doug Anderson.  This song talks about losing a loved one, and wondering what life is like in Heaven.  One the second verse, there’s some beautiful close harmonies that join with Anderson.  Those harmonies continue on the chorus.  This is my favorite song on the disc.  The vocal arrangement is outstanding, the performance by Anderson is flawless and it is exactly what the disc needed.  10/10
  11. Thankful – This is a soft ballad that is quite reminiscent of the song “We Are So Blessed” both musically and lyrically.  Ernie Haase has the melody on this track and it’s a very well performed song that has a bit of an understated arrangement that accentuates the message of the song very well.  It’s just a very pretty song that is well done.  8/10
  12. Any Other Man – In 1977, the Imperials released their album Sail On, which was the first to feature Russ Taff and David Will.  While the group had blurred the lines of Southern and Contemporary up to that point, the first track of the Sail On album was a rocking, electric guitar driven tune called “Water Grave” that was certainly a shock to fans of the group that had followed them since their days as a Southern Gospel quartet.  “Any Other Man” produces the same type of initial reaction.  Recorded live in Romania, this song is a total 180 from the quiet reflectiveness of “Thankful.”  It features electric guitars, heavy percussion, and I can detect a bit of a rock organ as well.  Devin McGlamery and Doug Anderson take the first verse, then Ian Owens and Ernie Haase take the second verse.  McGlamery, Anderson, and Haase take the third verse.  Haase takes the final verse.  There have been comparisons to Third Day, and that’s not too far off.  It’s definitely more of a rock type sound.  It’s “Water Grave”, Part 2.  And for the record, I loved Part 1, and I love Part 2 as well.  This song has prompted a lot of discussion to this point, and I don’t see that subsiding any time soon.  Count me in the “love it” group.  10/10

Overall:  8.5  As I have been listening to this album, I’ve had several other bloggers ask me my thoughts on it.  My response hasn’t really changed much with repeated listens.  When this album is good, it is REALLY  good.  When it’s not, it falls flat.  There really isn’t much middle ground here.  You can probably see in my individual song ratings that there really aren’t a lot of “middle ground” type ratings.  Fortunately, there’s a lot more of the “really good” on this album than the “falls flat.”  Doug Anderson and Devin McGlamery in particular really get some chances to shine on this album.  “Sometimes I Wonder”, “Here We Are Again”, “I’ve Been Here Before”, and “Singing In The Midnight Hour” are fantastic songs.  “Any Other Man” could be a defining point not only in the group’s career, but in the SG genre as a whole.  There are moments on this album that are magnificent.   When this album does fall, it isn’t for bad singing, or missed notes, or anything like that.  It’s fairly obvious that the main focus of Ernie Haase and Signature Sound is their live performances.  They are focused on providing concert goers with an uplifting, entertaining evening with songs that have messages pointing toward their Savior.  As a result, sometimes songs and arrangements that come across well in concert, especially songs that are meant to be more lighthearted and fun, don’t necessarily translate well to the studio.  I made this point in a conversation with another blogger, and I still think it’s a valid one:  when you go all out in the studio, like Ernie did with “Everytime”, what is there left to bring to the live performance of the song?  My personal preference would be to tone it down just a little on the studio version, then “go crazy” with it live.  By doing so, you bring that extra “oomph” to the live concert experience.

So overall, I think this is a fine CD with a lot of great performances, but with a couple that are probably skip worthy.  Again, both of those probably come across great in a live performance, but just don’t really translate well to CD.  Still, Ernie and the guys, including pianist and producer Wayne Haun, are definitely not afraid to take risks and try something new, and that in and of itself is much to their credit.  Nice job, guys.

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!

Clips Now Available Of EHSS – Here We Are Again

Ernie Haase and Signature Sound have just posted audio clips of their new CD, Here We Are Again, to their website.  You can access them here.  This is bound to be a CD that generates a lot of buzz and discussion, and to this point there has been quite a discussion of Daniel Mount’s review of the album.  Give the clips a listen and you can preorder the CD there as well.  Street date is February 7, and yours truly is currently listening to the full album with a review upcoming.

NQC Announces Evening Concert Schedule

The NQC just sent out a press release with the evening concert schedule for this year.  The King’s Heralds are no longer given the acappella breaks, having been replaced by Sisters.  Ernie Haase & Signature Sound is also nowhere to be found on the schedule.  It is good to see the Dixie Melody Boys back on the main stage after their controversial absence last year.  Also Soul’d Out and the Down East Boys are making appearances as well.  I really don’t have many qualms with the presence and absences after giving them a slightly more than a casual glance, and I’m pleased to see the return of Quartet Night.  The NQC hasn’t been all about quartets in many years, but I think reserving one night for the heritage of the event is fitting and proper.  You can find the schedule here, what are your thoughts?

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