RIP Lari Goss

As busy as my life has been over the past year or so, it would take some huge news to bring me back out of hiding.  Unfortunately, the news of said magnitude is not good news.  It has been reported by many SG artist and industry types this afternoon that Lari Goss has passed away.  I’ve mentioned Lari on this blog many, many, many times, and I consider him one of, if not the biggest unsung heroes in Southern Gospel history.  Lari Goss was the most creative and innovative arranger the genre has ever seen.  He touched so many different artists’ careers that it would be impossible to name them all.  I will say that his fingerprints are all over the albums that were voted on this site a couple of years ago as the top 2 projects in SG: Pillars of Faith by Gold City and Symphony of Praise by The Cathedrals.  He was also a driving force behind the group I’ve long felt should have been more successful, Friends IV, whose arrangements to this day are unparalleled in gospel music.  In recent years, he produced the landmark recording Declaration by the Booth Brothers, which was met with much critical acclaim.  Lari was truly one of a kind.

Enjoy your much deserved reward, Lari.  Southern Gospel music will never be the same without your musical genius.

Essential Christmas Music: SG and Non-SG

Yes it’s been forever, but I have been in the Christmas spirit and still swamped at a new job.  I’m thankful for both of those things, but blogging time has still been slim.  I don’t want to go without posting SOMETHING for you for Christmas, so I decided I’d join the crowd and post my essential Christmas music.  Here’s a list of essential SG albums, and essential non-SG Christmas albums, trying hard to balance classics with “hidden gems” in both lists.

5 Essential SG Christmas Albums:

5. Ball Brothers – Christmas
4. Martins – Light Of The World
3. Gaither Vocal Band – Still The Greatest Story Ever Told
2. Gold City – Voices Of Christmas
1. Cathedrals – A Cathedral Christmas, Acappella

5 Essential Non SG Christmas Albums

5. Take 6 – He Is Christmas
4. Imperials – Christmas With The Imperials
3. Michael Buble – Christmas
2. 4Him – Season Of Love
1. Carpenters – Christmas Collection

Whatever your taste, I hope you’ve enjoyed the Christmas Season, and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!  I have a special Christmas post in the queue for tomorrow that I hope you will all enjoy.

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM THE BURKE FAMILY!!!!!

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?

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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Dan Keeton Departs Gold City

It seems that today is a day for changes with the new year upon us.  Dan Keeton has announced his departure as Gold City’s tenor vocalist.  When Dan was announced as Brent Mitchell’s replacement with Gold City, there was some marked skepticism about how he would fit with Gold City.  Dan met the skeptics head on and greatly exceeded most everyone’s expectations.  Dan has been a fine tenor for Gold City, and turned in some really good performances on the group’s Somebody’s Coming CD.  He is leaving to pursue a dream of starting an organization that helps children who are victims of abuse.  Keeton has done well with Gold City, and will be missed.  Here is the open letter from Dan:

In march of 2011, I was afforded a dream come true, to sing tenor with Gold City. Most of you know my testimony of child abuse, the divorce of my parents and my daddy’s alcoholism. I have recently been given an opportunity to do something I have wanted to do for quite some time. I have wanted to start a non profit organization using music and the arts to inspire child victims of abuse. That opportunity has presented itself and I am so excited, but also heavy hearted. Opening this door means I will have to leave Gold City. I can honestly say, I love the Rileys so much. Tim and Danny are like family to me. Chuck, Bryan and Jerry are so easy going and fun to be around that I will dearly miss being on the bus with such fine Christian gentlemen. I will always be greatful for my time here.

As friends and fans of Gold City, please know, I love you all. I have never felt so much love as I have from you. Please pray that Gold City finds the best replacement and the transition is as smooth as possible.

Best wishes to you, Dan, on your new endeavor, and prayers for Gold City as they search for the right person to fill their tenor position.

NQC Awards Ballot: First Round

Since several others have posted their ballots in the first round of the NQC awards voting, I will do the same.

  • Bass: Tim Riley
  • Baritone: Mark Trammell
  • Lead: Bill Shivers
  • Tenor: Gus Gaches
  • Soprano: Karen Peck Gooch
  • Alto: Courtney Collingsworth Metz
  • Soloist: Steve Ladd
  • Male Group: Gold City
  • Mixed Group: Collingsworth Family
  • Musician: Jeff Stice
  • Album: Let It Be Known – Booth Brothers
  • Song: “On The Banks Of The Promised Land” – Karen Peck and New River

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!

2012: A Look Ahead To The Year In SG

First let me say that I hope you all had a very happy New Year’s celebration.  As we begin 2012, let’s take a look ahead at what is awaiting us in the SG world in this new year.

Several groups are making a fresh start in 2012.  The Kingsmen, The Lefevre Quartet, and Soul’d Out Quartet all experience personnel changes over the past couple weeks.  The Kingsmen have a new lead singer in Bob Sellers, and are currently without a tenor, so their sound will undoubtedly change a great deal this year.  The Lefevre Quartet added Harold Reed to the tenor slot, after just recently adding Jordan Lefevre to the lead slot of their group, so it will be interesting to watch and see how this affects the group this year.  It could become quite a catalyst for them.  Soul’d Out is also poised to make waves with the addition of Bryan Hutson as baritone vocalist.  Hutson brings a top notch voice to a quartet that had been quietly making strides, and as recently as yesterday made news as a new Crossroads artist.

Ernie Haase and Signature Sound are due to release a new CD next month called Here We Are Again.  There have been discussions surrounding the group over the past few months regarding their regression of sorts to a retro-music themed group, so this new studio album is garnering anticipation to see if the group becomes trendsetters again as they were with projects like Dream On.

Gold City finally released Somebody’s Coming late last year.  While reviews have been glowing thus far, a lot of eyes will be on the group to see if they finally can achieve some stability and build on what is most assuredly a good foundation with the latest recording.  I’m anxious to see what they come up with next, and am very anxious for a stable lineup and a studio album with songs selected for said lineup.  There is a world of potential still remaining for the group.

Last but not least, will this be the year that someone FINALLY covers the song “Lucas McGraw”???  🙂

Christmas Classics Corner: Gold City – Voices Of Christmas

Since I haven’t done of of these in a couple of years, and since I’ve inexplicably never done a classics corner on this album, let’s get into the Christmas season by highlighting an absolutely stunning Christmas album from Gold City.  Released in 1988, this CD features the super-group lineup of Brian Free, Ivan Parker, Mike LeFevre, Tim Riley, with Garry Jones and Jeff Hullander comprising the Band of Gold at the time.  Jones, as always, produced and arranged this project.

Tracks:

  1. Awake My Soul – The quartet gets things going with an incredible, though short acappella song right out of the gate.  There’s two verses with a key change between them with a nice power tag, and Tim Riley dropping an octave on the last note.
  2. Angels We Have Heard On High – I featured this as a Christmas Hidden Gem several years ago.  It’s a tremendous arrangement that features a stinging hot keyboard intro and fuses the traditional with the contemporary better than any arrangement of this song I’ve ever heard.  It is absolutely my favorite arrangement of one of my favorite carols.  It’s energetic, driving, and sung expertly by the group.  The tag is exceptionally powerful as well.
  3. Merry Christmas With Love – The only “newer” song on the album, this is essentially a Brian Free cover of Sandi Patty’s popular Christmas song.  Brian even sings this in the same key as the original.  It’s a touching song that speaks of one who has suffered the loss of a loved one since the last Christmas and the comforting tendencies of the message of the Christmas story found in the visit of carolers.  Beautiful and touching.
  4. O Little Town Of Bethlehem – Returning to an acappella arrangement, this carol starts with a solo by Tim Riley.  The group then uses some two part harmony that then diverges into 4 part harmony.  The trademark blend of this lineup is in full display here, and the group weaves its way through the complex chord changes and progressions found in this carol.
  5. Silent Night – Ivan Parker steps up to take the lead on this ballad interpretation of many people’s favorite Christmas carol.  The first verse is totally solo, with a few surprising changes to the chording behind the familiar melody.  The key changes for the second verse and the rest of the quartet joins in for the remainder of the song.  It’s a very pretty arrangement that really accentuates the timeless lyric.  A particular is the mini-cascading harmony toward the tag and the sustained chord before Ivan repeats the last line to finish the song.  Simply gorgeous.
  6. It Came Upon The Midnight Clear – The group performs this carol acappella as well, which tends to highlight all the moving parts in the harmonies.  There’s a really neat key change at the end of the first verse with the tempo slowing down for the second verse.  There’s a great use of unison that gradually splits back into 4 part harmony.  They change keys one more time before the tag.  It’s a sparkling arrangement that the group pulls off deftly.
  7. Away In A Manger – This carol features Tim Riley singing the first verse solo.  The group enters on the second verse in full 4 part harmonies, which creates a nice contrast from Tim’s solo verse.  There’s some nice chords and suspensions in the harmony.  They change keys a half step up halfway through the second verse.  Tim then sings the first half of the third verse solo, then they go up another half step and the quartet enters again for the final lines of the verse, with Tim repeating the last line solo to close the song.  Another very pretty arrangement.
  8. Christmas Medley – I’ve done a hidden gem post on this track as well.  This may very well be my favorite track on any Christmas CD.  They start with Good Christian Men Rejoice, first in unison then splitting into parts.  They move on to “Joy To The World” in full harmony that ends up on a unison note.  It gives the medley to that point a feeling of swelling then coming back together.  Mike LeFevre then turns in what I still consider one of his strongest Gold City features with the first verse to “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”  The group hits power harmony on the chorus, then after a piano interlude they close the medley with the most powerful version of “O Come Let Us Adore Him” you will EVER hear.  The power tag to the medley is one of my favorite musical moments ever.  Wow.  It’s almost enough to make a Baptist shout.
  9. Merry Christmas All Year Long – The disc concludes with a brief acappella benediction with layers of lush harmonies.  It’s a perfect ending to the album.

Summary:  This is one of my absolute favorite Christmas albums.  I look forward every year to being able to pull this album out and listen to it.  “Angels We Have Heard On High” and the “Christmas Medley” are absolutely stunning.  This was in the middle of Gold City’s heyday of the mid 80s through early 90s, and this project is a great example of why.  Garry Jones’ stunning arrangements take these carols that everybody sings every year, and breathes fresh life into them.  “Angels” has a wonderful driving, almost contemporary feel to it.  The depth and feel of the “Medley” just consumes you and catches you up into the true spirit of Christmas.  The acappella pieces just wash over you in waves of tight harmonies.  This is one of those albums that is just what Christmas music should sound like.  It’s long out of print these days, but I have a copy of this on a double CD with the equally as good A Cathedral Christmas, A Cappella album from the Cathedrals.  You can still find copies of this floating around, and believe me it’s well worth the price.  Both albums are absolute gold (pun intended, of course).  The Gold City album alone was re-released a couple of years ago, so copies of it shouldn’t be too difficult to obtain.  If you don’t have a copy of this, you need to get one, today!

Gold City’s 80s Supergroup Reuniting Again

On the home page for Bill Bailey’s concerts, he is advertising his Winter Gospel Music Convention in Palmetto, FL for February 6-10, 2012.  Right under the headline for Ronnie Milsap is the intriguing bit of information that the classic 80s lineup of Gold City (Free, Parker, Lefevre, Riley) will be reuniting.  Closer inspection of the concert schedule reveals that the reunion will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 7, at 7:00 PM.

The reunion that some said would never happen, will now have taken place twice in an 18 month span.  As both an SG blogger and Gold City fan, may I just say WE WANT A FULL FLEDGED GOLD CITY REUNION VIDEO!!!!!  Oh, and preferably available on BluRay/DVD combo.

That is all.

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