Singing News Fan Awards

The Singing News Fan Awards were presented yesterday at Dollywood.  You can watch the ceremony and get a full listing of the awards here.  Not unexpectedly, the Booth Brothers and Triumphant cleaned up, with the Booths taking Favorite Artist and Trio, plus the Tenor, Lead, and Baritone awards.  Triumphant took home Quartet, Album, Song, Bass, and Musician of the Year awards.  There were a couple of pleasant surprises as well.  The Gaither band took home Favorite Band, and the Ball Brothers won Horizon Artist.  Good to see the Ball Brothers get that kind of recognition.  I really feel they are the future of SG music.  Congratulations guys!  Courtney Collingsworth Metz also made Fan Award history yesterday, becoming the first person to win both Horizon Individual and Young Artist awards in the same year.  I can’t think of anyone more deserving, but I guess this means I can’t call her underrated or an “unsung hero” anymore.  Libbi Stuffle once again took home Favorite Alto, and in a mild surprise, the Hoppers took home Mixed Group.  I had somewhat expected the Perrys to take home that award, but the Hoppers really aren’t an upset to win.  Congratulations to all the winners!

Shannon Childress Passes Away

Shannon Childress, former pianist for the Hoppers, passed away yesterday after a lengthy battle with cancer.  Childress was an integral part of the Hoppers rise to prominence in the 80s and 90s.  He not only served as the group’s pianist, but also wrote several popular tunes for the group, such as “Anchor To The Power Of The Cross” and “Milk And Honey” and occasionally provided bass vocals as well.  Prayers and condolences to the Childress family in their time of loss.  The Singing News story can be found here.

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.  🙂

Album Amnesia – Why??

In yesterday’s post I suggested that there are albums that are so influential that we tend to forget any previous recordings by a group.  Gold City’s Pillars Of Faith, the Cathedrals’ Something Special, the Kingsmen’s Chattanooga Live are great examples of this phenomenon.  The follow-up question in my mind is this:  Why?  What is it about these albums that produce this effect?

I was discussing this via email with Daniel Mount yesterday and he made the statement that he feels it is because these albums redefine the artist.  I agreed with him, and after further reflection I still do.  The album doesn’t even necessarily have to be the “best” or “capstone” album of the group’s career, though I feel this is certainly the case with Pillars. However, as far as album quality goes, I think Symphony of Praise by the Cats outshines Something Special, and Live Naturally may be an even better Kingsmen album.  However, these “amnesia albums” mark a milestone in an artist’s career.  It designates a place where everything changed.  Daniel’s post today is carrying a tangent from my initial post yesterday, and in his comments Brady is submitting the Hoppers’ On These Grounds project as an “amnesia album.”  Here’s the money quote in his justification:

…the most important single off that recording, “Here I Am,” the group’s first number one song and the first single with Kim Hopper on it. She redefined that group with one single, in my opinion, and they’ve never looked back. While that album was more of a transitional recording and certainly not of the classic caliber that the aforementioned Cathedrals projects became, it established the beginning of Kim’s career with them and the beginning of their stronghold at the top of the family/mixed group genre.

This is exactly what I’m getting at with these posts.  These projects represent a momentous point in a group’s career where individual songs that predate those albums may survive and still thrive, but the body of previously recorded work as a whole will suffer when such a definitive statement is made by the artist.  Do you agree?

Mansion Releases Sing Out America DVDs

In the early 80s, Bill Traylor had a TV show called “Sing Out America!” (thanks Kyle!).  Last night after running some errands down around the mall, I told my wife I’d like to head over to Lifeway and just look around a while.  I must say that while their selection of SG CDs was decent, but fairly picked over, they did have a pretty nice selection of SG DVDs.  There were a couple of Crabb Family DVDs, Brian Free & Assurance’s latest DVD (with the songs from Real Faith), and several other non-Gaither DVDs.  As I was looking through, I came across several DVDs that were labeled “Sing Out America” from Mansion Entertainment.  Volume 5 was labeled “Gold City Quartet.”

I bought the DVD for $12.98 and took it home.  There were 10 songs on it, 8 of which were from the short lived Brian Free/Bill Crittendon/Jerry Ritchie/Tim Riley lineup.  The other two were the classic Free/Parker/Lefevre/Riley lineup.  It’s interesting to note that while a full band accompanies both eras, the earlier performances are obviously done live, while the Parker/Lefevre songs (“Cool Drink Of Water” and “After I Bow”!!) are pretty obviously lip-synched to the Double Take recording.  Still, it’s a great video to watch, as it documents the early days of Gold City, as well as being a very rare lineup.

I checked Mansion’s website this morning, and there are 10 volumes.

  • Volume 1: A Classic Collection
  • Volume 2:  The Blackwood Brothers with Guests, The Speer Family, The Dixie Echoes
  • Volume 3: The Speer Family
  • Volume 4: Florida Boys
  • Volume 5: Gold City Quartet
  • Volume 6: Rusty Goodman Family
  • Volume 7: The Hoppers
  • Volume 8: The Hinsons
  • Volume 9: The McKameys
  • Volume 10: Wendy Bagwell and The Sunliters

The video and audio are of pretty good quality, and definitely better than the Gospel Singing Jubilee DVDs I found a while back at Dollar General.  They’re not quite Gaither quality, but they’re definitely worth watching.  Though they aren’t credited as such, The Cathedrals do appear on both Volumes 1 and 2 of the collection.  One minor glitch, at least on the Gold City DVD, is that the song listing on the back of the DVD case is incorrect, and not a complete list.  “After I Bow” was not listed at all, but was instead a VERY pleasant surprise, as it’s one of my all time favorite Gold City songs.

Be watching out for these.  I know Lifeway has them, and you can get them Direct from Mansion’s website.

Hoppers Sign With Mansion Entertainment

According to this post at Daniel Mount’s blog, the Hoppers have signed a recording agreement with Mansion Entertainment.  This follows from the demise of Canaan Records a while back, which was most unfortunate.  Mansion operates two theaters in Branson, and have been making some noise in SG circles, as Bill Traylor is involved with the organization.  Still, I wouldn’t call Mansion a top notch SG label, at least not yet, and it seems interesting to me that two of SG’s big names, the Hoppers and Gold City, are on smaller labels, Mansion and New Haven respectively.  Hopefully this will provide Mansion with some growth, and the Hoppers with some stability in their record label.

Mike Hopper Leads Online Digital Media Tutorial

One of my favorite SG related topics to blog about is SG’s embracing of digital media technologies.  (I’m an IT guy in real life, so big surprise, huh.)  In a case of an artist taking the lead in embracing digital media, Mike Hopper has recorded a tutorial in which he leads customers through downloading music and creating their own custom compilation CD.  This from Canaan’s latest press release:

Canaan Records has released an all inclusive video tutorial featuring how to purchase, download and burn to a CD your favorite Southern Gospel albums and songs.  The demonstration is hosted by Mike Hopper of the legendary Hoppers and examines the ins and outs of the downloading revolution.  Mike also explains how safe and cheap it is to own your favorite personal compilations.  The video tutorial can be found by clicking on www.canaanrecords.com. Fans can also see personal compilations from Connie Hopper, Kelly Bowling and Mike Hopper as well as post their own compilations by visiting http://www.facebook.com/pages/Canaan-Records/25884114199 .

It’s good to see an artist taking a lead role in helping the digital revolution along, and having a well known artist be the instructor for the tutorial will I think give more weight to the average SG fan.  Kudos to both Mike and Canaan for taking this step to help things along.

Review: The Hoppers – North America Live!

Not counting The Ride, which had been recorded previously but was picked up for distribution, this is the debut project from The Hoppers on Canaan Records.  Right off the bat, Canaan shows some out of the box thinking by having this recorded at 6 separate venues over the summer.

Tracks:

  1. Intro/Holy Ghost Wind – This is a smooth track that showcases the Hoppers ability to blend.  There is some really nice harmony on this song.  There’s nothing that grabs you, but Connie Hopper does her typical solid job on her solo verses and the chorus vocals are very smooth.  Solid opening tune.  7/10
  2. Blame It On Love – This is a new song from the pen of Ronnie Hinson, and is the first single release from the disc.  This is a strong midtempo song in 3/4 time, as I like to refer to them, an “oom-pow-pow” type song.  It’s also typical Hoppers.  Dean does a nice job on his verse, and the power block harmony that the Hoppers are known for is top notch.  Dean and Kim have a nice duet on the second verse.  Very nice song, and it should do well for them on radio. 8/10
  3. Jesus Saves – This is an old convention style song, and a signature song for the Hoppers.  This rendition is very strong, and the crowd really seems to enjoy it.  They definitely nailed it.  9/10
  4. Pathway Built For Two – An acoustic/mountain influenced song performed very solidly by Dean Hopper.  Dean really has a pleasing voice.  The chorus has some nice harmony from the group.  Again, there’s nothing flashy with this song, just solid lyrics and solid vocals.  7/10
  5. Ten Thousand Years – Wow.  Elmer Cole’s classic song is reworked into a heavily orchestrated power ballad.  The group sings the first verse together with some tight harmony.  Dean has the lead throughout the first and chorus.  The vocal arrangement on the chorus is stellar.  Kim sings the second verse solo, and does a great job.  Dean returns to the lead for the following chorus.  The chorus is then repeated with the harmony inverted up and Kim taking the lead, which really turns up the intesity on the song, as does the key change in the middle of the chorus.  A great power tag ends this fantastic version of the classic song.  I’d release this as the second single.  Sure it’s an older song, but the new arrangement is fantastic.  The pick of the project to me.  10/10
  6. Ready To Leave – This is another classic song more associated with the Kingsmen and Big and Live, but the Hoppers do a good job on this song as well.  It’s fleeting, but on the last chorus you will hear some of the highest harmony I’ve heard from the Hoppers as they sing two inversions on the word “sky.”  Nice job.  9/10
  7. On My Journey Home – This is another Hoppers sugar stick.  Claude is definitely not the strongest vocalist in the group, but he turns in a very credible performance on this classic.  They don’t flip the harmony up and give Kim the lead like I’ve heard them do previously, which to me is very disappointing, I always look forward to them ratcheting their harmonies up.  Solid performance, but keeping the melody down keeps this from matching their previous versions.  5/10
  8. Mama Was Praying For Me – I’m normally not a fan of the whole “mama and daddy” type of songs.  This is an exception.  This is a really nice midtempo tune that Connie does a nice job singing.  The background harmonies and vocals on the chorus are nice, and the lyrics are not the overly sappy, cliche filled lyrics that a lot of these type of songs tend to use.  I was pleasantly surprised by this cut.  7.5/10
  9. He’s Worthy – This song was performed by Allison Durham Speer on an older Gaither video.  This is a similar arrangement, but different enough that it is fresh sounding.  This features Kim, who nails it as expected, but the thing I noticed pretty quickly is that Dean is actually singing up underneath Kim through at least most of the song.  It almost sounds like this is a trio with Mike, Dean, and Kimfor the most part.  Dean really shows off some nice range, and a nice upper register.  I liked this song when Speer did it, and I like this Hoppers version.  Great song and a great performance.  9/10
  10. It Is Well With My Soul – Nice arrangement with solely piano accompaniment.  Dean sings the first verse, a nice group vocal on the chorus leads to a second verse by Kim.  Kim shows some nice soft tones on the first line or two of the second verse that we need to hear more of, in my opinion.  She gives a nice, emotive feel before building the last few lines to a power feel, which is her strength.  The intensity comes down for the first part of the chorus before ratcheting up again through a high power tag.  This is one of the strongest versions of the hymn you’ll hear.  9.5/10
  11. Jerusalem – This is arguably the Hoppers’ most popular song of the last few years, and it’s easy to see why.  The performance is top notch, especially once they hit the bridge of “The Holy City”, and this serves as a great concert closer to leave the audience on thier feet.  10/10

Overall: 8.5 This is a solid CD from the Hoppers.  There are only 4 new songs on the disc, with the rest being classics/hymns/hits.  This project isn’t as strong as The Ride, but it seems to be a different approach.  I don’t think the goal of the album is to provide a follow up to The Ride, rather, the goal of this album seems to be capturing the essence of a concert experience with The Hoppers, with some new material to keep the project fresh (and provide some radio airplay and chart action).  In this vein, the album definitely succeeds, and it is worth noting that the different recording sites are expertly woven together so that it sounds like a single concert that was recorded for the album.  The performances are typically solid for the Hoppers, the new material is good, and the crowd seems to really enjoy several of the performances.  All in all, this is a very enjoyable album that you’ll want to add to your collection.

Hoppers Podcasts Available

Canaan has started a podcast series featuring the new Hoppers CD, North America Live!, and they are running a contest to go along with it.  Here’s the press release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (1/20/09) – Canaan Records announced today that a brand new series of Canaan & Friends Podcasts will be released celebrating the latest Hopper project, North America Live!. The first of three podcasts, which is defined by Wikipedia.com as a digital-media file distributed over the internet for playback, are hosted by Les Butler of Singing News Magazine and Salem Radio Network and will be available Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at  www.canaanrecords.com for download and through MPE to radio stations and media worldwide.  Each Hoppers podcast will be released bi-weekly and are filled with exclusive personal interviews from various Hoppers members and favorite songs from the January 27th Canaan Records’ release only found by listening to the podcast.  Each podcast can be downloaded to your computer or MP3 player, as well as being burned to a compact disc. A special contest will also be held in conjunction with the release of the new podcasts. By signing up to be a Friend of Canaan, fans will be sent questions about the Hoppers and North America Live! Upon sending in the correct answers, your name will be entered into a contest where prizes will be given away including your favorite Canaan product and memorabilia.  Every answer will be contained within the Hoppers podcasts.

North America Live! will hit bookstore shelves on January 27, 2009 and includes a special $5.00 off coupon for one of the latest Hoppers’ DVDs.  From Jackson, Tennessee to Bloomfield, Ontario Canada, Claude, Connie, Dean, Kim and Mike capture the heart of live audiences in a way that only America’s Favorite Family of Gospel Music can. Both old and new material is featured on the new project including great arrangements of the classics “Ten Thousand Years,” “Ready To Leave,” “Jerusalem” and the Connie Hopper classic, “Jesus Saves.” Whether you are a Hopper fan from way back or a new convert to this well-known family group, North America Live! gives every fan a little taste of what has made this family so special for over 50 years!  North America Live! is currently featured on the Singing News featured release player at www.singingnews.com, where a song from the release can also be downloaded for free.  Fans can pre-order a limited quantity of autographed copies of the project at www.canaanrecords.com for a special introductory price of $7.97 through release date.  The first single from North America Live!, “Blame It On Love,” will be shipped to radio stations world-wide on January 20th.  The Canaan Track will be available at www.canaanrecords.com/store soon!

Release Date Set For Hoppers North America Live

The Hoppers new CD, North America Live, will release on January 27th.  This is the album that was recorded at 6 different venues over the summer.  While many live albums are recorded over a range of dates and venues, I don’t know of one that was as spaced out time wise and location wise as this one.  Here’s the press release from Canaan:

NASHVILLE, Tenn (1/12/09) – Canaan Records is pleased to announce that the brand new Hopper’s release, North America Live!, will hit bookstore shelves on January 27, 2009.  From Jackson, Tennessee to Bloomfield, Ontario Canada, Claude, Connie, Dean, Kim and Mike capture the heart of live audiences in a way that only America’s Favorite Family of Gospel Music can. Both old and new material is featured on the new project including great arrangements of the classics “Ten Thousand Years,” “Ready To Leave,” “Jerusalem” and the Connie Hopper classic, “Jesus Saves.” Whether you are a Hopper fan from way back or a new convert to this well-known family group, North America Live! gives every fan a little taste of what has made this family so special for over 50 years!  North America Live! is currently featured on the Singing News featured release player at www.singingnews.com, where a song from the release can also be downloaded for free.  Fans can pre-order a limited quantity of autographed copies of the project at www.canaanrecords.com for a special introductory price of $7.97.  The first single from North America Live!, “Blame It On Love,” will be shipped to radio stations world-wide on January 15th.  The Canaan Track will be available at www.canaanrecords.com/store soon!

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