SG Insights: Ricky Atkinson – Ricky Atkinson & Compassion

I recently caught up with Ricky Atkinson via email on the heels of their new album, I Know He Can.  Here is the text of the interview.

WB: You and Loren Harris obviously knew each other from your days together with the Wilburns.  How did you get hooked up with Greg Cook?  Which one came on board first?
RA: I called Loren and Greg Cook the same day, I had pre-determined that if I was gonna do less RAC  group dates and more solo dates, that I would call 2 of the best, highly recognizable names and faces with former popular SGM groups, ( and also knowing that Loren and I had been with The Wilburns back in the late 90s and I knew we had a great blend) it wouldnt take much to create a fresh new tight sound with a tenor in our range, and Greg is that tenor.

WB: You released “Encore” fairly quickly after Loren and Greg joined, but took your time in getting a mainline release out.  Was that the plan from the start?
RA: Yes it was, I felt like at the start and for our first full year, when people come to hear us sing, they would want to hear these guys do the songs that made them popular in SGM, so we did an album right out of the gate that featured each of us on our former hit songs, and during that first year I was writing and planning for the first mainline album and everything was actually on time and went according to schedule.

WB: The new disc has several different styles, from very country influenced to inspirational ballads, to fairly progressive.  Is that by design?
RA: Every CD I have ever recorded, 13 CDs in all, are all extremely versatile and cover a wide range of music styles. It is by design, I have never even branded my music, I leave that to the critics and the people who want to listen…. I’m sure one generation are skipping some songs, while another generation are skipping others, HAHA!  BUT, I have never been one to do  a certain kind of song, I create and write and arrange a song as needed to get that message out, and whatever RAC albums are, whatever you call them, it works. I call it Gospel Music, because that’s what it is….

WB: Which song took the most work to get it right?
RA: If you mean vocally, none of them were hard.  I have worked as a producer for many groups in 13 years and when you work with professionals its not difficult at all to  even exceed the goal.  Musically, I use the same band and players for all my productions, so they also know what to expect on an RA production, and I know what they can  do also…. its all in pre-planning and preparation, of which I do fairly well since I am a little OCD and ADD.  I have to be ready for everything, which makes me wierdo to deal with, but makes me a pretty good studio guy.  : )

WB: Which song is the most fun to sing?
RA: Love Mercy and Grace, but the whole album is stage ready and carefully planned and put into the lineup before we ever recorded the album, so they are all fun to sing.

WB: Which song goes over the best in concert?
RA: I Know He Can, Waving On The Other Side, Get On Board, man you name it…. crowd response so far has been A-1!!  The entire album is a crowd pleaser, again, by design before we ever cut a track.

WB: You have quite a different vocal dynamic when you sing lead versus when Loren sings lead.  Was that something you hoped would happen, or was that a pleasant surprise when you started singing together?
RA: Loren and I sang together for 3 full years every weekend sometimes 5 dates per weekend, and so when you do that , you learn how to sing and blend with people and pronounce the same.  It’s a unique difference when we switch but I think it gives us a flavor that no one else has, at least that’s what the good ol’ critics say. All I know is we have been given this talent by God to use for His Glory and we try to do that with the best of our knowledge, and HE chooses to bless that.

WB: How strange was it for you to switch from singing tenor with the original male trio to lead with the mixed trio and now with the new male trio?
RA: Not strange at all, I can sing all the parts except the bass ( man have I tried that, HAHA!) I tell people all the time, I started as a tenor, then lead, and I would next skip all the way to bass and not do baritone at all…. well that didn’t happen, I am now doing most of the baritone on the new CD, Loren covers it when I’m on lead, but  I ain’t quite got the bass yet. I need about another, I don’t know, 4 or 5 notes!!  In singing all the parts, it allows me to demo the songs after writing them and arrange the keys and changes and musical fun things and vocal fun things before we hit the studio, then when we do cut them, its a matter of just playing it and singing it like the demo.

WB: Finally, the question I’m sure you are tired of answering…Is Gene McDonald joining you guys permanently in the near future?
RA: As of right now, Gene has not been able to work his schedule out to  officially sign on with the group, BUT he’s more our bass singer than anyone else’s!  His schedule and other obligations in life doesn’t match up with our tour for now, but we are praying for him, HAHA!  Gene is a tremendous bass singer, as you can readily tell from the 2 song cameo on our project, but he is gonna do some dates with us in the near future, and we have plans to on the main stage on Thurs night this year at NQC!  You don’t wanna miss the RAC set, trust me.  : )

There’s an old axiom posted in the library of a place I used to work that said “Three weeks in the laboratory can frequently save two hours in the library.”  Ricky Atkinson seems to have taken the intended sentiment of this saying to heart.  It is obvious that he and the rest of the guys take their craft very seriously, and take great pains in their preparation for recording and performing their music.  This dedication shows and pays dividends, as evidenced in my review of their latest album.  Thanks Ricky for taking the time to do this interview!

Review: Ricky Atkinson & Compassion – I Know He Can

This is the first mainstream release with the lineup of Greg Cook, Ricky Atkinson, and Loren Harris on Resting Place Records.  These three well known vocalists have joined forces to form a formidable trio, and sometime quartet with the occasional appearance of Gene McDonald as a bass vocalist.

Tracks:

  1. Here For Now – Traditional, country flavored midtempo number that is a solid start to the disc.  Right off the bat, the trio vocals on the first verse illustrate the ability of this group to blend very smoothly.  Loren Harris is singing the lead on this song, then when they hit the chorus, Harris has the melody on the first line, but it leads to a higher end to the line and Cook takes the melody for the rest of the chorus.  It’s a neat little nuance to the arrangement that keeps the song interesting.  Harris sings the second verse solo after a key change.  Good solid opener to the disc.  7.5/10
  2. I Know He Can – A more progressive mid to up tempo number featuring Ricky Atkinson.  This is the first radio single from the disc and is a very good choice.  The chorus keeps a nice rhythm that breaks down for the next to last line.  The chord progressions in the verses are also unique.  This is a really good song that seems to be very radio friendly and should do very well for the group.  8.5/10
  3. Waving On The Other Side – Traditional ballad featuring Loren Harris that seems to be custom built for him.  This type of song is where Harris really shines.  This will probably be a very popular song for the guys, it has really good lyrics, and a great performance.  8/10
  4. Get On Board – Traditional quartet song that features a guest bass vocal from Gene McDonald.  Nice midtempo tune with some nice moving chords on the end of the choruses.  Atkinson sings the second verse solo and is singing lead on this tune.  It’s interesting to hear the vocal dynamic change when Harris and Atkinson alternate between the lead part.  A nice key change highlights the end of the song.  This song is sure to get your toe tapping.  Wonderful performance.  9.5/10
  5. He Went All The Way For You – This is a inspirational sounding ballad that features Ricky Atkinson.  I really like this song, the message is great and the blend is incredible on it.  This song and style really fit the group well, and Atkinson in particular does a good job on the lead.  9.5/10
  6. Good News – This is the other quartet song with Gene McDonald.  This is a midtempo jazz/swing cut that features Greg Cook on lead.  These guys have a great quartet sound with McDonald, their voices fit together quite nicely.  There’s some nice jazz harmony interspersed in the verses that is pulled off expertly.  I wish there were live strings and brass instead of synthesized, but that’s a really minor nit to pick.  This is a really enjoyable song, and it really adds a lot to have the bass vocal foundation.  Nice chord on the end, guys.  9/10
  7. Love Mercy and Grace – Mid to uptempo progressive song that has just a hint of  “newgrass” with a heavy banjo in the accompaniment.  Loren Harris takes the lead on this song.  The background harmonies behind Loren on the second verse are great, and on the line “your redemption is drawing nigh” is musically one of the great moments on this disc.  This is my favorite song on this album, and I think would make a great second single.  This has a different sound from most anything I’ve heard recently.  If you take the banjo out, it would almost have a contemporary feel to it.  10/10
  8. He’ll Never Forsake – Nice ballad featuring Greg Cook.  Cook does really well with tenor ballads.  He isn’t the highest tenor by a longshot, but he has a very pleasing voice, and this song is right in his wheelhouse, so to speak.  Solid song, and Cook turns in a nice performance with some smooth harmonies behind him.  8.5/10
  9. We Will – Another mid to uptempo song with a bit of a driving country feel.  Ricky Atkinson takes the lead on this song.  The message is very strong, reminding us against complacency as Christians.  There’s some really nice piano playing on the last chorus.  This song would make a great concert closer for the group to leave them with a song to get the crowd to their feet.  8/10
  10. Outside The Gate – This is a cover of an old Wilburns hit.  Harris and Atkinson trade off on the melody line between the verses and the chours.  This is a very good cover of the song that matches up to the original very well.  It’s a nice, fitting end to the album.  8.5/10

Overall:  8.5 I’ve been anxiously awaiting a mainline release from these guys since Ricky announced that Loren and Greg were joining him, and the wait was definitely worth it.  The song selection is really good, the blend is really smooth, and the CD is very enjoyable, with quite a bit of musical variety.  One thing that I mentioned in “Here For Now” is that there’s a seamless transition of the melody from Harris to Cook.  That actually happens for a line or two in several places throughout the disc, and is something that is very impressive.  It is not easy to pull off that kind of transition as well as these guys do, and it’s an example of the dedication to their craft that these three (or four) gentlemen exhibit.  For a debut mainstream project, this is very strong, and these guys should do very well for themselves, and if they ever decide to go to a quartet with Gene McDonald, watch out!  They have a very solid and versatile sound, and have released a project of which they can be very proud.  Don’t miss this one!

Ricky Atkinson & Compassion’s New CD Released

Ricky Atkinson & Compassion have released their first mainline project with the trio of Greg Cook, Loren Harris, and Atkinson.  Titled I Know He Can, it is available (with soundclips) from their website here.  You may remember that I reviewed their debut relase, Encore, here and mentioned that they showed great promise, but I was anxious to hear a release of new material.  Well here it is, and judging from the soundclips the wait was worth it.  Also notable are two songs (“Get On Board” and “Good News”) that have Gene McDonald joining the group on bass vocals.  If Gene ever decides to join these guys full time, they would make an outstanding quartet.  This sounds like a CD that is not to be missed!

Gene McDonald Appearing On Ricky Atkinson & Compassion’s New CD

According to SGReporter, Gene McDonald will be adding guest bass vocals on 2 songs for Ricky Atkinson and Compassion’s new CD (hat tip, AS).  One song has a bass lead, the other he just fills in a bass part.  Still no official word on Gene joining the group officially, but his guest appearance would seem to make such a move still possible.  RAC’s last CD, which was more of a table style project, was still very solid.  I’m anxious to hear the group with a new mainline release.

Update On Gene McDonald/Ricky Atkinson & Compassion

From Ricky Atkinson’s email newsletter….

Some have heard a rumor about RAC now being a quartet, so I will address that issue, since I’m answering that question almost every day…. Our good friend, Gene McDonald formerly of The Florida Boys and a regular on the Gaither Tour, who is also a full time soloist, is the subject of the talk. Everyone and their blog, and their websites are reporting that we have an awesome QUARTET, HAHA! Well, we do ALTHOUGH….. that’s not quite official. We are definitely thinking about it and anyone who was there when he sat in with us at NQC knows how brilliantly powerful the sound was, well you kinda just had to be there. Chuck Peters reported it as one of those rare NQC moments that stand out in your mind, and you just had to be there to witness it….. it was pretty special. Gene will be working a few dates with us in October, and we will talk and go from there… I will say this, you just never know!! 🙂

If any of you readers happen to catch one of the concerts with Gene, please report back and let us know how it goes.

NQC ’08 Recap

The most striking thing as I have read all the recaps of NQC is the apparent lack of stories coming out of the convention.  Normally you can expect a lot of personnel turnover and the like, but since the week before convention, things have been fairly quiet, the two exceptions being the departure of Matt Dibler from the Inspirations and the potential addition of Gene McDonald to Ricky Atkinson and Compassion.  The Fan Awards really didn’t hold any surprises, at least not really any major ones.  I was slightly surprised to see the Hoppers get the Mixed Quartet award over the Perrys, but coming on the heels of “I’m Just Waiting For My Ride” and “Yahweh” as major radio hits, it really isn’t that shocking.  Sometimes the couple of weeks following NQC are also news heavy, so we will wait and see what happens.

Ricky Atkinson & Compassion: SG’s Newest Quartet?

According to Chuck Peters at SGReporter, Gene McDonald made a surprise appearance singing bass with Ricky Atkinson and Compassion this morning.  While it has been categorized as a NQC special appearance, McDonald nor Atkinson ruled out the possibilty of a more permanent arrangement.  Besides the fact that I’d have LOVED to have heard the showcase, this could make RAC a very major force rather quickly.  Check the story out at Chuck’s site and let’s all keep our eyes and ears peeled on this one.

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