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.

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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?

The 1990 Cathedrals – An Alternate Universe

What if the Dove Awards never happened?  First, I think we would have been treated to an incredible album from the Catherals with the following song as the cornerstone:

This could have easily been a chart topper for this lineup of the Cathedrals, and the group’s dominance would have surely continued.  I’ll guess that these two songs could have been included on the album as well…

Honestly, this may be the best performance of the Cathedrals singing “Life Will Be Sweeter” I’ve ever heard.  The blend on this is so incredibly smooth.  I think Young and Trammell especially had a good fit with their voices.  Young’s performance of “At The Cross” is simply stunning, and would likely have become a concert favorite for the group.  Several people have posited recently that had Kurt Young followed Roy Tremble or Kirk Talley, he’d have likely been much more successful as tenor for the Cathedrals, and I tend to agree.  Danny Funderburk was a radical change from the previous tenors the group had, and Young was more like Kirk and Roy than he was Danny.  The problem is that Danny also was (and to a lot of folks, still is) the most popular tenor the group ever had.

In some ways, it seems a bit pointless to play the “what if” game, but to me it can be entertaining from time to time.  The other aspect to this whole alternate universe is the number of groups that could potentially have been affected.  Young’s departure and Haase’s arrival affected groups down the road like Gold City, Greater Vision, Legacy Five, Signature Sound, Mercy’s Mark, and the Mark Trammell Quartet.  Who knows how different these groups would be had history run a little differently, or if they would even exist at all.

I still think I’d like to have heard a Cathedrals album with Kurt Young.  I think it would have been great.

Hidden Gems: Cathedrals – “Evergreen”

While the Cathedrals remain one of SG’s most popular and enduring groups, even now some 14 years after their retirement, there remains a lot of the group’s catalog that is fairly undiscovered by most fans of this music, especially in the pre-Danny Funderburk years.  This song comes from their 1981 album Colors Of His Love featuring Kirk Talley, Glen Payne, Mark Trammell, George Younce, and Roger Bennett.

This mellow sounding ballad starts with some swirling strings that put the listener in mind of wind whirling through the evergreen trees to which the title of the song refers.  It’s an interesting lyric that refers to evergreen trees standing through the storms that come up and blow.  The chorus is a prayer for God to make the believer as strong as the evergreen that stands in the forest.  It’s a very well crafted lyric that is accecntuated with some beautiful singing from Kirk Talley and some gorgeous harmonies from the quartet.  Adding to the creativity is the fact that Talley sings his step out lines on the second chorus an octave higher than on the previous chorus, swooping up from the quartet harmonies to the higher melody.  The tag includes the swirling strings, though a bit more subdued than the intro, but features a swirling round vocal tag that features the Cathedrals first, with the repeat done by female studio vocalists, again hearkening the listener to winds whipping through a forest of evergreen trees in winter.

There’s not a whole lot of flash here, but it’s a gorgeous, very well crafted song.  Someone needs to bring this one back.  If you have the album (or like me, the LP AND the 8-track!), spin it up and give it another listen!

The Top 5 SG Albums of All Time – #4 (tie)

Singing Americans – Black and White
“Black And White was way ahead of its time in terms of production and performance style. Twenty-five years later, this album still sounds like it could have been recorded recently. Michael English had emerged as a dominant and unique lead singer by this point and the song selection couldn’t be better. Black And White has the perfect balance of variety ranging from toe-tappers like “Jesus Got Ahold Of Me” and “Victory Side” to ballads like “Welcome To Heaven” and “I’d Still Want To Go.” The a cappella closer “God Be With You Till We Meet Again” is the icing on the cake.”
— David Bruce Murray, musicscribe.com
Cathedrals – Something Special
“After spending two decades laying the foundation for their future success, Something Special was the first of a string of landmark albums that would make the Cathedrals a mega-group. From the radio hit “Step Into the Water” – the biggest radio hit the Cathedrals ever had – to the novelty song “Mexico,” several songs from this project would stay in the Cathedrals’ repertoire for the remaining seventeen years they spent on the road.”
— Daniel Mount, southerngospelblog.com

100 Years Of SG At NQC

I’m going to take a break from the top 5 listing for something that is well worth bringing up. I received this press release yesterday from the NQC:

On Saturday afternoon, September 18th during the National Quartet Convention, an event celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Southern Gospel Music will prove to be one of the most historic events ever offered at the National Quartet Convention. The showcase, produced by Norman Holland of Daywind Music Group, will pay tribute to many of the artists that shaped the genre of Southern Gospel Music down through the decades.

Here are just a few of the segments that will be featured during this showcase:

  • Bluegrass segment featuring members of the legendary Lewis Family, Jeff & Sheri Easter, and the newly formed Lewis Tradition
  • A Gospel Caravan segment with the Lefevre Quartet, the Chuckwagon Gang, and the Blackwood Brothers Quartet
  • A Speer Reunion with members Diane Mayes, Ann Downing, Sue Dodge, Jeannie Johnson, Karen Apple, Ben Speer, Faye Speer, the Speer Sisters.
  • A Cathedral Reunion with Legacy Five, Greater Vision, and the Mark Trammell Quartet
  • A Hinson Reunion featuring Ronnie Hinson, Chris Freeman, Larry Hinson, Bo Hinson and many former band members such as Gary Prim
  • A Downings Reunion featuring Ann Downing, Joy Gardner, and Donnie McGuire
  • A Rambos Reunion featuring Reba Rambo McGuire, Buck Rambo and Reba’s daughter Chastity
  • A Singing Americans reunion with Michael English, Ed Hill, Rick Strickland, and Dewayne Burke
  • A reunion of 1980’s version of Gold City featuring: Tim Riley, Brian Free, Ivan Parker, Mike Lefevre, and Garry Jones

The event will take place at 12:00 noon in Freedom Hall and is part of the Saturday afternoon Showcase Spectaculars at the National Quartet Convention. Complete schedule and ticket information can be found at http://www.natqc.com or by calling 800-846-8499. Those unable to attend in person may also watch this historic event live as it happens or on demand through October 31st on the NQC Webcast. Details also available at http://www.natqc.com

Wow. Let that sink in for a minute. The Gold City reunion that was the rave last week was just the tip of the iceberg. A reunited Gospel Caravan? A Downings reunion? I’m not really a fan, but a Hinson reunion? A Speer reunion? The “Evening to Remember” Cathedrals guys? A Singing Americans reunion with Michael English and Rick Strickland? Are you kidding me??

When the SN Fan Awards announced they were leaving the NQC, the natural question was “What is the NQC going to do now?” Well, I think they have answered that question and gone above and beyond any expectations that we had. I do know that they are currently looking into recording this event for an eventual DVD release. They need to do everything humanly possible to make sure this is done, as this is really a rare opportunity indeed, to see a reunion of all these greats.

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