- Album – Today
- Artist – Mercy’s Well
- Label – Custom
- Style – Traditional, Progressive
- Release Date – 09/02/14
- Available For Digital Download? – Yes (iTunes/Spotify)
The fall season seems to bring an abundance of new music in Southern Gospel music. A lot of that tends to revolve around having a new album ready for National Quartet Convention.
One such new release ready for NQC is Mercy’s Well and the new album, Today. This North Carolina based trio have provided Southern Gospel listeners with their own progressive brand of Gospel music for over 15 years.
The 2014 line-up of Mercy’s Well is composed of founding member Brad Strider (tenor), Greg Gainer (baritone), Dustin Simmons (lead) and pianist Josh Simpson.
- Baritone Greg Gainer provides the stand out track on Today. The country infused, “I’ll Trade This Valley For A Mountain” could very well be the best song Mercy’s Well has recorded to date. This would make a strong radio single choice. This song is ‘old school’ Southern Gospel. Wayne Haun and Lyn Rowell wrote a winner here. Love it!
- Mercy’s Well has had previous success with really strong up-tempo numbers (see “Carry That Load”, “God Put A Rainbow In The Cloud”, “More Like Jesus Less Like Me”). Today provides listeners with two really strong up-tempo songs. They include the title track which will cause you to hit repeat. Tenor Brad Strider is featured on this number. The second is the infectious “That’s Who I’m Giving My Heart”. This features new lead singer Dustin Simmons.
- Speaking of new lead vocalist; Dustin Simmons delivers a stand out performance on the mid-tempo “Deliver Me Through”. The message is not new, about being delivered through a storm instead of being delivered from it. The easy, laid back approach and nice harmony moments make this song a must listen. Great songwriting from the pens of Gina Boe and Sue C Smith.
- The closing track, “The Gospel Of The Second Chance”, allow Brad and Dustin to trade-off the lead. The orchestration brought back memories of something the Poet Voices would’ve recorded. A strong close to the album.
- Stylistically, Mercy’s Well provides a buffet of sounds that will be sure to please even the pickiest of listeners. From traditional Southern Gospel, to a country sound to even some pop infused musical moments.
- Strongest songs included in order: “I’ll Trade This Valley For A Mountain”, “Deliver Me Through”, “That’s Who I’m Giving My Heart”, “The Gospel Of The Second Chance”, “Today” and “Come As We Are”.
- The mid-point of the recording tends to get a bit bogged down musically.
- The Imperials-esque, “I Wanna Hear The Gospel” just felt out-of-place with the rest of the recording. It was more the arrangement of the song than the lyric.
- Weakest songs included in order: “I Wanna Hear The Gospel” and “I’ll Never Be Gone”.
Today may very well be the most Southern Gospel friendly album (outside of their Songbook series), Mercy’s Well has released. There is so much on this album that even the staunchest of Southern Gospel listeners would enjoy. Mercy’s Well should be proud of what they have given Southern Gospel listeners with Today.
SONG/Featured Vocalist - Songwriter: 1. “Come As We Are”/Ensemble - Donna King 2. “Today“/Ensemble; Brad - Donna King 3. “Deliver Me Through”/Dustin - Gina Boe, Sue C Smith 4. “I’ll Trade This Valley For A Mountain”/Greg - Wayne Haun, Lyn Rowell 5. “I Wanna Hear The Gospel”/Dustin - Lee Black, Gina Boe 6. “I Already Know”/Greg - Joel Lindsey, Sue C Smith 7. “Who You Say You Are”/Brad - Lee Black, Donna King, Kenna Turner West 8. “That’s Who I’m Giving My Heart”/Ensemble; Dustin - Chris Binion 9. “I’ll Never Be Gone”/Brad - Donna King, Rachel Morgan Perry 10. “The Gospel Of The Second Chance”/Dustin; Brad – Lee Black, Shelley E Johnson, Tony Wood
Novelty songs have always had a home in Southern Gospel music. They can be traced as far back as the quartet classic, “First Day In Heaven”. Novelty songs have even found a home a top the Southern Gospel radio airplay charts (see the Kingsmen; “Excuses”).
But before “Excuses” made its way to listening audiences, the Imperials topped the charts with the song, “Oh Buddha”. This Mark Farrow song relays to listeners that Jesus Christ is the only way by pointing out that other religions are just that, religions. Running the spectrum from Buddha to Mohammed to even Krishna’s.
The second verse then brings it home to Christianity and the idea that Heaven will not be made up of denominations, no matter how much your particular denomination thinks they are right.
The Imperials took this song to the top of the Southern Gospel charts in September 1979. The song would go on to spend eight months at #1, making it the biggest Imperials hit on Southern Gospel radio. Here is a YouTube clip (published by GambittMA) of the Imperials #1 hit, “Oh Buddha”.
Novelty song; yea or nay? Would a song like “Oh Buddha” be accepted among today’s Southern Gospel listening audience?
The Southern Gospel story of my life continues this week with the year 1980. After being introduced to my first Southern Gospel concert experience (Hopper Brothers & Connie) at the age of four, every year following I saw at least one group in concert.
1980 actually allowed a young kid to attend two different concerts. The first occurred at the Maryland theater in Hagerstown Maryland. The group was the Happy Goodmans and it was part of their farewell tour (at least with Howard & Vestal) in 1980.
As with the Hopper Brothers & Connie concert, I have flashes of memories of this concert. Those include Vestal on stage. I remember them calling Tanya Goodman (Sykes) out for a song. I remember Howard on the piano. Again, like before, the real memories came after when I got home and started playing the record albums purchased at the concert.
I remember singing along, at the top of my lungs, to the Happy Goodman’s version of “He Pilots My Ship” (and to this day, still one of my all time favorite songs). Enjoy this mash-up of music of what the Happy Goodmans may have been staging during their farewell tour in 1980.
The second group seen in concert in 1980 was the Dixie Melody Boys. Along with the Hoppers, the Dixie Melody Boys were one of the few groups that toured the mid-atlantic region during this era. The Dixie Melody Boys were the first all male quartet seen by this kid and I can still remember hearing Ed O’Neal’s bass voice for the first time.
Along with Connie Hopper, Ed O’Neal was one of my Southern Gospel heroes. I remember him talking to me and my brother even as kids and seeing the group just about every year following and hearing him tell us how much we were growing up.
Seeing the Dixie Melody Boys in 2014 and Ed still remembers those two scrawny boys who would come to his concerts; a true Southern Gospel giant and gentlemen. After Listening to record albums of the quartet Ed had in 1980, I believe this was one of the best quartet line-ups he ever had.
Here is a mash-up of music from what the Dixie Melody Boys were staging in 1980. Enjoy!
When I ran Southern Gospel Views from the Back Row before I always enjoyed giving away free music. I thought I would use the next couple Fridays to give my readers a few puzzles to solve in order to win some classic Southern Gospel music.
All music comes from my personal collection. The classic CDs being given away are used, but I have been the only owner. Up for grabs today is the Crabb Family’s 1996 Zion Records album, Still Holdin’ On. The hit songs from this recording included “Something Going On In The Graveyard”, “Still Holdin’ On” and “Where We’ll Never Die”.
The first person to accurately answer the series of puzzles/trivia will win this classic CD. Be sure to email all responses to me (email@example.com). Do not leave answers in the comments section as to ruin it for everyone else. Once the prize has been won I will reveal the answers to everyone else. I have no problem researching answers. Enjoy!
- Which one of the following is not like the others? (Karen Peck & New River, Kingdom Heirs, Kingsboys, Kellys)
- 1997 was the year, “Power In Prayer” was the song. Who was the artist?
- Arrange the following artists chronologically in the order they were a part of Southern Gospel music. (Brian Free & Assurance, Lamar Sego Family, Roy Knight Singers, Sons Of Song, Triumphant Quartet)
- Finally, identify the five artists heard in this musical mash-up.
***CONTEST IS NOW OVER – WINNING ENTRY RECEIVED***
Congratulations to Cody for being the first to answer correctly. He wins the Crabb Family’s, Still Holdin’ On recording. Keep an eye out over the next couple Friday’s as I give more classic Southern Gospel music away. The answers to this week’s puzzles/trivia are as follows:
- Karen Peck & New River (the only artist listed of the four that didn’t start with a ‘K’ and end with and ‘S’).
- Sons Of Song, Lamar Sego Family, Roy Knight Singers, Brian Free & Assurance, Triumphant Quartet
- Greenes (“Angels Everywhere”), Joseph Habedeank (“Never No Never”), Lanny Wolfe Trio (“Jesus Is Still The Answer”), Gold City (“I’m Losing My Mind”) and Dixie Melody Boys (“Giver Of Amazing Grace”)
One of the regular features of Southern Gospel Views from the Back Row is the definitive Southern Gospel collection. I take a look at what I feel to be the (20) best albums released in Southern Gospel for the year selected. This edition takes a look at the year 1991. Out of a list of (64) albums, I narrowed it down to twenty.
Gold City was dominating the Singing News Fan Awards, in 1991, winning favorite group and sweeping all the male vocal categories. Gold City also picked up album of the year for the 1990 release, Windows Of Home. New quartet, Perfect Heart, came out of the gate winning song of the year for “Somebody Touched The Lord” while also picking up horizon group of the year.
The 1991 Dove Awards saw the Talleys winning Southern Gospel recorded song for “He Is Here”, while the Cathedrals won Southern Gospel album for Climbing Higher And Higher. The Gaither Vocal Band nabbed the Grammy in 1991 for best Southern Gospel album (Homecoming).
Here are the (20) best albums released in Southern Gospel music for the year 1991:
- Homecoming – Gaither Vocal Band (StarSong)
- Heavenly Sunrise – Hoppers (Sonlite)
- The Best Of Times – Cathedrals (Homeland)
- Wish You Were Here – Kingsmen (RiverSong)
- Unmistakably – McGruders (Sonlite)
- Answer The Call – Gold City (RiverSong)
- Carolina Live – Greenes (ACA)
- On A Journey – Greater Vision (Benson)
- Going Back – Freemans (Calvary)
- Once In A Lifetime – Bishops (MorningStar)
- Looking For The Wounded – Perfect Heart (Mark Five)
- Uncommon Love – Heirloom (Benson)
- Live In Springfield Missouri – Heaven Bound (RiverSong)
- Shoulder To Shoulder – Mid South Boys (Word)
- A New Generation – Nelons (Canaan)
- Heavenly Rain, Showers Of Blessing – Perry Sisters (MorningStar)
- Karen Peck & New River – Karen Peck & New River (Pinnacle)
- 20th Anniversary – Isaacs (MorningStar)
- Roll Away The Stone – Wendy Bagwell & Sunliters (Canaan)
- Against The Odds – Mullins (Pinnacle)
Listen to a mash-up of music from the best albums of 1991. Enjoy!
- Album – Beyond The Blue
- Artist – Down East Boys
- Label – Sonlite Records
- Style – Traditional, Progressive
- Release Date – 08/19/14
- Available For Digital Download? – Yes (iTunes/Spotify)
The Down East Boys have been mainstays in Southern Gospel music for nearly thirty years. Lead vocalist Ricky Carden has been at the helm of the group now for twenty of those years.
The group started as a quartet, under the leadership of Sherril Futral. It then moved to a trio configuration before becoming a quartet once again around the year 2001. The Down East Boys seems to be one of those groups that can be classified as underrated by most in Southern Gospel music.
The Down East Boys give Southern Gospel listeners their newest effort; Beyond The Blue. Another ten song collection of traditional (slightly progressive) Southern Gospel quartet music.
- After the release of Beyond The Blue, it was announced tenor Tony Jarman was stepping down. What a shame. One of the strongest songs on the album is the Tony Jarman feature; “I Left My Past In The Past”. With Tony now gone from the group, the likelihood of this song making it to Southern Gospel radio is virtually impossible.
- If you are a regular reader of my album reviews, you will remember my review several weeks ago of Master’s Voice newest album; Rescued From Religion. I had high praise for a song titled, “Holy All Over Again”. I mentioned Master’s Voice needed to single that song. Well, it seems the Down East Boys beat them to the punch as it is the newest single for the group. Baritone Daryl Paschal turns in a strong performance of this stellar song.
- Beyond The Blue is a great mix of up tempo, medium tempo and slower tempo songs. One of the best up tempo tracks is the recent single, “If I Know Him”. It sounds like a Rodney Griffin song right from the start. Rodney got some co-writing help from Joseph Habedank on this particular song.
- Speaking of up tempo, I really enjoyed the Down East Boys cover of the LeFevre (Rex Nelon Singers) classic; “I Want To Be Like My Lord”. This song really allows listeners to hear newest bass vocalist Joe Brinkley handle those low notes with precision. His vocal work on “Hay Baby” also deserves a mention.
- Front man, Ricky Carden closes the album with a traditional Southern Gospel power ballad; “Yes I Remember You”. This is the type of song an artist would close their set with, most likely to a rousing ovation.
- Strongest songs included in order: “I Left My Past In The Past”, “Holy All Over Again”, “Yes I Remember You”, “If I Know Him”, “I Want To Be Like My Lord” and “The First Day For Me”.
- There are really no critiques that need to be addressed. All members are featured throughout the recording. The pacing of the recording is strong as is song selection. Can’t ask for more than that.
- Weakest songs included in order: “Shed A Little Light” and “I Just Steal Away And Pray”.
I really don’t know what else the Down East Boys need to do before being recognized as one of Southern Gospel’s leading quartets. They already have the vocal chops, along with strong song selection and great stage presence to qualify. Southern Gospel listeners can be a fickle bunch. The recent vocal departures will need to be overcome in the short-term, but the songs from Beyond The Blue should be able to help alleviate some of that pain.
SONG/Featured Vocalist - Songwriter: 1. “Beyond The Blue”/Ensemble; Ricky - Jim Brady, Joseph Habedank 2. “I Just Steal Away And Pray“/Tony - Albert E Brumley 3. “If I Know Him”/Ensemble; Ricky - Rodney Griffin, Joseph Habedank 4. “Holy All Over Again”/Daryl - Joseph Habedank, Sue C Smith 5. “I Want To Be Like My Lord”/Joe - Jimmy Jones 6. “I Left My Past In The Past”/Tony - Karen Gillespie, Rachel McCutcheon 7. “Shed A Little Light”/Ricky; Joe - Regina Walden 8. “The First Day For Me”/Ricky - Rodney Griffin, Natalie Harp 9. “Hay Baby”/Daryl - James Elliott, Russell Lamb, Jerry Salley 10. “Yes I Remember You”/Ricky – Ray Scarbrough
As I begin again with Southern Gospel Views from the Back Row, I thought I would indulge my readers in a little Southern Gospel story of my life. This new weekly series will cover the impact Southern Gospel music has made in my life. It has been a part of my entire life.
I will go through the years and the artists that left a mark on my life. It all begins in 1979, at the age of four, when the Hopper Brothers & Connie came to a church in my hometown of Westminster Maryland. Looking back, I don’t remember much about my first Southern Gospel concert experience, but I do get flashes of memories that have remained.
I remember Connie Hopper speaking from the stage, and even as a youngster hearing her sincerity as she spoke. I remember being taken to the record table and having Connie sign a picture that was purchased. Roger and Debra Talley were members of the group at this time and I can remember Debra also signing the picture.
The bigger music memories of that first concert actually came after as I remember hearing the record albums that were purchased. The music began making an impact on a young boy’s life. Maybe it was a result of that first musical experience by the Hopper Brothers & Connie that left such an impression, but to this day there is no other group in Southern Gospel music that I have seen more in concert since 1979 than the Hoppers.
I want to also take this time to let the Hoppers (Connie) know that I am praying for her as she battles cancer once again. It sounds as if the surgery was a success. I pray for healing and a speedy recovery period. I have another Connie Hopper concert memory that comes a few years after this that left even a greater impact on a young boy’s life and love of Southern Gospel music.
Enjoy a mash-up of music that the Hopper Brothers & Connie would have been staging (in concert) in the year 1979.
- Album – Without Your Love
- Artist – Amber Nelon Thompson
- Label – Daywind Records
- Style – Modern Country, Progressive
- Release Date – 08/12/14
- Available For Digital Download? – Yes (iTunes/Spotify)
One of the leading female vocalists in Southern Gospel music releases her first solo effort with the EP, Without Your Love. Amber Nelon Thompson, of the Nelons, may have started a new trend in Southern Gospel music with Without Your Love.
Instead of giving listeners the standard (10) song recording, Amber and Daywind Records decided to give listeners (4) songs. This allowed Amber to choose, record and release four truly outstanding songs instead of a ten song recording that could have left listeners with filler alongside the best songs.
The four songs chosen for Without Your Love are all modern country-style ballads with some progressive Southern Gospel overtones for good measure. Several power notes hit by Amber on the album reminded me a lot of what a listener would get from mainstream country artist Martina McBride.
- Since there are only four songs on Without Your Love and they are all outstanding, I will give a thought about each. The EP kicks off with the story in song, “What Do You Say”? The first verse relays the message of teenage pregnancy and the struggles of a single mother. The second verse talks about a gentlemen battling cancer. The power in the message of giving up and letting go when you feel there is nothing left but the final stanza brings hope in the power of Resurrection that only Christ can give. Awesome song!
- Next up is a song of thanks, “Grateful”. This pop infused song is a Jeff & Sheri Easter style song. Amber adds some different vocal techniques than used on the first song to really show her range as a vocalist.
- Amber’s duet with power vocalist Joseph Habedank is next with the title track, “Without Your Love”. The back and forth among Amber and Joseph on the verses/chorus of the song would make this a hit on CCM radio.
- The EP closes with the strongest song on the entire album; “Falling”. This is also the current single at Southern Gospel radio. This is absolutely one of the best songs I have heard all year. Amber’s power vocal along with the message makes this song a must listen! The string accompaniment to start the song is gorgeous and sets up the rest of the song beautifully. A powerful song of restoration!
- I enjoyed the concept used here of only giving listeners the best songs you can absolutely record, instead of the archaic method of picking ten to twelve songs that may only muster four or five really great songs.
- Strongest songs included in order: “Falling”, “What Do You Say”, “Without Your Love” and “Grateful”.
- The only minor critique I would have is that it would have been nice to have at least one up-tempo song among the four beautiful ballads.
Amber Nelon Thompson has already proven she is about the best female vocalist you will find in Southern Gospel music. The release of Without Your Love only cements that sentiment. Why is she not already winning female vocalist awards? Let’s fix that, stat. You need to own this four song collection. It is four of the best songs you will hear in Southern Gospel music all year.
SONG - Songwriter: 1. “What Do You Say” - Jason Clark 2. “Grateful” - Ian Eskolin, Don Poythress, Tony Wood 3. “Without Your Love”/Duet with Joseph Habedank - Jason Clark, Joel Lindsey 4. “Falling” - Gina Boe, Ronnie Freeman, Tony Wood