Southern Gospel: Forget The Songwriter, Who Needs Them…

I mentioned last week a conversation I had with a friend who has been around the Southern Gospel industry about as long as I have.  It sparked several discussions that translate well to blog posts.

One topic of discussion was the lack of respect, in general, songwriters have received from Southern Gospel artists/industry.  I remember a time when some artists within the industry weren’t paying the required royalties to songwriters, after recording a song by that specific writer.

The artists were more concerned about making money off the songwriter, by selling product, without making sure the songwriter was compensated.

The practice of songwriter disrespect continues today (across the entire music industry); in this age of digital download/streaming of music.  It is abysmal that songwriter(s)/publishers only receive 10% of the royalties generated through song streaming services.  Record labels made sure they would keep the lion’s share (60%) of royalties collected off streaming services.  Shameful!

Oddly enough, terrestrial radio is still the best source of income for songwriter(s)/publishers in that 100% of royalties generated go to them.  That is one reason Sirius/XM satellite radio is so important for songwriter(s) in the music industry.

Maybe songwriters should go on strike to show artists/industry execs that without the song, they would be out of business.

Overrated?? – Brian Free and Assurance

Today continues a new series titled overrated.  It looks at a current artist’s popularity (rated out of 100) vs current chart success/album releases (rated out of 100).  The difference between their popularity score and chart success/album release score is where they fall on the overrated meter.  The artist covered today is Brian Free and Assurance.

CURRENT POPULARITY = 88

  • Brian Free and Assurance had instant recognition when they hit the scene in 1994 after Brian’s huge success with Gold City.
  • Brian understood the importance of a Southern Gospel quartet and added a bass singer by 1995.
  • Even after being one of Southern Gospel’s most awarded tenor vocalists, the group (once again a trio) still is loved among fans.  They landed in six categories among the top ten finalists for this year’s Singing News fan awards.
  • Ultimately it will be up to fans to determine if losing the bass singer will reduce their popularity.

CURRENT CHART SUCCESS/ALBUM RELEASES = 76

  • In pondering the music Brian Free and Assurance is currently giving listeners, I score that 76 out of 100.
  • I consider the group’s prime recording years, thus far, to be between 2005 and 2010.
  • Albums such as Live In New York City (2005), It’s So God (2006), Real Faith (2007), Worth It (2009) and Never Walk Alone (2010) represent the best in the group’s entire discography.
  • The group’s most recent effort, Live Like We’re Redeemed (2016) is one of the least remarkable in the group’s entire discography.

SCORE ON THE OVERRATED METER = +12

  • This score represents that Brian Free and Assurance is currently overrated by a net positive +12.

They Don’t Know: Kingsmen

GRADE:  B

  • Album – They Don’t Know
  • Artist – Kingsmen
  • Label – Horizon Records
  • Style – Progressive, Traditional
  • Release Date – 04/14/17
  • Available For Digital Download? – Yes (Apple Music)
  • Running Time:  39 Minutes

SYNOPSIS:

This week we take a look at the new album from the Kingsmen, They Don’t Know.  The album’s release date was pushed back about three weeks, but is now available to the retail marketplace.

The Kingsmen are celebrating 25 years now with Crossroads and the Horizon records label.  To longtime Kingsmen listeners, They Don’t Know is the most progressive Southern Gospel recording the group has ever recorded.

This is also the first Kingsmen recording for new tenor vocalist, Joshua Horrell.  Have to also give a shout out to Ray Dean Reese for his nearly 50 years with the Kingsmen!

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Lee Black and Marcia Henry co-wrote the stand out track on They Don’t Know, “Hear The Word Of The Lord”.  The song features Bob and would make a great radio single choice.
  • The most traditional Southern Gospel friendly song on the recording is “Don’t Underestimate God’s Grace”.  Randy is featured on this mid-tempo number that should have had Ray featured on at least one verse of the song.  And it has some crying steel guitar!!
  • New tenor vocalist Joshua Horrell is given a chance to shine on They Don’t Know, given no less than three features.  His strongest is the progressive Southern Gospel ballad, “God Calls It Grace”.
  • Speaking of progressive, a good chunk of the album sounds like Brian Free and Assurance from ten years ago.  One such song is the album’s opening track and first radio single, “They Don’t Know (What The Lord Can Do)”.
  • The classic Ila Knight penned, “I’ll Sail Away Yonder” will keep traditional quartet fans happy.  You may also find yourself hitting the repeat button.
  • Can’t leave Randy out of the highlights.  His performance on the ballad, “The Evidence I Need” is a must listen.
  • Speaking of Randy, he penned “Fade To Black”.
  • Strongest songs included in order:  “Hear The Word Of The Lord”, “Don’t Underestimate God’s Grace”, “God Calls It Grace”, “I’ll Sail Away Yonder”, “The Evidence I Need”, “They Don’t Know (What The Lord Can Do)” and “Keep The Lions Hungry”.
CRITIQUE:
  • It is a travesty that long time, living legend, Southern Gospel hall of fame member, Ray Dean Reese didn’t even get one featured verse.  Shame!
  • A good portion of the album sounding like Brian Free and Assurance from ten years ago.
  • Weakest songs included in order:  “Legacy” and “Let Go And Hold Fast”.

WRAP UP:

Knowing it would be nearly impossible to follow-up their previous effort, Battle Cry, I applaud the Kingsmen and producer Jeff Collins for taking They Don’t Know in a different musical direction.  An album they can definitely be proud of.

SONG/Featured Vocalist – Songwriter:  1. “They Don’t Know (What The Lord Can Do)”/Randy – Jason Cox, Kenna West, Tony Wood  2. “Keep The Lions Hungry“/Ensemble; Bob – Regina Walden  3. “God Calls It Grace“/Joshua – Megan Mulnix, Logan Peck  4. “Hear The Word Of The Lord”/Bob – Lee Black, Marcia Henry  5. “The Evidence I Need”/Randy – Dave Clark, Jason Cox, Kenna West  6. “I’ll Sail Away Yonder”/Ensemble – Ila Knight  7. “Cost Of The Cross”/Bob – Kristi Fitzwater, Jerald Hill  8. “Let Go And Hold Fast“/Joshua – Regina Walden  9. “Fade To Black”/Joshua – Randy Crawford  10. “Don’t Underestimate God’s Grace”/Randy – Sandy Knight  11. “Legacy”/Bob – Barbara Fairchild, Marty Funderburk

Southern Gospel: Best Heard, Not Seen??

I was talking with another Southern Gospel junkie several weeks ago.  We’ve both been around the industry and the music now for well over 30 years.

As one does in conversation, we tended to compare the music from 30 years ago, 20 years ago, 10 years ago and now.  This friend made a statement, that I knew I would need to write about because I tended to agree.

He said, today’s Southern Gospel music is best heard, not seen.  When I thought about it, I knew what he was saying.  Live concerts don’t hold the same excitement or create the memories they did when artists were singing with actual musicians behind them.

I got a taste of that a month ago when I saw Goodman Revival in concert.  The excitement and spontaneity of having live musicians made the other artists on the program that night look like amateurs.

What are your thoughts on this brief statement?  Is today’s Southern Gospel music best heard, not seen?

Buzz Worthy 2017: “It Was Finished On The Cross”

buzzworthyThis week’s buzz worthy clip comes from Sisters.  As Christians around the world celebrate Good Friday, I thought it fitting to feature this song from the group’s latest album, Simply.

The first single from the album, “It Was Finished On The Cross”, is a powerful reminder of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  A song that has been a part of Easter programs for over five years.

“It Was Finished On The Cross” was penned by Kristie Braselton and Regi Stone.

Prodigals: Steeles

GRADE:  B-

  • Album – Prodigals
  • Artist – Steeles
  • Label – Custom
  • Style – Progressive, Pop, P/W
  • Release Date – 02/17/17
  • Available For Digital Download? – Yes (Apple Music)
  • Running Time:  37 Minutes

SYNOPSIS:

This week we take a look at the new album from the Steeles, Prodigals.  The Steeles returned to the Southern Gospel recording scene in 2014 with the release of the hit single, “But God”.

The Steeles had a successful decade in Southern Gospel music running from 1995 to 2004.  They gave listeners hits such as “God Kept His Promise, “I Got Up And Went”, “I Must Tell Somebody”, “Oh What A Mighty God” and “On The Road To Emmaus” to name a few.

The 2017 edition of the Steeles is composed of Jeff Steele (baritone), Sherry Steele (alto) and Bradley Steele (lead).

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Prodigals move the Steeles in stylistic directions they have not attempted up to this point in their recording career.  Listeners will get some progressive sounds that Steeles fans will recognize, then the group ventures in to pop, CCM and praise and worship directions.
  • The album kicks off with the title track, “Prodigals”.  It truly sets the tone for what one will expect from the rest of the recording.  This progressive tune is still Southern Gospel enough to make it the stand out track on the entire recording.
  • Son, Bradley Steele takes the lead on this recording, being the featured vocalist on “Prodigals”.  His vocal tone adds to the pop style the album gives listeners.
  • Him and Sherry trade verses on an up tempo song that long time Steeles fans will enjoy, “Psalm 113”.  This would make a great choice for Southern Gospel radio.
  • Sherry has always been a top-tier female vocalist in Southern Gospel music.  Her best feature on Prodigals is the ballad, “I’ll Follow You”.  Easily, another Southern Gospel friendly song that listeners would enjoy.
  • If you’re looking for some stylistic variety, then check out, “Psalm 117”.  This up tempo song sounds like something out of the disco era.
  • I also enjoy the pop sounds Bradley gives, “Who You’ll Be Forever”.  Could definitely find a home on CCM radio.
  • Strongest songs included in order:  “Prodigals”, “Psalm 113”, “I’ll Follow You”, “Psalm 117”, “Who You’ll Be Forever” and “Say Thanks”.
CRITIQUE:
  • If you’ve been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you already know my thoughts on praise and worship music.  I find it un-inspiring and lacking musical character.  It tends to all sound the same.  Sadly, “Alone”, after starting progressively turns into a praise and worship chorus before it ends.
  • I don’t understand the musical change used in “Grace And Mercy”.
  • Weakest songs included in order:  “Alone” and “Grace And Mercy”.

WRAP UP:

I had to listen to Prodigals several times before I understood the stylistic direction the Steeles were taking.  It is unlike anything the group has recorded to date.  There are some really bright spots that deserve your attention.

SONG/Featured Vocalist – Songwriter:  1. “Prodigals”/Bradley – Bradley Steele, Jeff Steele  2. “Psalm 113“/Bradley; Sherry – Bradley Steele, Jeff Steele  3. “Alone“/Bradley – Bradley Steele, Jeff Steele  4. “Meet Me There”/Sherry – Jeff Steele  5. “Say Thanks”/Bradley – Bradley Steele, Jeff Steele  6. “Psalm 117″/Ensemble – Bradley Steele, Jeff Steele  7. “I’ll Follow You”/Sherry – Amy Keffer, Jeff Steele  8. “Who You’ll Be Forever“/Bradley – Bradley Steele, Jeff Steele  9. “Grace And Mercy”/Bradley – Jeff Steele  10. “Special Blessings”/Jeff – Jeff Steele