VOTE: Best Of 2017: Breakthrough/DuoTrio/Soloist

Who were the top artists in Southern Gospel music for 2017?  Today, starts the voting for best breakthrough (new), duo/trio and solo artist.

You get one vote per day.  Poll closes 11/29/17.  Click the link on each nominee to see an audio/video of the nominees.

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VOTE: Best Of 2017: Lead/Soprano/Tenor

Who were the top vocalists in Southern Gospel music for 2017?  Today, starts the voting for best lead, soprano and tenor vocalist.

You get one vote per day.  Poll closes 11/27/17.  Click the link on each nominee to see an audio/video of the nominees.

VOTE: Best Of 2017: Alto/Baritone/Bass

Who were the top vocalists in Southern Gospel music for 2017?  Today, starts the voting for best alto, baritone and bass vocalist.

You get one vote per day.  Poll closes 11/23/17.  Click the link on each nominee to see an audio/video of the nominees.

Silence The Stones: 11th Hour

GRADE:  B+

  • Album:  Silence The Stones
  • Artist:  11th Hour
  • Label:  Sonlite
  • Style:  Progressive
  • Release Date:  11/10/17
  • Digital Download:  Yes (Apple Music)
  • Running Time:  36 Minutes

SYNOPSIS:

Today we take a look at the newest album from 11th Hour, Silence The Stones.

This marks the sixth recording in 11th Hour’s recording career.  It also marks the fifth album to be released by Crossroads on the Sonlite Records label.

Silence The Stones is progressive Southern Gospel music at it’s best.  Group member Amber Eppinette contributed to four songs on the album while other member Jaquita Lindsey wrote the closing number.

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • “Power In Prayer” immediately stood out to me upon first listen to Silence The Stones.  After several more listens, this blues infused number remained the best song on the recording.  Amber’s commanding lead/soprano vocals continue to impress on this newest effort.
  • Amber is also featured on a song she co-wrote titled “I’d Like To Meet The Preacher”.  This song is a bit different from most of your ‘thank you preacher’ type songs.  It says, ‘I want to meet the preacher who prayed for the preacher who prayed for me’.  Give it a listen.
  • Lead vocalist Grant Gibson slows it down on the best ballad from the album, “Hallelujah”.  This praise style song is modern-day progressive Southern Gospel music.  Probably a too bit progressive for Southern Gospel radio.
  • Grant and Amber trade verses on the album’s up-tempo title track, “Silence The Stones”.  I see this song landing at Southern Gospel radio sometime in 2018.
  • The majority of the up-tempo songs on Silence The Stones fall in to what I call ‘hard driving’.  Think the Martins at the height of their career.  That sound is most evident on “God Will Deliver Me” and “I’ll Be The First One”.
  • Grant slows it down again on the retrospective, “I Want You Beside Me”.
  • Can’t leave the review without mentioning the closing number both written and performed by group member Jaquita Lindsey, “Let Grace In”.
  • Strongest songs included in order:  “Power In Prayer”, “Hallelujah”, “I’d Like To Meet The Preacher”, “I Want You Beside Me”, “God Will Deliver Me”, “Silence The Stones” and “I’ll Be The First One”.
CRITIQUE:
  • I’m surprised the record label would choose the weakest up-tempo song on the album as the first single.  Maybe they thought is sounded the most Southern Gospel friendly.
  • After several listens, Silence The Stones doesn’t quite match the caliber of the group’s previous effort, What A Moment.
  • Weakest songs included in order:  “I Want To Praise Him” and “Doin’ What’s Right”.

WRAP UP:

11th Hour has made strides to become one of the best vocal trios in Southern Gospel music.  The music they are providing listeners justifies why they deserve to be regarded as such.  Don’t let the year close without listening to Silence The Stones.

SONG/Featured Vocalist – Songwriter:  1. “Doin’ What’s Right”/Amber – Lee Black, Devin McGlamery, Nathan Woodard  2. “God Will Deliver Me“/Grant – Phil Cross, Cassie Hyle  3. “I’d Like To Meet The Preacher“/Amber – Jason Cox, Amber Eppinette, Kenna West  4. “I Want To Praise Him”/Jaquita – Daryl Williams  5. “Hallelujah”/Grant – Jon Azzarello  6. “I’ll Be The First One”/Amber – Jason Cox, Amber Eppinette, Kenna West  7. “Silence The Stones”/Grant; Amber – Jason Cox, Amber Eppinette, Kenna West  8. “Power In Prayer”/Amber – Amber Eppinette, Don Poythress, Donnie Skaggs, Kenna West  9. “I Want You Beside Me”/Grant – Phil Cross  10. “Let Grace In”/Jaquita – Jaquita Lindsey

And The Nominees Are…

It is time to announce the nominees for the 4th Annual Southern Gospel Views from the Back Row Honors.  I went through all the Southern Gospel album’s released in 2017 and scoured through the radio single charts (January to December) to determine what I considered to be the five nominees to best represent each of the 17 categories.

AND THE NOMINEES ARE:

Recorded Song of the Year (song recorded on a 2017 album, did not have to be a radio single)

  1. “Dying To Be With You” – Nick Akin; recorded by Akins (Eyes On The Road)
  2. “Here He Comes” – Chris Cron, Joseph Habedank, Tony Wood; recorded by Joseph Habedank (Resurrection)
  3. “I Will Pray” – Wayne Haun, Joel Lindsey; recorded by the Perrys (Testament)
  4. “Telling The Story” – Kyla Rowland, Jessica Thomas; recorded by the Kingdom Heirs (The Last Big Thing)
  5. “Victory Is Mine” – Lee Black, Gerald Crabb, Karen Peck Gooch; recorded by Karen Peck & New River (Hope For All Nations)

Single of the Year (had to be on the radio singles chart from January to December 2017)

  1. “Chain Breaker” – Mia Fieldes, Jonathan Smith, Zach Williams; recorded by Triumphant (Thankful)
  2. “Don’t You Think You Ought To Worship Me” – Dustin Wisecarver; recorded by the Wisecarvers (Armor)
  3. “It Still Takes The Blood” – Gerald Crabb; recorded by the Freemans (Tower Of Song)
  4. “Never Made A Promise” – Lee Black, Sue C Smith, Kenna West; recorded by the Kingdom Heirs (Something Good)
  5. “They Don’t Know (What The Lord Can Do)” – Jason Cox, Kenna West, Tony Wood; recorded by the Kingsmen (They Don’t Know)

Song Cover of the Year (a previously recorded song covered on a 2017 album release)

  1. “The Answer’s On The Way” – Goodman Revival (Still Happy); Rusty Goodman
  2. “At The Name Of Jesus” – Mercy’s Well (Questions & Answers); Pamela Hall
  3. “He Heals” – Booth Brothers (Between Here And Heaven); Jennifer Layne, Don Poythress
  4. “It Was Finished On The Cross” – Sisters (Simply); Kristie Braselton, Regi Stone
  5. “My Hope Is In The Blood” – Perrys (Testament); Reagan Riddle

Songwriter

  1. Lee Black
  2. Jason Cox
  3. Joseph Habedank
  4. Sue C Smith
  5. Kenna Turner West

Album of the Year (had to be a 2017 release)

  1. Hope For All Nations – Karen Peck & New River (Daywind)
  2. Resurrection – Joseph Habedank (Daywind)
  3. Simply – Sisters (Custom)
  4. Testament – Perrys (Stow Town)
  5. Walk Worthy – Master’s Voice (Sonlite)

Album Cover Design (best album artwork/cover design from a 2017 release)

  1. Beyond Amazed – Brian Free & Assurance
  2. Resurrection – Joseph Habedank
  3. Seasons: A Collection Of The Best – Mark Bishop
  4. They Don’t Know – Kingsmen
  5. Walk Worthy – Master’s Voice

Artist – Breakthrough (New)

  1. Bowling Sisters
  2. Master’s Voice
  3. Sneed Family
  4. Wilbanks
  5. Wisecarvers

Artist – Duo/Trio (no more than 3 vocalists)

  1. 11th Hour
  2. Booth Brothers
  3. Greater Vision
  4. Sisters
  5. Whisnants

Artist – Mixed Group (at least 4 vocalists)

  1. Erwins
  2. Mylon Hayes Family
  3. Nelons
  4. Karen Peck & New River
  5. Perrys

Artist – Quartet

  1. Gaither Vocal Band
  2. Kingdom Heirs
  3. Mark Trammell Quartet
  4. Tribute Quartet
  5. Triumphant

Artist – Soloist

  1. Doug Anderson
  2. Jason Crabb
  3. Michael English
  4. Misty Freeman
  5. Joseph Habedank

Vocalist – Alto

  1. Wendy Hayes (Mylon Hayes Family)
  2. Kim Sheffield (Sisters)
  3. Libbi Stuffle (Perrys)
  4. Tanya Goodman Sykes (Goodman Revival)
  5. Susan Whisnant (Whisnants)

Vocalist – Baritone

  1. Randy Crawford (Kingsmen)
  2. Jon Epley (Greater Vision)
  3. Loren Harris (Kingdom Heirs)
  4. Scott Inman (Triumphant)
  5. Mark Trammell (Mark Trammell Quartet)

Vocalist – Bass

  1. Pat Barker (Second-Half Quartet)
  2. Eric Bennett (Triumphant)
  3. Randy Byrd (Mark Trammell Quartet)
  4. Jeff Chapman (Kingdom Heirs)
  5. Keith Plott (LeFevre Quartet)

Vocalist – Lead

  1. Ronnie Booth (Booth Brothers)
  2. Keith Erwin (Erwins)
  3. Clayton Inman (Triumphant)
  4. Arthur Rice (Kingdom Heirs)
  5. Bill Shivers (Brian Free & Assurance)

Vocalist – Soprano

  1. Amber Eppinette (11th Hour)
  2. Karen Peck Gooch (Karen Peck & New River)
  3. Kennedy Hayes (Mylon Hayes Family)
  4. Amber Thompson (Nelons)
  5. Kaila Wisecarver (Wisecarvers)

Vocalist – Tenor

  1. Chris Allman (Greater Vision)
  2. Ricky Capps (Master’s Voice)
  3. Riley Harrison Clark (Tribute Quartet)
  4. Wes Hampton (Gaither Vocal Band)
  5. Steve Ladd (Old Paths)

So do the nominees represent the best of 2017?  Were there any snubs? The voting rounds will begin Tuesday (11/14/17).

Still The Same: Whisnants

GRADE:  B+

  • Album:  Still The Same
  • Artist:  Whisnants
  • Label:  UIA
  • Style:  Traditional
  • Release Date:  09/29/17
  • Digital Download:  No
  • Running Time:  42 Minutes

SYNOPSIS:

Today we take a look at the latest album from the Whisnants, Still The Same.

The Whisnants career has now spanned 40 years.  Jeff Whisnant has been with the group since the beginning.  They have been providing Southern Gospel listeners traditional Southern Gospel music during their career.

The group has built a successful career around lead/alto vocalist, Susan Whisnant.  She has been at the forefront of the majority of the Whisnants #1 songs.

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • I have to first give kudos to Trey Ivey who produced what may very well be the best sounding Whisnants recording to date.  His arrangements are also stellar.
  • It is no surprise Susan Whisnant has the stand out track on Still The Same.  “Keep Me Close” is a personal reflection type song that all Christians can relate.
  • Susan is also featured on a uniquely titled song, “Keep Counting Stars”.  This Sandy Blythe penned tune recounts the story of Abraham waiting for a son and spending time counting stars.
  • Listeners are treated to a crying steel guitar on three songs from Still The Same.  Thank you!  Jeff happens to be featured on all three.  “I’ve Seen What It Can Do” is the strongest of the three and should be considered for radio single possibilities.
  • Jeff also re-records the Mark Lanier classic, “The Ground Is Level”.  The song was made popular by the Bibletones when Mark Lanier was a member.  Mark then took the song to Perfect Heart when he joined them in the early ’90’s.
  • Lead/tenor vocalist Aaron Hise gets to shine on the up-tempo “Caught Away”.  This song is going to make a fun live concert tune.
  • Producer Trey Ivey makes a special vocal appearance on Still The Same with his performance of “Faithful”.  A definite must listen!
  • Strongest songs included in order:  “Keep Me Close”, “Caught Away”, “Faithful”, “I’ve Seen What It Can Do”, “The Ground Is Level”, “Keep Counting Stars”, “He’s Never Moved” and “The Last Time I Saw Him”.
CRITIQUE:
  • While I enjoyed Trey’s piano interlude on the group’s cover of the Cathedral classic, “I’m Gonna Live Forever”; the arrangement didn’t quite fit the Whisnants.  The piano work reminded me of something one would find in a Charlie Brown holiday special!
  • The Whisnants hiding such a strong recording by not having it available for digital download.  I still don’t get it.
  • Weakest songs included in order:  “Why” and “I’m Gonna Live Forever”.

WRAP UP:

It is amazing how a specific producer can make a group sound.  The production work of Trey Ivey may have given the Whisnants one of the best sounding recordings of their career.  The Whisnants also win points on song selection!

SONG/Featured Vocalist – Songwriter:  1. “He’s Never Moved”/Ensemble – Wendy Ferguson, Joseph Habedank, Devin McGlamery  2. “Keep Me Close“/Susan – Monty Lane Allen, Reba Rambo McGuire, Tery Wilkins  3. “I’ve Seen What It Can Do“/Ensemble; Jeff – Rodney Griffin  4. “Caught Away”/Aaron – Janice Crow  5. “Why”/Susan – Jim Brady, Melissa Brady  6. “The Lord Has Stood By Me”/Jeff – Kyla Rowland  7. “I’m Gonna Live Forever”/Aaron – Shirley Cantrell  8. “Keep Counting Stars”/Susan – Sandy Blythe  9. “The Last Time I Saw Him”/Jeff – Niles Borop, Sue C Smith, Dianne Wilkinson  10. “Faithful”/Trey Ivey – Joel Galloway, Megan Mulnix  11. “The Ground Is Level”/Jeff – Mark Lanier  12. “Lord Of All Of Me”/Susan – Rachel McCutcheon, Dale Spencer

4th Annual Southern Gospel Views From The Back Row Honors

It is that time of year where we start looking at the best Southern Gospel had to offer in 2017.  Thus, brings the 4th annual Southern Gospel Views from the Back Row Honors.  As in years past, I will choose the five nominees in each category and you the reader will decide the winner.

I will do my best to be as objective as possible in choosing the artists, albums and songs that defined 2017.  Here is the list of this year’s categories.  Who do you think represents the best of 2017?  I will announce nominees Thursday (11/09/17).

  1. Album (has to be a 2017 release)
  2. Album Cover Design (2017 album release with the best album cover art/design)
  3. Recorded Song (recorded on a 2017 album release, does not have to be a radio single)
  4. Single (top radio single of 2017, charted nationally between January and December 2017)
  5. Song Cover (previously recorded song, covered on a 2017 album release)
  6. Songwriter (top individual songwriter of 2017, based on album/chart success)
  7. Artist – Breakthrough/New (new artist who found success in 2017)
  8. Artist – Duo/Trio (vocal configuration with no more than three vocalists)
  9. Artist – Mixed Group (vocal configuration with a combination of at least four male/female vocalists)
  10. Artist – Quartet (vocal configuration with four male vocalists)
  11. Artist – Solo (vocal configuration of one)
  12. Vocalist – Alto (top alto vocalist in any group configuration for 2017)
  13. Vocalist – Baritone (top baritone vocalist in any group configuration for 2017)
  14. Vocalist – Bass (top bass vocalist in any group configuration for 2017)
  15. Vocalist – Lead (top lead vocalist in any group configuration for 2017)
  16. Vocalist – Soprano (top soprano vocalist in any group configuration for 2017)
  17. Vocalist – Tenor (top tenor vocalist in any group configuration for 2017)

Questions & Answers: Mercy’s Well

GRADE:  B+

  • Album:  Questions & Answers
  • Artist:  Mercy’s Well
  • Label:  Custom
  • Style:  Traditional, Progressive
  • Release Date:  09/22/17
  • Digital Download:  Yes (Apple Music)
  • Running Time:  41 Minutes

SYNOPSIS:

Today we take a look at the latest album from Mercy’s Well, Questions & Answers.

The North Carolina based trio took previously released songs and made them sound brand new.  What also made the album so enjoyable is they mainly chose songs that haven’t been recorded 1,000 times before.

If you’ve never been introduced to the music of Mercy’s Well, the trio is composed of Brad Strider (tenor), Jake Wood (lead) and Greg Gainer (baritone).

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • I so enjoyed hearing song covers that haven’t been over recorded.  “At The Name Of Jesus” was first recorded by New Journey in 1993 and Glen Payne heard New Journey perform the song and had to record it himself, which the Cathedrals did (High And Lifted Up).  Mercy’s Well makes the song sound like their own!
  • Other artists, take note.  “Who Am I” is not the only song written by Rusty Goodman.  Mercy’s Well covers one of my favorite Rusty Goodman solo singles, “Jesus Knows All About It”.  Hit repeat!
  • The album kicks off with the trio covering a Hinsons song from 1979, “Who Do You Know”.  I am not aware of any other artist ever covering this song.  Again, Mercy’s Well makes it sound brand new!
  • Of all the songs with the title “Jesus Saves”, again Mercy’s Well chooses one that has not been covered by other artists.  The group goes with the song penned by Joel Hemphill and originally recorded by the Hemphills in 1986 (I Can Smile).
  • The trio also takes Lanny Wolfe’s classic, “Seeking For Me” and absolutely gives it a new arrangement making for a strong Southern Gospel radio single choice.
  • The first single from Questions & Answers is a Heaven Bound classic from 1985, “When We Make It To The Other Side”.  An absolutely awesome Southern Gospel ‘barn burner’.
  • The arrangements and song selection on Questions & Answers is some of the best I’ve heard in 2017!
  • Strongest songs included in order:  “At The Name Of Jesus”, “Jesus Knows All About It”, “Seeking For Me”, “Who Do You Know”, “Jesus Saves”, “When We Make It To The Other Side”, “Who Do You Think” and “Keeper Of The Well”.
CRITIQUE:
  • The group didn’t quite score 100% on the song cover choices.  They did decide to record the over recorded “Sheltered In The Arms Of God”.
  • Mercy’s Well also decided to record a Michael W Smith Praise/Worship song, “Shine On Us”, to close out the recording; that didn’t quite fit the rest of the album.
  • Weakest songs included in order:  “Sheltered In The Arms Of God” and “Shine On Us”.

WRAP UP:

Mercy’s Well knows what they are doing when it comes to recording previously recorded songs.  This may be one of the best albums of song covers I’ve heard.  It is also one of the most enjoyable listens of 2017!

SONG/Featured Vocalist – Songwriter:  1. “Who Do You Know”/Jake – Kenny Hinson, Larry Hinson, Ronny Hinson  2. “At The Name Of Jesus“/Greg – Pamela Hall  3. “Who Do You Think“/Ensemble; Jake – Don Reid, Harold Reid  4. “When We Make It To The Other Side”/Ensemble – Jeff Gibson  5. “Sheltered In The Arms Of God”/Brad – Jimmie Davis, Dottie Rambo  6. “Seeking For Me”/Jake; Brad – Lanny Wolfe  7. “Jesus Knows All About It”/Greg – Rusty Goodman  8. “Jesus Saves”/Brad – Joel Hemphill  9. “I’ll Be So Happy There”/Ensemble; Brad – Lari Goss  10. “Thinking About Home”/Jake – Terry Toler  11. “Keeper Of The Well”/Brad; Ensemble – Dottie Rambo  12. “Shine On Us”/Ensemble – Deborah Smith, Michael W Smith