Saturday News Roundup #57

It’s two days till NQC. That means that, as usual for this season, there are all sorts of news stories—far more than could be covered in the daily posts.

  • Ernie Haase and Signature Sound’s recent rendition of the National Anthem at a NASCAR race was so good that Atlanta Motor Speedway President / General Manager Ed Clark stated, “In my 18 years here at Atlanta Motor Speedway never have we received this level of praise for the performance of our national anthem before one of our events.” If properly packaged—put another way, if people can just get over their misconceptions of the genre—Southern Gospel’s top groups can more than hold their own with the best acts from any other genre.
  • Derrick Boyd and Jake Sammons have joined the Toney Brothers. Boyd has sung tenor with the Dixie Melody Boys, Blackwood Gospel Quartet, Heavenbound, Carolina Boys, Melody Masters Quartet, and Ken Turner and New Millenium. Sammons will be singing baritone and playing keyboards, and plans to focus more on keyboards once George Amon Webster returns to the road. He recently toured as part of the Booth Brothers’ live band.
  • Tim Williams resigned from Gerald Williams’ Melody Boys Quartet last week. Past TMBQ tenor Mike Franklin will be filling in until a permanent replacement is selected.
  • The Bowling Family plans to make their first public appearance since their bus crash next Tuesday on the NQC main stage. Whether their voices are fully back or not, merely the few steps’ climb up to the stage will be a visible answer to so many prayers that I predict a standing ovation before the first song.
  • Finally, the cutest Southern Gospel video of the week would have to be the Hayes Family children singing “Something More than Gold.” Their pitch, though not perfect, is remarkable; overheard in the studio: “They sing better than some of the groups that come through here!” It sounds like a third generation of the Hayes Family is a strong possibility.

I will only be able to be at the National Quartet Convention from Wednesday-Saturday, but plan to post coverage for those final four days.

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Concert Review: Ernie Haase & Signature Sound (Anderson, IN)

Earlier this evening, Ernie Haase & Signature Sound did a live video taping for their Cathedrals Tribute 2 DVD / 2 CD project that’s coming out later this year.

  • Wedding Music – featuring bass singer Tim Duncan. Ernie Haase’s power tag was so strong that his almost-unamplified voice could be heard in the balconies before he lifted the microphone to his mouth.
  • Step Into the Water – featuring Tim. Energetic, and the audience loved it.
  • Boundless Love – Remember the power tag, modulating up several times at the end? Ernie Haase sang both that and a third above that at multiple points.
  • I’m Gonna Live Forever – featuring Ernie. The lyric about name hung on lights on a marquee was slightly ironic given the setting, but I suppose, literally speaking, it wasn’t hung in lights.
  • Yesterday – featuring lead singer Devin McGlamery. He did a great job on a song typically thought of as a bass solo.
  • Oh What a Savior – featuring Ernie, and, of course, receiving a massive standing ovation. If Ernie puts this song this early in the program, you know very good things are in store for later. There’s a little musical riff at the end of the line “His hands were nail scarred” in the final chorus where, in his early Cathedrals days, Ernie used to go up to the fifth (high D-flat, with a brief E-flat) instead of singing a straight third (B-flat); fittingly for a Cathedrals tribute project, he revisited that little riff. While many of the songs had new, creative twists, this is a song so long associated with Haase that this nod back to the original arrangement was a little gem for Cathedrals buffs passionate enough to be paying attention to the little details.
  • Old Convention song – band members Wayne Haun (at piano) and Tracey Phillips (at keyboard) swapped spots, and Phillips offered a fantastic convention-style intro, so good that Haase stopped the song and had her do it again.
  • Wonderful Grace of Jesus – five-part acapella arangement, featuring pianist Wayne Haun on the fifth part.
  • Sinner Saved By Grace – baritone Doug Anderson and lead Devin McGlamery both had solos. Doug’s solo was one of the strongest of the night; I wasn’t entirely sure what to think of the first few lines of Devin’s solo, but he finished so strongly that the song would have to go down as one of the night’s highlights.
  • My Heart is a Chapel – featuring Ernie. This is the first of a string of songs from their Influenced projects that weren’t actually recorded by the Cathedrals, but Haase tied them into the program by discussing how much the groups who came before had inspired the Cathedrals.
  • Swinging on the Golden Gate – featuring Doug.
  • Walk With Me – featuring Ernie. Bill Gaither came out to play piano on this one. He is masterful at getting an audience to underestimate his skills, whether on piano or otherwise—and just as good in turning that audience mis-calcuation around into getting a strong response for the song he’s setting up. The song received a standing ovation.
  • Can He, Could He, Would He. On this song, Wayne Haun came on stage playing a tuba – the wraparound sort where the player stands inside. Tracey Phillips was also playing a different instrument – perhaps a flute, but it was somewhat hard to tell from the balcony. Several children came up and started dancing part-way through the song; I thought I spotted Doug Anderson’s daughters, so it was probably planned, but it was still a fun little touch.
  • Life Will Be Sweeter Someday
  • Mexico – Wayne Haun moved from piano to xylophone on this one, and Tracey Phillips played a Mexican gourd-based rattle percussion instrument. A stage hand came out with sombreros midway through the song and placed one on each member’s head, providing for a nice little comedic moment.
  • [There may have been another song here, but I can't read my notes scribbled hastily in near-darkness; check Nate Stainbrook's blog for the song. Nate and I sat together, and I know he was also taking notes.]
  • Beulah Land – featuring Squire Parsons on a surprise guest vocal. Parsons got a standing ovation upon walking out on stage.
  • God Delivers Again – featuring Tim.
  • He Made a Change – featuring Doug, who delivered a spot-on perfect rendition. Co-author Joel Lindsey was in the audience and was recognized from stage. Haase and Duncan delivered power tenor and bass parts, respectively.
  • Movin’ up to Gloryland – Haase had the drummer, bass guitarist, and several band members do the “moo-oo-oo-oovin’” part on the chorus; Tim Duncan provided a great comedy moment when he asked to (and attempted) the part.
  • Haase introduced several of the songwriters (Joel Lindsey, Dianne Wilkinson) and family members (Glen’s and Roger’s widows, and numerous members of the Payne and Younce families). These were some of the most moving moments of the evening.
  • Laughing Song – George Younce’s son George Lane sang the first verse – the only verse with words. Though he might not have the same level of range or command that fifty years of stage performance gave his father, his voice has a very similar tone and timbre, and it was one of the night’s most unexpected pleasant surprises.
  • I Thirst – featuring Doug and Ernie. Simple, laid-back, but incredibly emotive performance. It’s one of those night’s hidden highlights that will bear up well under dozens of replays.
  • Champion of Love – featuring Wayne Haun. Standing ovation, and Wayne is now on his way to being known for his vocal abilities—much like another pianist a quarter-century ago who was not known for vocal abilities until the song came out.
  • Plan of Salvation – featuring Tim
  • We Shall See Jesus – featuring Devin McGlamery on the first verse, group harmonies on the second, and a video replay of Glen Payne singing the last verse (from the Cathedrals’ Farewell video). While I would have liked to hear the audience response had Devin carried the song all the way through, bringing Glen in was probably the safest route, and . . . what can I say, it worked, and it’s hard to argue with success. The new arrangement brought the house down, with a decibel level approaching twice the response to anything else all night.
  • Gaither Medley (Gentle Shepherd / Something About That Name / I Will Serve Thee / Jesus, We Just Want to Thank You)
  • Search Me – video of George & Glen singing the song, again from the Cathedrals’ Farewell project.
  • This Old House – featuring Tim. The audience stood through the whole song.
  • Boundless Love encore – audience stood throughout.

This should make for an enjoyable two-DVD set, to be released some time within the next few months.

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Guest CD Review: Influenced II (Ernie Haase and Signature Sound)

In a recent discussion in the comments, NewSoGoFan offered to take an item off my to-do list, reviewing Ernie Haase and Signature Sound’s latest CD. Once someone has proven that they can write and have insight to offer, I’m all for giving them a shot to be heard. Plus, the deal includes a day off! So, here’s this site’s first ever guest CD review. ~Daniel

The first thing I noticed when I got home and opened my copy of Influenced: Spirituals and Southern Classics was the design of the CD. They’d literally designed it to look like an old-fashioned record—handsome black grooves and all. It put a smile on my face—just a nice, classy touch. The liner notes are nicely put together as well. There’s a classy new group shot on the back cover with a note from Wayne Haun, then musician and songwriter info on the inside. Lyrics would have been a nice addition, but musician info was certainly a must for this sort of project, so I’m glad they included it. It’s just a cool thing to know exactly who had those sweet banjo licks or that killer fiddle solo, even if I don’t know the name from Adam.

Now without further ado…on to the songs!

  1. The Bible Told Me So (featuring Devin): This is a cute, up-tempo way to get the project going. They always open their concerts with this song, so anybody reading this who’s seen the group recently knows that it’s an Ecclesiastes paraphrase: “There’s a time to laugh and a time to cry/A time to live and there’s a time to die, etc.” Nothing heavy, but it does its job as a nice intro to the record and to Devin’s voice. Tight, polished harmonies as usual.
  2. Who’ll Be a Witness? (featuring Tim): I love how this begins with just a creeping bass and finger-snapping. I do think the whispered “witneeeeess” is a bit distracting. But I like the sudden switch from the initial lean rhythm backbone and unison singing to full instrumentation and harmony. This song isn’t my favorite spiritual—it doesn’t have much of a tune and drags somewhat. But the guys do a good job with it. You can tell they’re having a lot of fun, and for me as a listener, that enhances my own enjoyment of it. Tracey Phillips’s piano work is impeccable and easily steals the show.
  3. If God Didn’t Care (featuring Devin): I just really like how this one flows. It’s a slow, swaying piece with a bit of a Cathedrals sound. I like the precision of the vocals. Devin delivers a very smooth, rich performance. All the guys sound great on this track as a matter of fact. Ernie handles some very high harmony with his usual ease and confidence, Timmy provides some great “basement work,” and Doug and Devin flesh out the sound beautifully.
  4. That’s How Rhythm Was Born (featuring Ernie): This was the probably the most unusual cover choice for the record. For a change, the guys picked something originally done by a female group—the Boswell Sisters. But astonishingly, they make it sound like it was written for them. Just one more piece of evidence that these guys can literally pick anything they like and make it their own. Appropriately, the production on this song has a very strong 40′s feel. The classic, tight-knit band sound and the various instrumental improvisations make me feel like I’m sitting in on the Boswell Sisters’ own recording session. But that’s the idea, of course. The highlight of the song is when Glen Duncan cuts loose on the fiddle during the musical bridge. I was immediately reminded of Joe Venuti, a popular studio violinist in the era this song was pulled from. What with one thing and another, this song literally inspired me to go pull out my collection of Bing Crosby & Andrews Sisters duets—it sounds that authentic. Of course, the lyric makes reference to banjos, so the production wouldn’t be complete without some dexterous pickin’ in the mix—listen closely at the end for some sweet descending licks. Interestingly, I feel like this song actually loses some of its flavor done live, mainly because they’re working with a limited live band, so the more colorful bits of production (banjo, fiddle) get lost in the process.
  5. It’s Good to See the Sun (featuring Ernie): Nothing ground-breaking here, just a nice, slow, mellow piece about enjoying the sunshine of life while you have it. Although it’s arranged to sound like an old song, the lyrics suggest that it’s something newer. It is in fact co-penned by Haase, Haun, and Lindsey. Once again, Tracey Phillips provides the glue that holds the band together, expertly setting the mood with some delicious chords at the intro and closing with a lovely, tumbling waterfall of notes. Recommended listening on a lazy summer’s day.
  6. Walk Over God’s Heaven (featuring Doug): I guessed from the samples that this was going to be a favorite before I ever heard it. I was right. The main instrument is (I believe) an electric guitar, and man,  it just takes it away. I love how it never plays the same lick twice—it’s tweaked a little each time to keep things interesting. And then I love when the upright bass takes over at the end—too sweet! And the b-3 organ spices things up beautifully throughout. Doug is obviously having a ball (as are all the guys) and does a great job. So I think I’ve got this straight now…we’re gonna walk in the shoes, shout in the robe, and dance in the crown. Sounds good. Let’s crank up the volume and hit the road! If this ain’t driving music, I don’t know what is. Roll down the windows? Sure, who’s gonna stop me? I mean the guy next to me is blaring his heavy metal or whatever at 200 decibels, why not blare some good gospel back at him?
  7. My Brother’s Keeper (featuring Devin): Another smooth ballad. I like the acapella “ooooos” to kick it off—bit schmaltzy, but what the heck, I’m a sucker for schmaltz. Lyrically, it’s your typical “my brother is every man” lyric, but I like how it turns around at the end: “Today I’m my brother’s keeper/But tomorrow he may be mine.” Makes you think a little bit. Oh yes, and I’d say this is definitely Devin’s strongest feature on the project. He’s comfortably within his range and sounds very natural and confident, with a nice, full-bodied tone.
  8. Old-Fashioned Love (featuring Ernie): Well, even good projects deserve a little filler…honestly, this is the only track I didn’t import into my iTunes library when I got the CD. This features the famous kazoo solo, which has become the centerpiece of a comedy routine so popular that it’s literally spawned a new product in the EHSS store—plastic kazoos! But let’s be honest…while the routine is very funny done live, the song itself is rather forgettable. And the kazoo…well let’s just say it doesn’t help. Again, makes a good comedy routine, but once you remove the live element, the end product leaves something to be desired.
  9. Let It Go (featuring Tim): I just love songs I can relate to with my own personal life experiences. I love songs that meet me where I am. Case in point, this irresistible little number reminding us to let go of our grudges before we blow our tops. I fondly recall an incident from my early driving years…like a good citizen, I was making a right turn into the nearest available lane. I couldn’t possibly be in anybody’s way—or so I thought. That thought went right out the window when some idiot turned left into the exact same lane, forcing me to practice my defensive driving skills (read: slam the brakes) to avoid an unfortunate scene for all concerned. So you can imagine how moved I was when the following lyric from this song caught my ear: “Somebody at the traffic light/Was turning left as you turned right/They cut you off and drove from sight/So where’s that golden rule?” I couldn’t believe it—God surely must have inspired the writer to write this just for me. It just spoke to my heart. I’m getting a little teary-eyed just thinking about it. Excuse me while I go grab a tissue or two… Okay, just kidding. But let’s just say it struck a little close to home!
  10. It’s My Desire (featuring Devin): This is the “listen to our new lead” number that Ernie’s taken to having Devin sing at each concert. I like the song—though it does come off as a slightly inferior version of “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” But Devin does a nice job with it. Interestingly, they leave off the key change after the first verse when they do this one live. Listening to the studio cut, I can see why—Devin does sound a little strained after the key change. But he finishes strong, and the backup harmonies are just right—they accentuate and complement Devin’s work without being overpowering.
  11. His Name is Wonderful: I pronounce this the gem of the project. It’s completely acapella, which accentuates the harmonic interplay of the vocals. It starts in B flat, which happens to be the same key in which the group has taken to doing “Wonderful Grace of Jesus.” They throw in an unexpected chord shift at the end of the first “almighty God is he”—they hold out a four-three suspension, but instead of immediately resolving to the one, everybody else holds his place while the baritone steps down from a B flat to an A flat for a momentary key change to D flat. Only then do they collapse back to the one for the rest of the chorus. I’m not sure if I’m entirely on board with it yet, but it’s a neat twist. There’s some great moving harmony second time through the chorus, and this time they all change key to D flat together and stay there for the rest of the song. The ending is just gorgeous—wonderfully lush, intricate chords. I can’t say enough good things about this arrangement. I hope they do more acapella work of this caliber on future projects. As of yet, they’ve only begun to dip their toes into it, but here’s hoping they continue to explore this sound. Frankly, I’d like to see them do an entire record acapella one of these days—perhaps an all-hymns project reminiscent of the Cathedrals’ Worship His Glory.

Conclusion: Comparing this project to something like Get Away Jordan or Dream On is like comparing soft chalk to bright marker. As with Influenced I, the guys obviously worked hard to create a deliberately vintage sound. Though the production is crisp and full, there’s a down-to-earth, spontaneous feel to the instrumentation (and the vocals for that matter). It’s precise without being glossy. It doesn’t feel “slick” or “packaged.” I haven’t yet figured out whether they recorded their vocals on only two microphones like they did for Influenced I. Cover art aside, I suspect they may not have, but even if they didn’t, they did an excellent job capturing that same style they were aiming for with I1. However, I think this project is a little tighter since they dropped the whole radio show concept from the first volume (which was cute, but disrupted the flow of the songs somewhat). Plus, if you don’t count the intro, outro, and “poetry corner” track from I1, you’re getting one more song for your money—11 versus 10. So for those reasons, I might give this sequel the edge over the first project, but I’d have to listen to more songs from the first one to be sure.

Ultimately, if you’re looking for big ballads with powerful, deeply moving lyrics, you won’t find them here. This is a pretty light, easy-listening album. But that’s exactly what it was intended to be. It’s not a landmark project, but it’s a solid, enjoyable collection of songs that not only serves as Devin’s major debut, but also showcases the group’s maturing sound. This album is further proof that all “boy band” comparisons are yesterday’s news. It’s the work of a seasoned quartet who’s discovering that sometimes less is more. Until their next big project (which is of course the Cathedrals tribute CD/DVD combo), fans of the group will find plenty to keep them satisfied here in the meanwhile.

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Video: Signature Sound prepares for Cathedrals Taping

Signature Sound is preparing for their Cathedrals tribute video taping in July by trying out the songs on audiences across the country. Here’s a video of them singing “Step Into the Water.”

Update: A friend sent me a link to another one—Wayne Haun joining them to sing “Champion of Love.” Incredible.

Seriously—who knew Wayne had it in him?

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Concert Review: Signature Sound (Willoughby Hills, OH)

On Thursday, I had the chance to see Signature Sound live in Willoughby Hills, Ohio. As I mentioned here, making it on time was a tight endeavor, but I pulled in at 6:48 for the 7:00 concert. It was a general admission concert, so that meant sitting in the middle of the back row, but the sound quality tends to be best toward the back of the room, so that wasn’t a bad thing.

  • The Bible Told Me So. This featured new lead singer Devin McGlamery; he sounded great with the group. His job prior to joining Karen Peck & New River was singing lead for Ed O’Neal’s Dixie Melody Boys, and he’s getting back into his old groove smoothly.
  • Glory to God in the Highest. This got Signature Sound their first standing ovation of the night. (How often does a group get a standing ovation two songs into their set?)
  • Who’ll be a Witness. This featured Tim Duncan, who was as good as I’ve ever heard him.
  • Reason Enough. Laid back and classy, like the studio version.
  • Changed By a Baby Boy. I predict that people will ultimately think of this as Devin McGlamery’s song, even though Ryan Seaton was on the original rendition. He was on fire with this one.
  • It’s My Desire. Devin got a strong reaction with this song, as well.
  • Let it Go. This was a spiritual featuring Tim Duncan.
  • Thank God For Kids. This was baritone Doug Anderson’s first big feature of the night. The group chose the relaxed, sitting-on-stools staging for this song, and it worked.
  • Band Intros: Signature Sound had a four-piece band, partially because pianist Wayne Haun had to be out the next day. (He was conducting the orchestra for the Collingsworth Family’s video taping in Flint, Michigan last night.) So renowned studio pianist Tracey Phillips was along for the weekend. It was the first night they’d ever had a lady performing in their band, and she did not disappoint. She alternated with Wayne on piano and keyboards through the night. Zach Schumate was playing drums, and David Griffith was playing bass guitar.
  • Wonderful Grace of Jesus. Wayne Haun came out from behind the piano to join Signature Sound for a five-part rendition. The song had a more full sound, particularly in the baritone/lead area.
  • Climbing Higher and Higher. At this point, Signature Sound switched to two-microphones for a portion of their set.
  • Old Fashioned Love. Ernie Haase introduced the song by honoring a couple celebrating their fiftieth anniversary at the concert that night. Also notable was his kazoo solo (which got an enthusiastic response).
  • Swinging on the Golden Gate. Doug Anderson took the primary lead on this old spiritual.
  • Since Jesus Passed By. Tim Duncan has been singing this song for a year or two, and never fails to get a strong response. It’s a nice, mellow arrangement that simply works.
  • It’s Good to see the Sun. I actually hadn’t realized this was a new song until Ernie Haase mentioned that it was new but sounded old.
  • Then Came the Morning. Standing ovation.
  • The Old Landmark. Another standing ovation.

At intermission, I taped the interview with Ernie Haase that went up yesterday.

The second set:

  • Love is Like a River. Devin McGlamery did a surprisingly strong performance on Marshall Hall’s solo.
  • Swing Down Chariot.
  • Old Convention Song. Ernie mentioned from the stage at this point that they were getting ready for a Cathedrals project / video taping, and this was going to be one of the songs they included.
  • That’s How Rhythm was Born. I’m honestly not sure if this song (from Influenced 2) is an old spiritual I hadn’t been familiar with, or a new song that sounds old.
  • Get Away Jordan. Standing ovation. Signature Sound doesn’t do a huge amount of choreography anymore, but there was some on this song. Devin had the moves down.
  • Until We Fly Away. This featured Doug Anderson.
  • Going Home. This featured Devin McGlamery.
  • Reason Enough encore. Wayne Haun sang some of the lead lines.
  • Oh What a Savior. Ernie Haase delivered his predictably powerful rendition. Many tenors sing the song, and interject some power and feeling. But Haase’s rendition is different in a way that’s difficult to capture in writing. There is a certain confidence and intimate familiarity with the lyric and melody that comes from singing the song nightly for two decades that other renditions cannot quite capture.
  • Amen.
  • Old Landmark encore.

Every time I have seen Signature Sound, they have delivered an excellent live show. But the live band took the show to an entirely new level. Yes, there were a few soundtracks here and there, but most of the program featured the live band either predominantly or by itself.

I frequently see discussions of Southern Gospel fans wishing the live band would return. For those of you who have been part of those discussions, go out and buy a ticket to see Signature Sound on this tour. Even if they aren’t your #1 favorite group, encourage other groups to bring the live band back by making this tour a success.

No, nobody paid me to say that! I want to see live bands come back as much as anyone, so I just put my money where my mouth is by buying a ticket and going out to see Thursday’s concert.

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Question of the Week: Ernie Haase

I had the opportunity to catch up with Ernie Haase at last night’s concert about Signature Sound’s upcoming Cathedrals Tribute project. It’s a 3-minute mini-interview:

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Attending Signature Sound concert tonight

I’m planning to attend a Signature Sound concert tonight.

It has been two or three years since I saw them live, outside of NQC. So while it might seem like an obvious choice to go, there was a complicating factor: I get off work at 5. The concert is at 7. I live roughly 1 hour 45 minutes away. With that little room for error, I almost chose not to go.

But there was a deciding factor: Right now, they are touring with a live band. That makes this enough of an Event, with a capital E, that I can’t miss it.

It’s a point worth noting.

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