GMA week

Amidst the craziness, I let myself sneak down to Nashville for GMA week and catch the Southern Gospel Music Guild Concert on Tuesday Night, and before I forget what happened, I thought I’d synopsize my thoughts, for what their worth. What you think of the Guild concert really depends on your expectations. If you go expecting a praise-a-thon or a revival or a hallowed worship service, you’ll be disappointed. It’s an uber-insider kinda thing that’s as much an opportunity for groups and writers and bidness types to hobnob and kvetch as it is for music. The point of the performances is, as I see it, to establish your showmanship and prove your mettle as crafts(wo)men to your peers - to sing in a room full of singers and students of the stage. I’m not sure what difference it makes that everyone in the back of the room talks their way through the concert. There’s no one there who isn’t already devoted to gospel music in the first place (fan or professional either one), so there’s no impression to be made one way or another. And besides, if everyone had been quiet, we’d have had to endure more of Chanda Pierce’s “comedy.” Anyway, I missed the first few performances, which was too bad, since I really wanted to hear the Talleys and BFA, but when I walked in:

  • The Isaacs were finishing up and with the exception of Ben Isaacs’ preposterously foppish hat (he looks rather like someone trying to play hobo on an afterschool special), the Isaacs were electrifying. They ended their set with a soaring acapella number whose final note Sonya Isaacs landed with the expertise and ornamentation of an unrivaled superstar (Aside 1: I want Momma Isaacs’ job, standing back in the corner of the stage smiling pleasantly while her children do their countrified-popgrass thing so magically).

I don’t remember the exact order but I do recall that sometime after this Hope’s Call was up, and except for getting knobbed and having to reverse the order of their songs because of it, they did quite well. They certainly have their act together musically anyway.

  • At some point Three Bridges came on and sang something with the lyrical repetitiveness of a jack hammer. I confess to tuning out somewhat, but I do remember the emcee repeatedly reminding us that it was their No. 1 song, which was No. 1 right now on the chart where this song was No. 1. I feel like I’m not getting something with them and their act, which is (I gather) not unpopular. Or is it just that sg doesn’t really need a knock-off Neville Brothers act (hat tip, B)? Dunno.
  • JBIF: Another group I don’t really get. The songwriting was earnest but uninspired. The performance was middlin’ to fair. I gather from the father’s behavior on stage that he is typically the charismatic catalyst for the group’s sets, but in a room full of seasoned industry types who it’s probably fair to say are perhaps somewhat more jaded than a typical audience, JBIF’s “we’re gonna have church here tonight” approach to staging their set wasn’t terribly effective. It seemed sincere, but felt strained at the same time.
  • Mike Bowling and his new mixed quartet. I never heard more than three voices at any one time in the mix. And the tall blonde woman who performs in High Praise and Hallelujah mode no matter what the song or the emotional tenor of the moment was very distracting. But I’d like to hear more of them.
  • And then there’s EHSSQ. If they stole the show, I certainly didn’t feel burglarized. This was another performance that felt miscalibrated for the room. They sang well and their choreography was well rehearsed (natch), but similar to JBIF, EHSSQ’s performance felt geared for the wrong audience - an audience in this case that would find the Christian Broadway/Baptist Nightclub dance moves endearing and exciting. I was indeed intrigued by it all, but judging from the response of most of the people around me (who seemed politely amused at best), the dancing came off by turns self-conscious and bizarre. Of course it didn’t help that the stage was pretty small, and EHSSQ’s routine is designed for Gaithersized auditoriums. Still, I guess I expected EH to have a slightly better sense of a room. [Aside 2: Bill is the new George]

The rest of the show was all Crabbs all the time. The Crabbs closed out the first half of the evening and then hosted the second, subtly titled Blur the Lines. This second half of things was basically a showcase for the family’s new Clear Cool label. I stayed long enough to hear First Love. They sounded great, but chose an unfortunate medley of praise songs that sounded remarkably like a Mike Speck choral track, complete with the choral bgvs behind them. It was disappointingly amateurish. I hope before they sign themselves over to the Crabbs they get assurances that the deal comes with some proper A&R development.

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