The southern gospel herd

The TalleyTree-O blog (yeah, yeah … bad pun) has an interesting cultural experiment going on, though I’m not sure that’s what they had in mind when they posted some samples of the cover art for their next album and asked readers to weigh in. Probably the Talleys only wanted some help on picking the most marketable cover. But in the process, they’ve cracked open a window into the psyche of southern gospel culture. Go look at the proposed covers, and then come back.

Ready? ok.

In general, the comments seem to be running in the direction of this commenter:

I like #1. I do not like the covers where you are split apart. You need to be seen as a trio–not individuals.

Since I wouldn’t have noticed any of this but for a friend, who pointed out the entry to me and offered some cogent thoughts on the issue, I’ll let him amplify all this:

So far, all the commenters but one has shown strong preference for the No. 1 design [which features the family all in one frame, as opposed to the other options, which are various collages of individual photos of each member stitched together]. Many of the comments mention the “family” nature of their preferred choice and that the others look “separate” or “individual.” Definitely an SG statement of culture. If the Talleys don’t pick the “together” shot, I’ll bet they will have some explaining to do. But this is what happens when you try to let the cultural herd rule. Can we extrapolate from this episode and say that this is what holds back the industry’s artistic choices often? Just because the artists think they “know” what the culture will allow, they simply give in. This relates to some of the comments running on your current post “list of the day,” doesn’t it? I was discussing this with a friend of mind and she said the Talleys should just do another post saying that Jesus told them to do the one they liked and to title the post “Jesus Trumps Y’all.”

Heheh. It’s probably not that surprising that southern gospel fans like the optics surrounding their favorite music to reflect their worldview and assumptions about life, but it’s also pretty rare that we get a glimpse inside the process by which these attitudes are reinforced in the interface between fans and artists (or not, in this case, if the Talleys decide to go with something other than the “together” pic).

And perhaps this herd mentality or pre-emptive group think or whatever you call it explains all the unremarkable, paint-by-number tunes that so many artists are recording these days. I put the Booth Brothers’ new cd in the car yesterday and was promptly benumbed by how boring and unimaginative so much of it was (though I don’t mean to pick on them … they’re just what is at the top of the stack). So many of the harmonic intervals and chord progressions and rhythmic patterns felt as if they were transplanted in large, roughly hewn chunks from The Blind Man Saw it All album, but without any of the effort at original writing or arranging.

Half that’s never been told rhymes with streets paved with gold rhymes with who’s writing and choosing this stuff? And this is one of the strongest songs on the album. Really, it is. (I’m not even getting into the hokum about grandpa and fried chicken and all the other double-battered cornpone clogging this album’s arteries). It’s like they’re trying to be the washed out, paler memory of themselves that they hoped the “average” fan might have recalled of the group two years ago when “He Saw it All” was popular. (Before you start lighting the fuse on a flame war in the comments thread, recall that I like the Booths immensely and think they’re among the best things going in sg.)

A lot of people like to turn this kind of criticism around on the critic and say, well, if you think you can do any better why don’t you. The assumption here is that the artists are doing the best they can with the material they’ve got so be grateful you’ve got anything at all. But this Talley’s experiment makes you wonder what kind of material groups are throwing away or passing over, not because they don’t think it’s good music, or that it has potential, but because it’s pre-emptively stricken from contention by the herd mentality and its spokes-cow, sitting on the artists’ shoulder whispering, that’ll never do, it’s too risky, they’ll never buy it, play it safe.

Somebody should put up the top 30 songs that a group is thinking about recording on their next album and see what fans have to say about that.


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  1. nonSGfan wrote:

    The problem is more than just “bad arrangment” or being “Unimaginative”, it’s a lack of DEPTH in the SONGS. Songs make the group. I recently attended a convention where a very small market local group sang a song that the father of the group had written. It was about him leaving home and straying away “On his own”. It was basically a song about the Prodigal, but personlized. IT WAS SO TOUCHING to everybody that there was hardly a dry eye in the building with several hundred people. LYRICS LYRICS LYRICS. Give me something that TOUCHES me, that REACHES ME. Honset to God, give me Dottie Rambo, Ronnie Hinson, and Larry Petree- YES Larry-and I’ll give you DEPTH in music.
    Also, check an elder writer I viewed on youtube named Arlie Petree. The depth of his songs are untouchable. Mckameys and Spencers have done a few of his. SONGS SONGS SONGS SONGS SONGS SONGS.
    Amen brother.

  2. Leebob wrote:

    I have not had a chance to hear the latest project from the Booths and yes you have been very supportive of the boys.

    Isn’t the Booths primary writer Mosie Lister? He generally has depth to his music and yet has the ability to still have a little fun. I will soon get a chance to listen to their latest and make a judgement then but if this is the case it would be surprising and disappointing.

    Some of the problem could be the “expensive project” sandwhich that most groups are going to in which they spend the $40,000 to $60,000 for a project in between some projects that are basically rehashing of old tunes. Just theorizing for now but my guess is that if you spend that kind of money on a project you are going to go out of your way to find the most original (realizing there is nothing new under the sun) songs available. Sad but the expensiveness of these projects is based upon the styling rather than the substance. That having been said, if I am correct, the problem then is that groups are letting money be the deciding factor and we know where that leads.

    Your friend,

  3. Dan Keeton wrote:

    The only problem with pointing fingers at how much money a group spends on a project is that royalties paid for great songs compared to royalties paid on poor songs are the same. LeeBob said it. It then becomes direction in style. Which way do I make this tone or accent this word, that will send the listener into a frenzy? And maybe if I do some “breathy” singing it will move the emotions.

    In Gospel music, the most memorable music to date has lasted because of the lyric. The lyric is the foundation that will hold the building. The longer the music lasts, the bigger and taller the building. What the foundation is made of determines if it will stand or come crumbling down to the ground.

    I’m with nonSGfan, we are not creating and recording lyrics that will creat a lasting foundation. Say what you will about the “death of Southern Gospel”, but when we turn this corner and get back on the main road…and build better foundations, we’ll be raising Southern Gospel from it’s death bed.

  4. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    I have a feeling most Gaither Vocal Band fans right now wish the group would show a little more creativity in song selection and vocal performance. Most of us are missing David Phelps just a little more as each new CD is released. The group, in that particular case, is playing is safe by not taking much in the way of input from the common fan.

    What you’re saying may be true for some artists that have recently peaked, though. Fan input will encourage repeating a proven formula as long as the fans are still happy with it. The best method, in my opinion, is to give fans something they expect coupled with something they didn’t.

    Making the fans part of the process is a wise marketing move when the goal is to sell more CDs and/or individual song downloads, though. If you aren’t going to break much in the way of fresh musical ground, it can boost sales to give the fans a taste of what happens behind the scenes.

  5. Realistic wrote:

    I agree with David Bruce Murray; GVB is struggling a bit. The latest “Lovin’ Life” CD seems to be an odd mix of weak writing and re-runs. Word is that BG allowed the guys in the group to take a bit too much control over this project, and the result seems to be songs like “When I Cry,” the current radio single, which is just not up to the level of great GVB songs.

  6. volscot wrote:

    Leebob - The new BB project only has one Mosie Lister song. Most of the others were written or co-written by Jim Brady.

  7. cynical one wrote:

    Realistic — I doubt Bill gave the guys as much control on song selection as you may think. Gloria normally holds those reigns pretty tightly. I’d be surprised if SHE relenquished much control in that department.

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