Goodbye, Ryan; Hello (again) Devin, Roy, and Josh (and Gus, too!)
So I guess I ought to have an opinion about all the personnel changes that happened while I was away for the holidays. They were, evidently, very exciting (”!!!” according to the Singing News release about Gold City’s most recent upheaval). Fortunately, most of what can be said about these changes already has been thoroughly hashed out here.
Until we hear more from these groups in their new configurations, there’s not a lot to say about the soundness of these decisions from a musical perspective. As for the extra-musical stuff, the changes themselves and the reactions to them are nothing so much as a reminder of how powerful personality is in southern gospel. If these two groups - SSQ and Gold City - are (as we are so often encouraged to believe) representative of the “next generation” of talent, their recent choices suggest it’s back to future.
Gold City is, by all available evidence, a mess, and they’re about one more personnel change away from jumping the shark. In this most recent set of changes, one assumes that in bringing on Roy Webb, with the veneer of hipsterism he seems to possess for many people in sg, and bringing back Josh Cobb from … wherever he’s been for the past decade since he left L5, the Rileys were attempting to not just create some short-term (and, for a change, positive) buzz, but also assemble something of an instant Super Group reminiscent of the Free-Parker-LeFevre configuration that the group’s prolonged dysfunction has made many fans publicly pine for. Because there are basically two ways to do supergroupdom: work at it for years and prove yourself, as per GC in 1990s, or jumble together an oddball mix of guys and hope the voices interact catalytically and fuse into a lasting style with a memorable sound (the Old Friends quartet operated on this principle, as do many of the pick-up ensembles featured on the Homecoming series).
The jury’s still out on this, shall we say, Cobb-Webb strategy, but the clips that have been making the rounds on youtube are … just ok, even allowing for the crummy recording quality of the videos. Cobb will, I assume, reacclimate himself to ensemble singing sooner or later (not surprisingly, for a guy who’s basically been doing his own thing musically for the past ten years, his solo work on “Satisfied with Jesus” is the strongest of his GC clips I’ve seen so far), and perhaps Webb - who’s proven himself to be a pretty funny and charismatic guy - can help the rest of the group get … you know, maybe a personality transplant for their on-stage personae. I have no idea what one is to do about the tone and blend issues this new line-up faces (as Kyle said over at musicscribe, the real test of the group’s sonic viability will be whether the “character of their sound” coheres with Cobb in the mix), but that’s the beauty of personality-driven personnel decisions, isn’t it? The sound succeeds with fans as a function of how much they (want to) like the people doing the singing, and not the sound itself (see, for instance, these clips, and then this comment).
As for SSQ, anyone who has been a regular reader here knows I’ve long thought Devin McGlamery underrated, so it’s impossible to say he isn’t qualified for the job (and too, he’s been cultivating a look and style for himself very similar to SSQ’s for quite some time). But it’s striking that SSQ, for all the conventional wisdom about the group making its name and coming to fame by being (or appearing to be) post-gospel, Haase stayed so safely within the southern gospel mainstream for this hire. Choosing McGlamery won’t disrupt SSQ’s crossover mystique, and there’s probably plenty smart about the choice in its own right. We’ll see. But the fact the group was so quick to draw from the traditional sg talent pool does suggest that SSQ’s image as herald of a progressive gospel sound that appeals to all sorts of folks who wouldn’t otherwise cross the street to hear sg is primarily valuable within southern gospel, as a way to differentiate the group’s brand.
Now, if we just get some better bootlegs of these groups to see how they progress in the coming months …
Later: A reader quite rightly takes me to task for failing to mention Gus Gaches’ arrival at L5. Just so. Welcome, Gus! He joined before my holiday hiatus but after the last roundup post of the year, and I see a note now that I look for it on my desk that was to remind me to mention it. Boo on
me my slatternly interns. I did see some shaky handheld video clips of the group with Gaches, shot from the balcony of a church with a giant Christmas tree looking thing at the back of the stage and a living room rug where the singers were standing, and the sound seemed solid and well enough put together, but then Gaches is no stranger to quartet work, and L5 is reliably drama free in its personnel changes. Which, I think, probably accounts both for why I overlooked it and for why the move hasn’t generated nearly the kind of chatter that the GC stuff has. Anyway, for L5, the issue is less one of blend and vocal fit, which seems to have been established in the audition (a novel idea!) and more a question of consistently finding the right material. So yeah … we’ll see.