NQC 10: Thursday night

Good morning, gospel music fans. By now, most of you surely know this drill. I listen and write, you read and tell me how dumb/wrong/stupid/sinful/add-your-own-complaint I am. So there’s no need to make the preamble all that preambly, except to say how great it is to have MNP back with me this year. I’ve already resumed giving her bum directions everywhere, and both of us inadvertently tried to steal someone else’s Buick crossover in the parking lot tonight (sorry Illinois WARPS 48!). In other words, things are back to normal.

Here we go.

Tonight was … strange. By which I mean, uneven, and regularly vexing, irregularly and inefficiently paced, and sometimes just plain weird (illustrative data point: at one point during the Isaacs’ set, Ben Isaacs rested his head way down on his mother’s shoulder while she sang to him and asked her to “hold me.”) The most persistent strangeness had to do with the way the sets were (not) threaded together. Michael Booth was the intermittent emcee, but just as often, the link between two performances would be these odd and super-low quality a/v captures off the internet. There were two particularly confusing selections. The first was the comedian Steve Harvey “introducing” God. No context or anything. Just the video. And then, “Welcome, the Dove Brothers!” Alrighty then. The other, titled “That’s my king,” was a scratchy audio-only segment of a black preacher riffing on ways to describe God’s greatness. The NQC producers had put behind this clip a swelling cinematic soundtrack that grew increasingly louder until it ended with piped in applause. Huh? A few people clapped but I think most of us were just profoundly perplexed.

This was indicative of the clunky and overlong transitions between sets in general that prevented the night from ever feeling like it had some momentum or coherence. One group would come on, and whatever energy that was generated never managed to carry over to the next artist because usually there were these intrusions from the video screen that had very little connection to the music.

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that something was off whatever it is. A friend of mine texted to say as much when we both arrived, and then I ran into some friends of my parents’ and they said the same thing too … and added that last night was the worst NQC evening experience they’ve been to in ages. Maybe it’s the crowd? Attendance seemed visibly down (by at least 500-600, maybe more?). Hard to hold a room that big when it’s half empty by 9:30.

Nevertheless, the night was not without its moments.

Oh Taranda Greene
, how do I heart thee? I have already counted the ways, and counted again, and still you steal the show, beggaring the lowly blogger’s descriptive capacity to out-enthuse himself from one year to the next. I could give you a run down of their set (“Highway to Heaven,” “Whole Lotta Heaven,” and a big monster anthem from her forthcoming album with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, and the Alleluia Hallelujah chorus, which became the evening’s finale), and I could try to convey to you all the astonishing things she did with her voice (and how fantastic she looked), and how she can take an old threadbare piece of furniture like “Highway” and transform it into a vehicle for a cascade of stylistic triumphs – tonight, she managed to sing it as, in this order, a lovely descant, a blues confession, and a show stopping roof-raiser. And that was just the first song. But you’ve read me do something very like this more than once.

It’s not that Greene is the only gifted female vocalist in gospel music. But it increasingly seems inarguably true that she alone in southern gospel today possesses the kind of gifts that would stand her in good stead on a Broadway stage, in the pop solo world, or leading an angel choir. Which is to say, she may sing in the world of southern gospel, but she is not of this lowly world alone.

Jason Crabb turned in perhaps the finest 10 minutes of solo work I’ve heard from the NQC stage … ever. But the best aspect of his set was the little three-piece golden nugget of a combo he had playing for him: Blaine Johnson on keyboards, Michael Rowsey on drums and the masterful Lori Sykes on bass. In a night filled with overproduced tracks of 50+ piece orchestras cranked up to earsplitting levels, these three managed to produce the most exquisite sound by playing far few notes at far a more pleasant volume. Crabb’s set consisted of his walking on stage, calling out some songs to the pit, the trio laying down a bar or two of intro … and then the four of them proceeding to bring to life the music making process (as opposed to performing some stuff by rote) more vividly than anything I’ve experienced – really felt – in a long, long time.

Collingsworth Family: Alright, so they’re kinda cheesy and the wholesomeness rolls off them in uncynical waves of guilt-inducing happiness of seemingly the purest form, but they know how to put on a variety show of considerable accomplishment. The set opened with an acapella arrangement of “Take Time to Be Holy,” a captivating bit of unfudged and fully live harmonizing that included a downward modulation that made me laugh out loud in its clever subtlety. It was like listening to six Martins. The highlight, though, was a trio consisting of the two oldest daughters and Kim Collingsworth. The women created a stackless  sound (as far as I can tell, the family uses no vocal stacks at all) built on the foundation of Kim Collingsworth’s rich, warm and supple alto (her voice reminds me a great deal of Kim Lord’s). Aside from the latter’s unfortunate wardrobe choice (she looked a bit too much like the fruit of the loom grape) and Phil Jr.’s struggle to lay down a clean melody with clearly pronounced words, the set was an undiluted pleasure.

: The good news? Sisters (formerly known as the Ruppes, minus mother Brenda) got some mainstage time tonight. The bad news? They got stuck singing (with the Booths) this musically aimless, conceptually empty-headed tune about brothers and sisters (get it … because they’re “Sisters” and two of the Booths are brothers? Get it?). I would complain about the fact that the song had two borrowed bridges (“We Will Stand” and “We’ll Work Till Jesus Comes”), but these were the best parts of the song. Missed opportunity of the night.

Ball Brothers: more siblings! These guys were making their mainstage debut and they certainly have the right look. Think SSQ with shared DNA. Unfortunately tonight’s performance did not find them quite ready for primetime. Partly they may have been trying too hard. They sang a country gospel tune and a vocal-jazz number after opening with a quartety song, leaving very little lasting impression or coherent image of themselves beyond their familial connection and their big toothy smiles. But more fundamentally, they just didn’t sing terribly well. I mean, two the four vocalists double up in the ensemble (they don’t have a bass singer) and even so, they were still singing four parts most of the time. Eeesh. That said, they worked the crowd well and got a good response out of their big closer, largely on the basis of their front man’s family-savvy set up of the tune.

The Hoppers: Claude Hopper, bless his heart, just ran their set right into the ground with his Uncle Remis schtick. Kim Hopper did her best to salvage things, and of course she knows how to command the show. Pretty quickly, though, the sheer showiness of her presence started to get a wee titch distracting. She remains almost constantly in a state of highly affected queen-diva motion. What with the waving of the arms and the contrived movements of the head, it appeared as though she were conducting a youth orchestra in Flight of Bumblebee. Mind you, she looked like a million bucks and sings amazingly with amazing consistency, but at the point in “On His Authority” where she actually saluted the crowd, it occurred to me that she really just needs to star in her own Broadway revue in Vegas and get it out of her system.

The Perrys: they opened sans Tracy Stuffle with the somewhat forgettable title cut off their new album, Blue Skies. Eventually Tracy joined them for a few numbers, told some heart attack jokes, and they closed huge with “If You Knew Him,” which has simply taken on a life of its own with audiences, against which I am powerless to resist. 

The Booth Brothers: they followed Jason Crabb and his All-Star Band, opening with one of their new Lari Goss tunes, a massively overarranged and gigantically orchestrated thumbsucker of a song that had the consistency of thickly piled ballroom muslin (which was appropriate, since the song sounded like nothing so much as supper club slow-dance number). Historians of Lari Goss’s late style will, I think, come to refer to this as his woodwind phase, so enamored is he with sleepy oboes and drowsy tenor saxes and woozy clarinets and willowy penny whistles. Whatever else they accomplish, theirs is a decidedly sedating effect. Things were only complicated by the set being organized around a bunch downtempo numbers, including “Look For Me” and “Then I Met the Master” (these two songs were broken up by a strange somba-style tune that really would have gone down better with a shot of Cuervo). I struggled with “Then I Met,” not only because it was so slow, but because by the ending, it slammed the upper deck with an unrelenting wall of sound that resembled the finale of a show choir contest.

Michael Booth was in fine form as emcee for both his group and the entire evening. He has a gifted way of deconstructing the artificial nature of the emcee’s role, poking fun at how anyone in that position is required to stall, make cornball jokes, play to the cheap seats, and generally keep things at the lowest-common denominator, all the while doing just these very things. But he struggled tonight vocally, constantly sliding up underneath but never quite fully onto his pitches. He seemed to be trying to compensate by aggressively attacking his consonants and really laying into key phrases. Everybody has off nights of course, and no doubt he’s tired, particularly after talking all night as emcee. But it was hard not to feel kinda bad for him.

Greater Vision: They opened with video clip of horrendous quality from the 1990s when Allman was covering “I’m Too Near Home” with during his first stint with the group. Stan Whitmire then kicked off the song live and off they went. Allman is such an assuring and self-assured presence … it makes him as much a joy to watch and as to hear. Of course he had spend a lot of time in his upper registers to satisfy the comeback curiosity, but he is perhaps most pleasant in his mid and lower ranges. Wolfe spent a lot of time rambling … at one point talking to and about this couple from Spain who heard about the NQC online and decided to make this their first trip to the U.S., and then they liked it so much their first night here they bought some tickets for some of the hotel staff to come too (I told you it was a strange night!).  The center of the set was a  protracted rendition of “I Will Serve Thee,” for which I’m pretty sure Whitmire discovered and executed some passing tones previously unheard by human ears. The good news: No “O Holy Night.” The bad news: a very noticeably unrehearsed version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” Rest, rehearse … whatever.

Isaacs: a disjointed and (contributing the night’s off-kilter feel) a strange set that lurched and crawled from a hymns medley to a turgid rendition of “Yours and Mine” to a saccharine cover of “Little Jimmy Brown,” off their new album.

BFA: alas, one of the worst sets I’ve ever heard from them. Too many slow songs consistently sung out of tune (Bill Shivers was all over the place tonally, which is unlike him). The resulting sound was soupy and sloppy, only further muddled by the instruments and tracks overpowering the pitchy vocals.

Dr. David Jeremiah: It’s the darnedest thing. Every time Jeremiah comes to NQC, he just seems to have finished a new book. Funny how that works out. This year, he’s written a book that allegedly tries to figure out what’s going on the with the economy. As far as I can tell, what he’s seems to have discovered (aside from how to tell “jokes” in which he compares himself to Charles Stanley and Josh McDowell) is that one way for a preacher to get through an economic downturn is to write a book about the “coming economic Armageddon” and sell it to captive audiences at gigs like NQC. Altogether now: “It’s nice work if you get it …”

MTQ: I was out for an Erhler’s break during the opening song of their set, but MNP commandeered my notebook and scrawled: “painfully slow, putrid harmony, and sounds like Martin Cook at the piano.” By the time I got back to my seat, things had become simply loud and nondescript.

HisSong: The tenor, whose voice I am fond of, is the group’s passport to distinction, and that seems to lead him to oversing at times, but I enjoyed them and it was nice to see them back on the mainstage again and sounding more stable and mature over last.

The Webbs: MNP says the son’s lead voice in “Every Knee Shall Bow” was quite pleasant. FWIW, MNP doesn’t say that kind of thing about just any ole body.

Troy Peach and McCray Dove have now advanced to the sudden death-run-off round for Widest Vibrato of the convention.

Quote of the night: “I love live bands, just not enough to pay for them.” –Michael Booth

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  1. Auke wrote:

    Must have been a weird sight big Ben Isaacs resting his head on tiny Lily’s shoulder…..
    You speak highly of Taranda Greene, the few times i heard her sing i wasn’t impressed (i saw a few Gaither videos that featured her)….i thought she sounded like someone was fiddling with the volume-switch….flipping it up and down…
    I must say that since i bought the Perry’s Goodman’s tribute album i warmed up to them.
    Great recap of the night…thanks….i was planning to go to the NQC one day…but i guess i missed the ‘good times’ by a decade or so..

  2. justafan wrote:

    Can a non-male quartet without a great emcee really be getting the type of response that the Collingsworth Family is getting? They got at least a partial standing ovation after each of the four songs they did on Thursday evening. Don’t get it mistaken though…it’s more than just Kim. Phil Collingsworth has one of the premier voices in Southern Gospel music, and they do not utilize his talent enough. Phillip, Jr. is not there yet but is consistently improving as well (doing a solid job during his turn on the verse of the Hoppers song “Yes I Am” – which was performed by the CF, Hoppers and Webbs). Brooklyn has a great tone, a “brightness” and life to her voice that breathes energy into a song. The acapella song they did, “Take Time To Behold Him” was impressively performed, and the Gerald Crabb-penned “I Know” is a very good song as well. Brooklyn, Courtney and Kim were great as always on “Fear Not Tomorrow.” Their peers seem to be awfully impressed by the CF too, and I don’t believe it’s just because the other artists are being supportive of the kids.

    I disagree Doug. I thought the Ball Brothers put together a quality set as well. “I Wouldn’t Miss Heaven For the World” was well-performed, and the smooth, jazzy “Resting In the Peace of God” was also a good song. The Ball Brothers individually have full, smooth sounds. Their individual voices seem very controlled. “It’s About the Cross” was a big band type of sound. Their tenor nailed the end of the song (not the final note but the final build-up as a hole – though the effects were turned up high on his channel). There’s a lot of potential there.

    Brian Free and Assurance didn’t have a great set. I’m not sure that Brian should have closed with a slow song (“I’ll Never Walk Alone”) with a lack of punch since Jeremy just sang “Save Me A Seat At the Table” right before that. How can a group at that level miss the mark that bad. Your set can be below average, but what was good about the set?

    The Hoppers set was standard. I just think they’re doing too many songs that don’t fit them vocally. I like “On the Authority” as a song, but I don’t think it fits Dean’s voice. Therefore, don’t cut it. That song has to fit the male’s voice, or it’s a no-go. For some reason, they did “Something’s Happening” again on Thursday. Why do it on each of your first two main-stage appearances? I don’t get it. It’s just not that well done. The arrangement isn’t that good.

    It was good to see Sisters get a moment of main stage time, singing Jim Brady’s “Brothers and Sisters” along with the Booth Brothers. The song is fluffy.

    The Freemans started singing “I Can’t Even Walk” with 45 seconds left in their set and finished four minutes in. I wonder if they’ll have to shell out the $800 fine.

    Chris Allman is simply too darn good. Greater Vision featured him on the first three songs of their set, and I’m more than glad that was the case. They sang “I’m Too Near Home,” “You Were Faithful Yesterday” and “I Will Serve Thee.” I know that Greater Vision has a new Christmas recording and all, and I’m sure that Gerald was wanting to sell a few CDs. However, why close with “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen?”

    The amount of improvement in Joel Wood and Pat Barker is tremendous. The quartet’s blend is not impressive. Wood was singing much better and far higher than a year ago. Barker is controlled in his singing. Is that the Steve Hurst influence? I’d venture to say yes. The Mark Trammell-led “We’re Going Home” was the big ballad finale. They also did “Gentle Shepherd” with just bass and piano, “That’s Enough For Me To Know” (which Barker led) and “Turn Every Test Into a Testimony.”

    Unlike Doug, I really like the Perrys new song “Blue Skies Coming.” The set was almost identical to Tuesday’s set, with Tracy coming on stage for same two songs at the end of the set (“His Love Lights the Way” and “If You Knew Him”). They also did “It Was the Blood.”

    The new baritone singer for HisSong was impressive…did too much sliding into notes, but he has fullness and hears it well. The tone of the tenor is okay.

    The Kings Heralds finally earned a full set on the main stage instead of doing acapella numbers periodically. Bad choice to close with “Champion of Love.” It’s just too high guys.

    Taranda Greene is darn good. They did “Highway to Heaven,” “A Whole Lot of Heaven In the House,” “On A Cross” and “Halleleujah.” Brad Hudson was still the best tenor singer that the Greenes have had in a long time, but Jeff Snyder definitely seems to be getting better. He gave a solid performance on Thursday night.

    I missed several groups that I wanted to hear…Isaacs, Booth Brothers and Jason Crabb.

  3. Alex M. wrote:

    I hate that I missed Taranda. This commentary is hilarious.

  4. Janet B wrote:

    Ok, you made me laugh out loud. Which just sounds strange when home alone…

    I’ve heard of the Hallelujah Chorus, but the “Alleluia” chorus - not so much. ;)

    I listened to Enlighten’s broadcast tonight, which included snippets of the Collingsworth family, the Isaacs, the Hoppers, & BF&A - plus interviews with EHSS, Jason Crabb, Libbi, & others. (Note: Can someone there go slap “Country” Dan on the head & remind him that, if he’s going to ask one of these nice people a question, to NOT interrupt them while they’re answering? Good grief.)

    What was the song that Kim C. & girls sang? Heard it & really liked it - so much so that I can’t remember now what it was…

    Agree that BF&A were off (from what little I heard, anyway) - but I take it they were emotional tonight, so it’s understandable.

    Critique away, Doug. Enjoying it.

  5. Mike wrote:

    Re:… “at one point during the Isaacs’ set, Ben Isaacs rested his head way down on his mother’s shoulder while she sang to him and asked her to “hold me.””
    That’s not strange that’s creepy.

  6. Hummingbird wrote:

    Very entertaining post. :)

  7. :) wrote:

    Yea, ease up BFA. This was an emotional night for them, and to crank things off in high gear right after Jeremy sings “Save Me A Seat” may have been like a roller-coaster jolt.

    Jeremy was in tears so much that he barely finished the song last year. Look it up on YouTube.

  8. Charles Brady wrote:

    Keep your eyes on the Webbs. Bringing the kids on board (actually the kids asked the parents to their complete shock) was probably the best thing this family group could have ever done. Parker and Hannah Webb are just awesome talents (and a couple of super kids too!)

    I think this family is set for some great days ahead. They are at the very top of my “watch this” list.

    FWIW I was spouting accolades about TaRanda 4 years ago. Glad you finally got to the party! LOL!! Her solo project that had the Sky full of Angels cut on it had me up all night hitting the repeat button. It was by far the best project I have heard in a number of years. I still pull it out from time to time.

  9. Kathy wrote:

    I thought the Dove Brothers had a strong set last night, but I always enjoy them and the Collingsworth family!

  10. Jason wrote:

    The Michael Bookth comment about the bands was hilarious, and oh so true.

    I noticed Eric Dove wasn’t with the Dove Brothers on Monday. I didn’t see last night. Is he on hiatus again?

  11. Lynn Black wrote:

    Well if any of you follow the Isaacs you would know that Ben loves to make people laugh. He does this everytime they sing the song Yours and mine. It isn’t creepy or intended to be so. I have seen them do this song everytime I’ve seen them and it always makes me smile becuase Ben is trying to make his mother laugh.
    I love their version of All the Chapel Bells were ringing. Seems alot of others do too. I love the Isaacs!!!

  12. Gospel Has Been wrote:

    #10 Eric Dove just had shoulder surgery and that si why he was not here. Good fill in though even though he was never introduced. That is Eric’s son playing the drums and rather well.

  13. The Gospel Stache wrote:

    great post. last night was strange. the subtle novelties of “odd” flow of events was a tad irritating and although i firmly believe we were left to deal with a handful of mediocrity (either musically or in various degrees of “cheesy entertainment”) but i’ll try to weed out negative criticism. but there were some great moments.
    1. Taranda Greene is amazing. The Greene’s should take off a month or two so she can do broadway and get it out of her system.
    2. Jason Crabb is not out of his element at the NQC. He’s diverse enough to do about anything in the “religious music” field. SG, Pop, CCM, Choir stuff, even a daughtry, christian rock kind of thing. But he was good.
    3. There were solid acts such as Booth Brothers, Perrys, Collingsworth Family. Didn’t realize how talented the Collingsworth family is, of which I take full blame. Never really payed much attention to them until last night. I agree with Doug’s analysis of the Perrys & Booth Bros. It would be nice to get a more “stripped-down” live sound more often, even if we’re left with a piano and a bass guitar. I know Lari Goss is brilliant, but so is Sting.
    4. MTQ & BF&A: BF&A is a good group, but last night was mostly lifeless. Even if Bill had an off night, he’s a very good singer. And I liked MTQ’s sound and song selection. I imagine they will begin to gel and blend more throughout their time time together. That’s what Trammell is all about.
    5. GV’s set was out of the ordinary to a degree, but that’s what happens when Gerald is running it. So really, it wasn’t that unordinary. Chris Allman has raised the bar. Whether you analyze his delivery, his tone, his range, his vocal style, whatever…there’s just a handful of tenors out there at that level. It’s neat to see things come back full circle for an even better blend and sound.
    6. Isaacs are strange, but very, very good.
    7. Everything else was about what I expected and SG industry maintained its perception among many.

  14. Barbie S. wrote:

    Wonder what was going on with the Issacs and that weirdness?

  15. Mountain Man wrote:

    Re BFA and their “emotional night.”

    I have no way of knowing … what makes it emotional?

  16. swhalen wrote:

    Isn’t it time to change the name to something other than National “Quartet Convention?” By my count (and I didn’t attend, so this is from the posts only) there were three quartets out of 17 performances mentioned.

    Just sayin’

  17. Markp wrote:

    Taranda Greene is simply THE best singer in Gospel music today. Period. I would rather listen to and watch her sing than anyone else. She is stunning vocally and possess an ease of vocal mastery when she sings. There are times in her performances when, it appears to me, that the song she is singing is just to easy for her. She almost “plays” with the song as if it was something she does in her sleep.

    I got to watch most of the concert online last night too. I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but Doug I actually agree with 99% of your assessment!

  18. Andrew S. wrote:

    Regarding Ben- Sounds like some guy forgot to cut the apron strings.. Just saying..

  19. Irishlad wrote:

    Ha! Avery’s ruffled Jeremy Liles’ feathers on FB.

  20. Lynn Black wrote:

    #18 you are too funny!!!

  21. quartet-man wrote:

    Gold City seems to have gotten some heat in the past few years (although less often now), and although I made the above comments without watching the performance, I do want to add something I haven’t put anywhere yet.

    I wasn’t real sure how Josh would fit Gold City when I heard he was joining. I will go further in saying that I do still miss the high Ab’s Parrack and Ladd would add on songs like When He Blest My Soul and When He Call’s I’ll Fly Away. There is something about the four octave extremes that appeals to me.

    With that said, the current group is a strong group. Cobb is better than he was with L5 and had to be hitting E’s I think full-voiced. A friend of mine saw them twice due to my influence. The first was just after McCune joined. He was impressed with McCune as a bass (who is about the same age as my friend who is a choir bass.) The second was with the current group. Admittedly he is more into CCM and other styles, and I am probably exclusively responsible to what little Southern Gospel he has heard. Anyhow, he said Riley is the best bass he has ever heard. He also said that most groups have a weak link, but Gold City doesn’t. I believe he went home with at least one CD that night if I understood him right in that he was listening to them the other night. I will have to ask him when I see him again. There are others I introduced to the new group and they liked them and left with CDs as well. Some have heard the Oaks, Gaithers etc. but many hadn’t gone to SG concerts unless they were less well-known people at church.

  22. Being Real wrote:

    Was I the only one who could hear the Ball brothers were off pitch several times during they’re set? At one point the guy sitting next to me gave me a look of “Are you hearing what I’m hearing?” They had no business being on main stage this year. You can get away with singing off pitch in Country but this is SG where hearing that is a rare thing. Groups that have a new fan in me after they’re sets this year are Dixie Echoes,Triumphant and The Freemans.

  23. Alicia wrote:

    #12 he was introduced on Thursday night. His name is Jeff Moore.

  24. non obama supporter wrote:

    NQC was very good but I really think Gerald Wolfe is all about him and not God he just can not close that mouth!!!!!!

  25. DeeAnn Bailey wrote:

    #24- I’ve known Gerald for a LOT years and he is an awesome individual, not sure what your comments are based on, but take a little time to get to know someone before trashing them next time.

  26. Alicia Matthews wrote:

    #24 Gerald Wolfe is one of the finest Christian men I know. He is a prayer warrior and when I’m in need, I want someone like him praying for me. If your getting your assumption from him talking in between groups at NQC you might want to look at the program book or just get a clue. Him speaking in between groups was scheduled and him telling stories of life on the road and so forth was what was supposed to be done, per the program book to give transition time between the different groups. I would get to know someone before I started casting judgment on someone if were you. Get to know the man, and then give your opinion on him!

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