Wednesday, February 29, 2012

When Lyrics Speak - Over and Over

In early 2007, my grandfather was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Both my grandmother and he were cancer survivors. But this time, it was different. My other grandfather died from cancer in 2005. I knew what that felt like, and I didn’t want to feel it again.

The five-year survival rate for patients with esophageal cancer is 15 percent, with most patients dying within the first year. I talked to a lady I knew about it, and she told me that her father-in-law had died from it. That didn't help anything.

I remember the day of the surgery getting in my car to drive the hour and a half to the hospital where he was having the surgery. I was praying, begging God to work miracles. I had Jeff and Sheri Easter’s Life Is Great and Gettin’ Better in my car. “Over and Over” started playing. I had heard this song many times before, but at this moment, it was exactly what I needed to hear.

“Over and over, again and again, God is faithful.” The chorus made me stop and think about how many times God had been with me through other trials and hardships. He was faithful through it all. I had seen God work in their lives before when they battled cancer before. And even though I had recently experienced loss due to cancer, I knew that God is always faithful. He is always there to help us survive hardships and come out on the other side, so we can have the victory with him. He would be my strength in getting through the hard times no matter what the outcome was.

Verse two says: “I’d simply say every battle has taught me, There’s nothing He won’t help me through, So why should I dwell on the hardships and struggles, When I look just beyond them I see, The way this will end is with great celebration, Deep in my heart I believe.”

Those words were the reassurance I needed that God would help me through, no matter what I faced. He had taught me that; I knew that. I knew that I couldn’t focus on the situation and the what-ifs, but on the fact that He would be with me. He knew exactly how it would turn out. Even though I wasn’t so sure that things would end in a celebration, I did know that if the unspeakable, unthinkable happened where he would be. That would be a celebration, but certainly not one that I wanted to have.

When Sheri was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, I thought it was so fitting that the second verse of this song was referenced in their release about it. I knew personally how much this song could help those facing cancer and their loved ones.

On the way to the hospital, God gave me a great peace through this song. And as we prayed in the hospital before the surgery, God again used the lyrics of the song to speak to me. When the tears started coming, I was reminded that no matter what God would be faithful, because He had proven it over and over.

And He was, and things did end in a great celebration. Earlier this month, my grandfather became a five-year esophageal cancer survivor beating the odds. God is faithful, over and over again, and for that we are still celebrating!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Night of Worship - Bowling Family Concert Review

The Bowling Family (Terah Penhollow, Kelly Bowling,
Mike Bowling and  John Jeffrey) on stage at the Little Rock
Church of God (excuse the poor quality phone picture
Sunday night the Bowling Family was at the Little Rock Church of God. It was a great night where the Lord was evident from the first note of the concert. It wasn't all about being entertained by this great group; there was a true spirit of worship the entire night.

I’ve seen the group, which consists of Mike and Kelly Bowling and Terah Crabb Penhollow, several times in concert, and both vocally and personally, they impress me more each time I see them. They come across as such genuine people. I love hearing their testimony and the words between the songs. That’s when you know that they believe every word they are singing.

The concert opened with “This Is Your Moment." When normally groups open with a more uptempo song, it was a great choice that definitely set the tone for the night. It was an open invitation for God to enter in the service, and that it was His moment to shine. Mike did a great job on the song. I think he's one of best male vocalists in southern gospel today.

Next, Terah took the lead with “I Go to the Rock,” always a favorite. Then they sang “Your Cries Have Awoken the Master,” which is probably their most well-known song. I’ve heard them sing this song many times before, but I’ve never heard it better than it was Sunday night. At the end, Mike started the chorus again with Kelly and Terah joining in and John Jeffrey accompanying them on the keyboard. Their vocals were absolutely amazing, and it was a great moment.

 Kelly spoke and introduced the group. When she started talking, I realized that she was a little under the weather. They referenced later that both she and Terah had been sick some this weekend, but you never heard that in their singing. They showed not only their professionalism by pressing on, but also what great vocalists they are.They sang “I Thank You Lord” next which was the first song they sang from their newest album, It Feels Like Sunday.

Kelly shared the story of their bus accident while pictures and video of the accident showed on the screen. This story of God’s grace and the miracle He performed that day is amazing each time I hear it. Kelly said that even though now she feels like she’s told it thousands of times, she never wants to stop sharing of how God spared them that day. She shared, “The devil had a plan, but God has a purpose.” The thankfulness to God they have of how far they have come in a year and a half is so evident. It shows that they are now more than ever before proud to be professing the name of Jesus night after night and sharing everything He has done for them. And yes, Kelly made sure to point out she was wearing heels and proud of it! ☺ Their testimony led into Kelly’s song “Miracle.” I love the lyrics of this song, and it's so amazing how God gave them this song before anyone knew how applicable it would be in their lives.

Right before the half, they sang “I Still Glory in the Cross.” This was one of my favorite songs from their album Shine, but I haven’t seen them stage this song much. It’s such a great and lyrically-strong song that features each of them. I love the switch-up at the end when Kelly takes the lead on the chorus, such a powerful vocal, and she nailed it!! This song led into “The Old Rugged Cross.” Mike asked John Jeffrey to sing this with just the keyboard. I knew that John sang some, but had never heard him by himself, and was extremely impressed! They had the audience join in on the chorus; it was sweet, worshipful moment before the break.

They started the second half with “Sunshine on a Rainy Day,” another favorite of mine from Shine. The next song was “He Leads Me Each Step of the Way,” which featured Terah, who is I think one of the most underrated altos in the genre.

Mike had his and Kelly’s oldest daughter, Hope, join them next on “How Blessed.” She has a great talent, and can’t wait to hear more from her in years to come.

Mike introduced “Please Forgive Me,” which again featured Terah. This is such a great song that served as their altar call. Again, they had the audience join in on the chorus. Such a great moment that was a needed reminder of how much we need God’s grace to make it through.

To end the night, they sang “We’ll Understand It By and By.” It was a fun, uptempo song to end on, and they did several reprises of the chorus, because we weren’t ready for the concert to end.

If you have not seen the Bowling Family recently, especially since their accident, you should definitely go next time they are in your area. Mike, Kelly and Terah are the real deal, and it's so evident that they believe every word they are singing and saying. Since their accident, it seems that there's even a greater anointing on their lives.

It was a great concert with a sweet spirit the entire night. We weren't simply sung to, we were ministered to and encouraged, and we all worshiped together.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Lake and a Sparrow

If you have missed Saturday and Sunday nights at Lake Gibson Church, you've been missing out. I did not discover this until January and was so sad that I didn't know about it sooner! Every Saturday and Sunday night, Lake Gibson Nazarene Church in Lakeland, Fla. has been broadcasting gospel concerts online. It's not too late to join in, concerts will run through the middle of April. This weekend features the Collingsworth Family on Saturday night and Three Bridges on Sunday night.

Since I discovered the online concerts, I've been able to catch at least part of the online broadcasts on Saturday nights for the past several weeks. The church does not charge to view the concerts, but does ask that you consider giving a love offering, since this is a great service they are providing.

Last Saturday night Greater Vision was in concert there. It was Rodney Griffin's first night back with the group since his father-in-law had passed away. You could tell the group felt at home there, and really enjoyed themselves. It was a great concert!

One of the songs that I enjoyed most was "His Eye is on the Sparrow." I love this great hymn that featured Chris Allman, and I think it shows him at his best. Sometimes the best moments come out of the artists just singing with the piano accompaniment. Here's a clip of it with Gerald Wolfe setting up the song and sharing a story before Chris sings as only he can.

The Collingsworth Family concert will start at 4:45 p.m. Central time on Saturday, and Three Bridges will be at 5 p.m. on Sunday. Be sure to tune in if you can!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dove Award Nominees

The 43rd Gospel Music Association Dove Award nominations were announced this morning. Jason Crabb leads all nominations with eight.

When I saw the nominees for the top Dove awards, I thought Southern Gospel was represented well. Last year, Jason Crabb took home Song of the Year for "Sometimes I Cry." Both Jason Crabb and Triumphant Quartet were nominated for this honor. This year four Southern Gospel songs are nominated for the award: "Celebrate Me Home" (Perrys), "I've Been Here Before" (Ernie Haase and Signature Sound), "Please Forgive Me" (Gaither Vocal Band) and "Who Am I" (Jason Crabb). It's interesting that last year's singer and songwriter nominated again, but split up with different songs. The most pleasant surprise for me was the nomination of the Perrys! Very deserving, glad to see this nomination!!

Jason Crabb is nominated for both Male Artist of the Year and Artist of the Year. Last year, Janet Pascal was nominated for Female Vocalist, but this year there's no Southern Gospel representation for this category. The nominee list was shortened this year from seven to five, however, for both male and female categories.

For Group of the Year, the Gaither Vocal Band and the Isaacs are both nominated. The Isaacs are also nominated for Artist of the Year, which to me was another pleasant surprise! Beyond the Ashes is nominated for New Artist of the Year.

Nominees include:

Southern Gospel Album of the Year:
  • A Lifetime of Music (John Hagee)
  • Miracles & Memories (Bowling Family)
  • Part of the Family (Collingsworth Family)
  • Reach Out (Karen Peck and New River)
  • The Song Lives On (Jason Crabb)
No surprise to see Jason Crabb nominated, and I expected to see the Collingsworth Family also. I was really hoping that Karen Peck and New River would be nominated in this category. Reach Out was my favorite album of last year! Also, I was surprised to see the Bowling Family nominated in this category; this live CD is great. Another surprise to me was John Hagee's album, which I haven't heard.

Southern Gospel Recorded Song of the Year:
  • "Celebrate Me Home" (The Perrys)
  • "If There Ever Was a Time (Crabb Family)
  • "I've Been Here Before" (Ernie Haase and Signature Sound)
  • "Please Forgive Me" (Gaither Vocal Band)
  • "Victory in Jesus" (John Hagee) 
It's interesting that Jason Crabb who is nominated for Song of the Year doesn't pick up an individual nomination in this category. The other songs up for Song of the Year are nominated. But that would mean he would be competing with himself I guess! Glad to see the Crabb Family song make the list.

Country Album of the Year:
  • Brighter One (Marshall Hall)
  • Dreamin' Wide Awake (Doug Anderson)
  • Family Ties (Wilburn & Wilburn)
  • Going Places (Crabb Revival)
  • New Day (The Martins)
Confession: I haven't heard the complete albums for most of these. But I was glad to see Wilburn & Wilburn pick up a nomination on their debut album. I'm also a big fan of the Martins' new project.

Country Recorded Song of the Year:
  • "Dreamin' Wide Awake" (Doug Anderson)
  • "Good Things Are Happening" (Karen Peck and New River)
  • "I Get To" (Jeff and Sheri Easter)
  • "Pray About Everything" (Guy Penrod)
  • "Why Me" (Jason Crabb) 
Was glad to see Karen Peck and New River pick up a nomination in this category, but kinda surprised by the song. I think Jeff and Sheri's "I Get To" is such a fitting nomination for this category, great country song.

Other notable nominations:

Wes Hampton and Russ Taff both picked up nominations in the Inspirational Album of the Year category for A Man Like Me and Faroe Islands respectively.

The Martins for "I Surrender" and Doug Anderson for "I'll Take What's Left" are both nominated for Inspirational Recorded Song of the Year.

"I Saw the Light" by Jason Crabb was nominated in the category of Traditional Gospel Recorded Song of the Year. Jason Crabb picked up another nomination for Contemporary Gospel Recorded Song of the Year for "I'd Rather Have Jesus." Beyond the Ashes also was nominated in this category for "What I Have I Give."

For Bluegrass Recorded Song of the Year, "Mama's Teaching Angels How to Sing" (The Isaacs) and "Precious Memories" (Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver) received nominations.

Wayne Haun and Michael Sykes are both nominated for Producer of the Year. It seems that Wayne Haun had his hand on a lot of this year's nominated projects.

In the Long Form Music Video of the Year, the Collingsworth Family earned a nomination for Fear Not Tomorrow. Tent Revival Homecoming by Bill and Gloria Gaither and Homecoming Friends and The Song Lives On from Jason Crabb also received nominations.

Am I missing any other notable nominations? What were surprises for you? Who were you glad to see nominated?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

When Lyrics Speak - I Can Trust Jesus

A friend and I were talking after a gospel concert a few weeks ago. She's new to Southern Gospel, and she's either humoring me by going with me to concerts and watching online clips, or she really has taken a liking to it. She said something after that concert that really struck me as the heart of why I love Southern Gospel. She said that it's encouraging and uplifting and makes her happy. That's what this genre should consistently be about and focused on: pointing people to Christ and encouraging and uplifting believers.

Difficult moments in my life can often be defined by a song that helped me get through them. I love when lyrics in a song grab your heart strings and speak to you when just plain words can fail. There are so many songs that have spoke to me in moments when I needed them. It's so funny to me that sometimes I can listen to a song over and over again, but it's when I need it most that the lyric just hits me, and it all clicks.

So my plan is to regularly post about moments when lyrics speak. And here's my first attempt.

I remember when "I Can Trust Jesus" by the Collingsworth Family really hit home with me for the first time. I had gone home to visit my parents for the weekend. And things were just different. I was questioning where God had me and some things that were going on in my family at the time. I couldn't understand the way that God was working in my life and those closest to me. His plan did not make sense.

Before I went to bed that night, I had this song on my iPod. I know I had heard the song before, but listening to it that night, it just hit me. I'm not even sure what made me play this song, but God knew that I needed to hear it.

It's such a simple lyric and message, "I can trust Jesus, He is my strong tower, the strength in my weakest hour." The simplest messages and truths are many times the most difficult things to do and also what we need to hear the most. He never once has failed to meet our needs. That night even though things weren't they way I wanted them to be, God was meeting all my needs. It was the simple reassurance I needed.

I love the second verse of this song: "I have prayed some prayers and felt they never were heard But I held to God’s hand and kept right on trusting in His word, My wants and God’s desires don’t always agree, But I lean on His will for He always knows what’s best for me."

My prayers often don't get answered the way I want them to. And what I want to happen in my life is not God's desire, but I can trust Him, because He knows what's best for me. We all have days where we don't understand what God is up to and we feel like He's not hearing our prayers, but this song is such a great reminder that He knows what is best. He's the only one who knows the ending; He has us where we are for a reason.

I constantly need to be reminded of this message. Many times when I continue to struggle with God's plan, this is the song that I go to. I've been learning lately that it's a daily decision, to get up and say, "I choose to trust You today. God, I don't know what's going to happen, but I choose to trust." And when the moments come when I'm not so sure about why things are happening the way they are, the message of this song rings true. He is more than worthy of my trust, because He is God and "He never once has failed to meet my need."

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Together Again - Crabb Family

Prior to this release, seven years had passed since the Crabb Family recorded an album together. When it was announced that the five siblings would return to the studio, fans anxiously anticipated this new record. Together Again was released by the Gaither Music Group on Feb. 7, 2012.

I have to say that this is one of the family’s best projects. The years have only helped their voices develop and mature, and singing “together again” they are sounding better than ever.

This album is a great example to me of why the Crabb Family was and is one of the most popular Southern Gospel groups. They don’t fit in a box. On this record, you’re going to find very different songs stylistically. They appeal to a wide variety of audiences, because they have a little something for everyone. But what I love most is that even though the styles of the songs might be different and varied, the message never is.

Breakdown of the songs:

“Back to the Front Porch” – The album starts with the sound of crickets chirping, kids laughing and a down-home-country song complete with sweet tea and climbing trees. This is a great opening song written by Jimmy Yeary, Sonya Isaacs Yeary and Jason Crabb. It's reminiscent for many people speaking to the way they grew up.

“God Has a Plan” – Lyrically, this is one of my favorite songs on the album. It’s a great reminder of the sovereignty of God, we don't always know what He is thinking, but we know that He has a plan. The song features more of the brothers than Kelly and Terah.

“You Can’t Do That Anymore” – I heard Jason sing this song when he was in Little Rock this fall. I knew immediately that this would strike a chord with older audiences. It has a definitely country feel, so much so that I could see mainstream country picking up this song.

“This Is You and Me” – The pace picks up with song to have a more Southern, country rock feel. The song talks about the mercy of God.

“If There Ever Was a Time” – This song, written by Sue Smith and Caleb Collins, is one of the strongest songs on the project. All siblings are featured and really shine as individuals. It’s definitely an easy listening song, not what people would think of as a typical Crabb Family song. The song says “if there ever was a time, I needed you before, Lord I need you now.” The song speaks to God’s children who are crying out to Him in troubled times. I can see how this song is going to speak to and minister to a lot of people.

“Come Home” – This song has a great message that reminds us that no matter where we are or what we have done that we can come running back to God.

“No Problems” – With this track, it’s back to country. This is another song that I could see mainstream country picking up. The first verse features Jason, and the second features Kelly. It’s great song that makes you realize that we tend to make mountains out of molehills many times.

“I Love You This Much” – With this song, the pace is slowed down again. It talks about parents’ love for their children, which ties into God’s love for us. It has a great message, but not one of my favorites on the project.

“Life Meets Grace” – This song has more of a contemporary Christian feel to it. The end of the song pulls in words from a familiar hymn, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Jason Crabb was one of the writers on the song.

“Say a Prayer” – This has to be one of my favorites! I love how the siblings’ voices blend so well in the chorus. It challenges us to remember to pray for those around us more and not be so selfish when we call out to God.

Personal favorites: “If There Ever Was a Time”, “God Has a Plan,” “No Problems,” and "Say a Prayer"

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

NQC Music Awards

The National Quartet Convention has announced a brand new awards presentation called the NQC Music Awards. These awards will be presented on Friday afternoon during the Friday afternoon Showcase Spectaculars in Freedom Hall. NQC is presenting these in partnership with the Southern Gospel Music Guild.

There will be two divisions of awards that will be presented. One will be the Fan Awards determined by fan voting, and the second will be Industry Awarded Categories determined by music professionals that participate as exhibitors during NQC. To vote in the fan awards, you only need to sign up on the NQC e-mail list.

Since the Singing News Fan Awards have moved to Dollywood at least through 2013, I guess this is a new solution. I think opinions are very mixed about the awards being at Dollywood. But with this being the case for two years now, I think people are getting more accustomed to it. 

The Singing News Fan Awards have become extremely predictable. Not that the winners don't deserve the accolades they receive, but I would like to see them spread around more than they are so more people can be honored. Maybe the NQC Music Awards will help do that. 

How do you think this new awards ceremony will go? I'm anxious to see the categories for fan voting and for industry awards. I did make sure I was signed up for the NQC mailing list this morning. If you are interested in signing up as well, go to

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Morgan Easter - "Not Without Love"

Morgan Easter's solo record, "Not Without Love," came out on November 11, 2011. I think it's an incredible project and even though it's a couple of months old, I think it's definitely review-worthy. Better late than never, right? 

I have been a huge Jeff and Sheri Easter fan for a long time. I was really excited when Morgan stepped into the role of the third part. It seemed only natural that she would move into that role even at 14. She has grown so much as a singer in the past few years. "Not Without Love" is a great testimony to what a great singer she has become. 

The songs on the album fit Morgan so well and really show off her vocal abilities. Many times young singers try to sing songs that don't seem to fit where they are in life and then don't really come across as believable coming from a teenager. "Not Without Love is definitely an exception. The song choices on this album are incredible. 

I love that it's a family thing. Looking at the album credits the whole family was involved. Jeff, Sheri, Madison and Shannon all sing either as featured or background vocalists. Sheri sings with Morgan on "Like My Mother Does" and wrote "Either Way." Madison wrote "Just Keep Holding On" and sings the second verse. When I first heard the song, I had no idea that it was him. I have heard Madison sing during Jeff and Sheri concerts before, but I think that he does such a great job vocally on this song, it really showcases him.  Shannon, Madison's wife, wrote "Lemonade" and sings background vocals on it. It's a great song that plays on common sayings and cliches. 

Wes Hampton and Joseph Habedank also sing with Morgan on the album. Joseph, along with Matthew Holt, wrote "Dreaming Wide Awake," a song Joseph sings with her. Ricky Free and Jimmy Yeary also wrote a couple of songs each.

Other standout points for me:

God Knows What He's Doing (written by Jimmy Yeary) - When I first heard this song via the online stream of NQC, I loved it! It's not only such a great, uptempo song for Morgan that showcases her voice, but it's a great reminder of how God is in control of our lives. He knows exactly where we are and what's best for us. This is definitely my favorite song on the project, and I think it's the first single. 

Like My Mother Does - I think this was another great choice for the album. It was released by Lauren Alaina of "American Idol" fame. Sheri sings on the second verse, and it just seems to fit them and their mother-daughter relationship so well.

Either Way (written by Sheri Easter) - This is such a great song. The first lyric grabs you about the phone call that can change your life, and having heard Sheri's testimony you can tell she was writing from real-life experiences. It's a reminder that whatever happens, it will all work out in the end. Either way it will be OK.

Broken - This is the song that Morgan sings with Wes Hampton. I love the end of this song. There is a sweet tenderness that comes out in her voice as she sings about being broken.

Looking Up (written by Ricky Free) - The chorus of this song is so catchy. It will get stuck in your head, and that's a good thing. Again it's got a great message, and fits Morgan incredibly lyrically and vocally.

I definitely recommend this album! This is a great project for not only Jeff and Sheri Easter and Morgan fans, but anyone who needs a little encouragement. Each song has a great message and really helps to uplift believers.

Song List:
1. "Not Without Love" 2. "God Knows What He's Doing" 3. "Like My Mother Does" 4. "Just Keep Holding On" 5. "Either Way" 6. "Broken" 7. "He's Going Places" 8. "Lemonade" 9. "Looking Up" 10. "Dreaming Wide Awake"

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Best They've Ever Been?

When it was first announced that Eric Phillips would be returning to the Mark Trammell Quartet, fans were excited to see him back with the group. And industry insiders speculated that this lineup would be as good as it gets.

Clips have started circulating on YouTube of the new lineup of the Mark Trammell Quartet that includes, Mark Trammell, Dustin Sweatman, Pat Barker and Eric Phillips. I have to agree and say that I think they sound better than ever.

Even all four of them have not sung together long, you could never tell it. They already have the blend and the chemistry of a group that's had years of experience. Many times when a new (or even a new, old member as in this case) comes to the group, it takes a while for the blend to get there. This is not the case with them.

I love this clip of them singing "Glory Road." The notes that Eric hits at the end are not only unbelievable, but I also love the excitement that shows in the members' at the end of the song. Pat does a little hop-step, and Mark reaches over to give Eric a small push. They definitely have every reason to be excited, because they are sounding the best they ever have!