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Staff Picks 2015

staffpicks

Welcome to the annual feature where we at AbsolutelyGospel.com list our favorite recordings of the year. The albums here may not have been rated in our album reviews as the best of the year – but they were definitely among our favorite. Perennial favorites like Karen Peck & New River, Jeff & Sheri Easter, Booth Brothers, and Bowling Family show up again, as well as new faces like Amber Nelon Thompson, Jim Brady Trio, and Point of Grace.

Deon Unthank
President
AbsolutelyGospel.com

Wilburn & Wilburn - Shoulders

Wilburn & Wilburn
Shoulders
Daywind Records

Wilburn & Wilburn have stepped up a notch with this recording. This project just seems to gel more than any others. It’s full of great songs and really nice arrangements. Songs like “It’s What He’s Done”, “Sin Is No Match for grace”, and “Shoulders” are very impressive songs, but the song I predict will do best for them is “You Asked Him to Leave”. It has a message so timely for the day we are living in and will touch the hearts of anyone who listens to it. “You Asked Him To Leave” could do well in any genre, but especially crossing over to main-line Country. If Daywind doesn’t release this song to Country Radio, they are missing a great opportunity and doing a disservice to the song, the group, and to our Country,

Pray-Now-favorite-1024x1024Karen Peck & New River
Pray Now
Daywind Records

Well, what can you say, this is Karen Peck and New River. I’ve never heard a KP&NR project that I didn’t have to listen to over and over again. This one is no exception. Like Wilburn and Wilburn’s Shoulders, this CD had a lot of great songs including, “Hallelujah for The Cross”, “I Am Blessed” and “I Choose Christ”, but the one song setting this album apart from others is “Pray Now”. Little did Karen know that this song would personally minister to her family as her husband Ricky went through all of his cancer treatments, but thousands of other families hearing this song were touched as they were going through similar.

 

BrowdersChristmascCDjpg2The Browders
Merry Christmas
Independent Release

A Christmas CD has to be pretty special to make my Top 5 list. Christmas CDs are always judged, in my view, by how commercial the sound is. The message is important, but to sell Christmas CDs you are being compared to such artists as Celine Dion, Josh Groban, or Michael Buble’, all of which have the highest paid producers and orchestrations available in New York or Hollywood. The Browders have managed to produce a very commercial sounding project, yet keep the warmth and personality of their Gospel recordings. On top of all that, Mathew Browder has written a Christmas tune, “Merry Christmas” that just won’t get out of your head once you hear it. If a secular artist picks this song up, it could become a Christmas classic.


live_daywindTribute

Live at Daywind Studios
Daywind Records

This video/CD combo is a delight to watch and then listen to with the expressions and antics of actually seeing the group perform. It’s taken a couple of changes over the years, but this group of guys can stand toe to toe with any quartet in the market today. I think watching them perform adds to the connection and vitality of hearing their music. This project has a lot of familiar tunes like “The Unclouded Day”, “Living In Canaan Now”, and “Oh What A Savior, but also includes their newest radio single “Those Who Know Me Know”. I’m not big on studio videos, but this one caught my attention. Give it a listen, watch, whatever. You will like it.

The Talleys - After all This TimeThe Talleys
After All This Time
Horizon Records

I enjoyed this Talleys CD because it gives me a good blend of traditional and progressive styled Gospel music. There are some traditional favorites on the album, but enough of it has a progressive feel that it keeps my interest going. The Talleys always remind me of what great Southern Gospel music is inherently known for…. close family harmony. The harmony doesn’t get any closer than when the Talleys sing. Some old standards like “I Love To Tell The Story/Blessed Assurance”, “Naaman”, and and a new twist to the old Gold City song “Who But God” got me going, but new songs like “People In The Line” and “Somebody’s Story” touch the lives of everyone who listens to them.

Honorable Mentions
Booth Brothers – Still (Spring Hill Records)
Gordon Mote – Hymns & Songs of Inspiration (New Haven Records)
Amber Nelon Thompson – Just Sing (Daywind Records)
The Lesters – Live In Boston (Independent)

avatar_813Chris D. Unthank
Editor-In-Chief

Bowling Family - Moments Like TheseBowling Family
Moments Like These
Daywind Records

These guys continue to amaze me with their strong song selection and excellent production. Mike is at the top of his game on this release – most notably on “I Was There.” There are some fantastic numbers – like the group’s first #1 hit on the record “One Glorious Moment of Faith,” “God Is Always Good” and the tearjerked “Our First Hallelujah There.”

jim-brady-trioJim Brady Trio
A New Chapter
Daywind Records

I’ve been a huge fan of Jim and Melissa Brady since their time in their own respective ministries (Jim with the Booth Brothers and Melissa on her own or doing fill-in work). Tim Parton joined the duo for this debut release, and it is phenomenal. Jim and Melissa’s writing talents are on display here, but Melissa is the stand out on vocally – finally getting a chance to shine. This is the hottest new group on the scene in years, and you don’t want to miss out on a phenomenal debut recording.

amber-nelon-thompson-just-singAmber Nelon Thompson
Just Sing
Daywind Records

Amber is one of the finest vocalists to ever step out of this genre, and her debut solo recording Just Sing showcases that marvelously. It would be remiss of me to mention this recording without talking about the stellar production work of Jason Clark who seamlessly weaves multiple genres together to make one of the best recordings of the year. Bravo Amber and Jason!

Small-Town250Jeff & Sheri Easter
Small Town
Spring Hill Music Group

My big complaint about Jeff & Sheri Easter is that it takes way too long to get new music from them. Small Town didn’t disappoint in the least bit. Sheri continues to be one of the most underrated songwriters in the business. Just listen to their #1 hit “Jesus Loves You” and you’ll know why I make such a grand statement. The country sounds you’ve come to love continues on this great release!

514-hlZNurL._SY355_Booth Brothers
Still
Spring Hill Music Group

I’ve always been a huge fan of the Booth Brothers, but as I’ve stated earlier, I’ve also always loved Jim Brady and what he brought to this group. However, Paul Lancaster seamlessly moved in to the baritone position for this group, and they didn’t miss a beat on Still. The guy are still in top form on this release. It only makes me anticipate more releases from this popular trio!

Honorable Mentions
Eighth Day – I’m Gonna Say It (Butler Music Group)
Karen Peck & New River – Pray Now (Daywind Records)
Gordon Mote – Hymns & Songs of Inspiration (New Haven Records)
Canton Juntion – Every Hallelujah (Difference Media)
Ernie Haase & Signature Sound – Happy People (StowTown Records)

avatar_2James Hales
Head Reviewer

MHF-devotedMylon Hayes Family
Devoted
Independent

I consider the Mylon Hayes Family to be the modern version of the Speer Family.  The Mylon Hayes Family is devoted to the preservation of our music and they do so with class and dignity!  This is their best recording to date.  Featuring songs from great writers such as Dianne Wilkinson, Rebecca Peck, Rodney Griffin, Sandy Blythe, and others, coupled with excellent arrangements and vocal delivery, the group went to great measures to ensure an impeccable recording.  They went outside their norm with arrangements, and also included excellent orchestral arrangements from Cody McVey (which bares striking resemblances to the late, great Lari Goss).  I applaud their efforts and the end result was one of the finest releases for 2015 featuring great songs like the “Love Medley”, “At the Foot of Calvary’s Cross”, “The Coming of the Lord”, “Grace Happened Here” and many others.

MI0003895723Canton Junction
Every Hallelujah
Difference Media

This is probably my favorite release of 2015.  These guys sound like they’ve been together for years.  I am sure having Garry Jones at the producing helm had a lot to do it, along with 2 members who have sung together before.  But the song selection presented on this powerful release is unsurpassed by any other release in 2015.  Filled with tremendous song, topped with outstanding arrangements make this is a highly enjoyable recording.  Kicking off with the heavy hitter “God’s Got a Better Plan”, the recording continues with a bunch of new songs and remakes such as “Tumbling Down”, “When I Lift Up My Head”, “When He Was on the Cross”, “I Am”, “I Need a Little More Jesus”, “Weep No More” and “The King and I”.

eighth-day-im-gonna-say-it-cover-2Eighth Day
I’m Gonna Say It
Butler Music Group

This is one of the finest releases for 2015 and I dare say the best offering from Eighth Day.  It truly is a masterpiece and an outstanding piece of work from song selection, musicianship, vocals, arrangements, etc.  The songs are paced well, very well written and flawlessly executed.  They are one of the few groups I can easily pick out on radio, which testifies to the uniqueness of their sound.  I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to this recording over and over again, especially such songs as “I’m Gonna Say it”, “Somebody’s Blessing”, “Wings”, “Waiting for You to Notice Me” and the stunning “Shadow of His Hand”.

amber-nelon-thompson-just-singAmber Nelon Thompson
Just Sing
Daywind Records

Once in awhile, a vocalist comes along within our field that just blows everyone away…back in the day, people like Vestal Goodman, Joy Gardner and Sue Dodge come to mind.  More recently, Kim Hopper, Angie Hoskins-Aldridge and TaRanda Greene come to mind.  Everybody move over, as we make way for Amber Nelon Thompson.  What a powerful set of vocals this young lady has and she has been honing her craft for years and it all culminates into one majestic piece of work with this recording…as she throws her head back and just sings some truly great songs like “He’s Making Me”, “Another Time, Another Place”, “What Do You Say”, “Without Your Love” and “Give it to Jesus”.

dmbrDixie Melody Boys
Revived
Independent

This latest release is probably one of their finest in recent years.  Produced by lead singer, Josh Garner, the recording may not be of the same production quality as your mainline label recordings, but Josh has produced a fine piece of work.  Mostly featuring songs that have been “revived”, the Dixie Melody Boys didn’t rely on tired, worn out favorites that everybody else has done or are doing currently.  Some of these songs haven’t been heard in quite some time, and it’s so good hearing them being revived in such a way that we can enjoy them like their brand new all over again such as “Wait Upon the Lord”, “My Burdens Have Rolled Away”, “Some Wonderful Day”, “Hello Mama” and “Oh What Love”.

Honorable Mentions
The Talleys – After All This Time (Horizon Records)
Triumphant – Living In Harmony (StowTown Records)
Bowling Family – Moments Like These (Daywind Records)
Goodman Revival – Songs In the Key of Happy (Gaither Music Group)
Collingsworth Family – That Day Is Coming (StowTown Records)
Jason Crabb – Whatever the Road (Reunion Records)

avatar_16395Jennifer Wilkerson
Staff Writer/Reviewer
MI0003900539Collingsworth Family
That Day is Coming
StowTown Records

 

This family simply knows how to pick great songs, sing them with excellence and this project is no exception! The voices of the Collingsworth kids have matured and so the vocal variety for the ensemble is limitless. Great project, great songs, great family harmony!

 

cover-momentsBowling Family
Moments Like These
Daywind Records

 

This record has an energy behind it you don’t always feel on new projects. This is the first project with Mike, Kelly and Hope and they picked great songs and sing them with passion!

 

point-of-grace---directions-homePoint of Grace
Directions Home
Word Records

 

These ladies, in my opinion produced their best work of their 20+ year career this year with this gem! Beautiful vocals and soaring harmonies. Their cover on some familiar tunes is fresh but familiar.

 

joseph-habedankJoseph Habedank
Take Time to Be Holy
Daywind Records

 

I love a good hymns project and Joseph did a great job mixing his high energy vocals and range with keeping the sacredness of the songs in mind.

 

jim-brady-trioJim Brady Trio
A New Chapter
Daywind Records

 

While new as a group, Jim and Melissa Brady and Tim Parton aren’t new to gospel music. This project has that tight mixed trio sound and it’s so nice to hear Melissa Brady singing full-time! She has always been underrated!
avatar_43579Dusty Wells
Staff Writer/Reviewer

My top 5 projects are below.  And for me, the reasons I have chosen these special five projects out of the many other releases for the past year all consist of the following.  These projects all are consistent with great artwork, which to me is always something every artist should carefully analyze and make certain they are looking at from every point of view…people still pick up and buy projects based on the cover.  They do!  Of course the most important element to the project is that familiar but so true statement: it all begins with a song.  For me, every one of these projects have songs that have touched my heart, moved me, made me think, challenged me, encouraged me and made me want to share the music with others.  It’s all about touching lives with the precious gift of music. Great artistry and ministry is shown with all of these projects, their touring, their availability,  their websites, their members, their lives, their fan base and their commitment to the fans and friends and the fans and friends commitment back to them.  My favorites for the year are…AND IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER…

MI0003900539Collingsworth Family
That Day Is Coming
StowTown Records

 

 

Pray-Now-favorite-1024x1024Karen Peck & New River
Pray Now
Daywind Records

 

 

cover-momentsBowling Family
Moments Like These
Daywind Records

 

 

Happy-People-Deluxe-Edition-300x300Ernie Haase & Signature Sound
Happy People
StowTown Records

 

 

MI0003895723Canton Junction
Every Hallelujah
Difference Media

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Formed over 19 years ago by Deon & Susan Unthank originally as SoGospelNews.com, the site was birthed from an email discussion group by the same name. The SoGospelNews email discussion list was created by the Unthanks after the Singing News shut down its extremely popular discussion list. SoGospelNews started as a simple webpage listing artists, fans, individuals, etc. that were avid supporters of the newly formed SoGospelNews talk list. The site eventually took on printing news for Southern Gospel artists, and eventually took on reviewing the latest recordings from both signed and independent artists within the small genre. SoGospelNews became the most viewed Southern Gospel website on the Internet with over 4,000,000 hits per month.

The Unthank family are now involved in the site, as well as the addition of over two dozen staff writers. The website is based out of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. In April 2010, SoGospelNews changed its name to AbsolutelyGospel.com. The name change allows them to cover news items of not only Southern Gospel, but also Country Gospel, Inspirational, and Black Gospel.

On January 5, 2011, Susan Unthank passed away, leaving the website in control of Deon, their son, Chris, and their daughter Amy.

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