When we launched Today’s Christian Entertainment (TCE) back in January 2016, I had written an article looking at some bands that had made some significant changes, more specific – in the front (wo)man department. I got a lot of feedback about the article, mostly good. But there were some, naturally, that disagreed with my take on each band and changes made. So, now I am going back and quickly highlighting those and either agreeing with what I originally said or elaborating since a few years have gone by and adding a few new ones…
Perhaps one of the biggest success stories in all of Christian music when it comes to changing prominent members of a band in recent memory would probably be the Newsboys. I know that I was very skeptical of the change when it was announced in May 2009 that long-time lead vocalist Peter Furler was leaving the band and being replaced by… former dcTalk vocalist Michael Tait? My initial reaction was “You have to be kidding me right?”.
Peter Furler was viewed by many as irreplaceable when it came to the band. But what many people don’t know, some even fans of the Newsboys, is that Furler was not the original lead singer of the group. He was actually the band’s drummer in its early years until assuming lead vocal duties with 1998’s Step Up To The Microphone. Instead, John James was actually the lead vocalist from the band’s inception in Mooloolaba, Queensland, Australia when the band came together in 1985, until leaving the band just after the release of 1996’s Take Me To Your Leader. Most casual fans would probably not even have noticed the difference, because of the uncanny resemblance in voices between James/Furler, so the band was able to pull it off. Despite the obvious difference between Furler and Tait, the switch actually worked. I love Peter Furler, but I think Michael Tait is what it took to turn a band from great to spectacular.
The band’s live shows have more energy than ever now with Tait at the helm and anyone who has seen Newsboys 3.0 live in concert will tell you that Michael’s kinetic energy, dance moves and souring vocals take the Newsboys to a level that not even James and Furler could go. Not bad for Michael Tait, who turns the big 5-0 in May.
My (2016) Pick: This is a tough one. I liked the Newsboys with Furler because of the accent. That Australian accent was a unique dynamic of the band’s sound. But, Tait has been able to add his own uniqueness to the group with his pipes along with that crazy swagger that only he can bring. Neutral on this one I am.
My (2018) Pick: Well a lot has happened in Newsboys camp over the past few years. Michael Tait has certainly grown on me in the past few years, having gotten a chance to see the Newsboys a few more times. But, alas, I think the problem will be solved (although temporarily) with the rise of the United tour. No, not Hillsong, but the Newsboys announced in late 2017 that they would be doing a headlining tour in 2018 with two fan favorites in Peter Furler and Phil Joel. Now we got a taste of the Tait-Furler mix with the single “The Cross Has The Final Word” in 2017, but it only fueled long time fans’ desire to see Peter in a more permanent role. Prayers were answered with the new tour, because unlike many bands on this list, there is something in 2018 for Newsboys fans to be happy about because not only does Furler come back and tour, but Phil Joel (my fav) is also back for this tour. 2009 was the last time we saw Furler tour with the Newsboys and Joel a year or two before that. The only thing missing from this one is an appearance from John James and maybe even Paul Colman. Ask me after this 2018 tour (which I plan to attend the Tampa show) who I like better, but I still remain neutral on this one.
When North Carolina-based rock outfit Decyfer Down hit the Christian rock scene in the summer of 2006 with their debut End Of Grey, they quickly gained fame within the genre with #1 rock singles like “Fight Like This”, “Burn Back The Sun” and “Life Again”. When the band began work on its second album Crash in early 2008, everything seemed to be lined up for a summer/fall release with full touring to support the record. Lead vocalist/bassist Caleb Oliver would go on to record most of the vocals for the album, but before total completion, he abruptly left the band due to “personal reasons”. With a record nearly recorded, it was yet undetermined what Decyfer Down would do. The band decided to move on replacing Caleb with former Fighting Instinct front-man Timothy “TJ” Harris. The vocal styles of the two were significantly different, but the band handled the switch well, holding back the release of Crash to 2009 so that Harris could go and re-record the vocals and add a few new songs. To me, holding the record back was a smart decision since the future of the band’s voice would be taking over just as an album came out. There are still versions of “Best I Can” and the title track out there featuring Caleb’s lead vocals.
Since the switch, most fans have had mixed feelings regarding the band, whether it’s Oliver-led Decyfer Down and the Harris-led Decyfer Down being favored. While the original lineup put out an amazing record with End Of Grey, Crash turned out to be their biggest record to date, topping out at #3 on the Christian charts. The band went onto release the delayed album Scarecrow in 2013 to mixed reviews and even drew criticism from early fans of the band for being “too different” in sound from the original. I guess I am one of the few fans of Scarecrow. Sure, it was different, but the ‘influences album’ as Harris called it was one that I actually enjoyed. 2016 should be a great year for the band with the release of their first independent record The Other Side of Darkness, their first since their days as Aliysonhymn (All-Eyes-On-Him). The first single “Nothing More” has shown fans that the band is returning to the heavier sound that first got them noticed 10 years ago with End Of Grey. Even with the departure of founding drummer/member Josh Oliver, TJ Harris, Brandon Mills, Chris Clonts, Chris Furr and Benjamin Millhouse promise to “bring it” with the new record.
My (2016) Pick: TJ Harris. Although Oliver was the original singer, Decyfer Down is about to do a third album with Harris, compared to Oliver’s one album. The Other Side Of Darkness will be Harris & company’s chance to silence the critics once and for all.
My (2018) Pick: I am still 100% TJ Harris on this one. Don’t get me wrong, Caleb Oliver was a great lead for this band, Harris possess so much more talent not only vocally, but I am telling you if you get a chance to catch this band live – DO IT! Harris not only has incredible vocals, but has impeccable skills on the guitar as well. Decyfer won’t be touring until later this year (2018) with the release of another album, but until then, TJ Harris’ skills are front and center on his string of intimate acoustic dates in the early part of 2018.
AUDIO ADRENALINE or AUDIO A
No band in recent memory has probably been talked or debated about for the switches made within the band than Audio Adrenaline, or lovingly referred to by fans as “Audio A”. When Mark Stuart and Will McGinnis started the band back in the late 80’s during their time in college, they quickly rose to Christian music royalty with 90’s hits like “My God”, “Big House” and “Never Gonna Be As Big As Jesus”. Stuart assumed lead vocal duties until 1997 when guitarist Tyler Burkham joined the group, just in time for the release of Some Kind of Zombie. The next several releases would see Tyler stepping up more and more to do additional lead vocals, while Stuart, whose voice started to suffer as a result of advanced and crippling spasmodic dysphonia. By the time 2005’s Until My Heart Caves In released, it was apparent that Stuart’s days as leading the band vocally had come to an end. As a last ditch effort to thank fans for their many years of support of Audio A, the band released the Live From Hawaii: The Farewell Concert, which was recorded in April 2007. After listening to it, it’s clear that Stuart had taken his voice as far as it would go. He has only sang on one song since, the 2011 Know Hope Collective track “Attention”.
So, one would think that the Farewell show would be the end of Audio A? Nope. In 2012 it was announced that the band would return, this time with former dcTalk vocalist Kevin Max singing lead. On the exception of bassist Will McGinniss, no original members of Audio A were present in what Max referred to as “Audio A 2.0”. The album Kings & Queens was released in 2013, where it peaked at number 70 on the Billboard 200 chart and Number 4 on the Christian charts. It was a great album, but it just didn’t sit well with most fans since McGinniss was the only one left from the original outfit. When Max left the group in 2014, followed shortly thereafter by McGinniss, Audio A was surely over. Nope. Surprisingly the band was resurrected a third time in 2015, this time by Adam Agee, former lead vocalist of Stellar Kart. The band, dubbed “Audio A 3.0” soon followed with the release of the 2015 album Sounds Of The Saints. No offense to Adam Agee, because he was awesome with Stellar Kart, but Audio A should have really been done with that, key word, “Farewell” show in 2007. As exciting as it would be to see Audio A’s original lineup play once again, we know now that that’s just not possible.
My (2016) Pick: No Stuart/Burkham? No Audio A.
My (2018) Pick: No change on this one. Despite seeing Adam Agee front the band live in October 2017 (and providing him with a ride to the airport afterwards), I am still pretty solid on this one. Stuart/Burkham in my opinion made Audio Adrenaline what it was. I think the band should have hung it up before they did because the farewell concert Live In Hawaii **gasp** was horrible and incredibly hard to listen to!
When Texas-based band Flyleaf hit the touring circuit upon the release of their 2005 self-titled debut, they quickly became a fan favorite at many mainstream music festivals like Korn’s Family Values Tour and the Music As A Weapon Tour. I mean one listen to Lacey Sturm’s piercing vocals will leave no one guessing as to why. Just listen to the song “I’m So Sick” and you will know exactly what I mean. Even though Flyleaf toured with more mainstream bands than Christian, the element of faith was always center of their music. Many of the band’s songs spoke about struggles and how they were overcome with God’s intervention. After all, if you read Sturm’s autobiography The Reason, you’ll see just what the Lord took her out of. Amazing book if you have a chance to read it. It was with the record Memento Mori in 2009 that I really started taking notice of the band, even interviewing them at Night of Joy 2009. I was shocked to find that those big, piercing and soulful vocals of Flyleaf’s songs came from such a small person (probably sub-5’ tall). Memento Mori was a long wait, but fans only had to wait 3 years for the follow up with New Horizons.
While recording New Horizons in 2012, tragedy struck when the band’s long time sound engineer Rich Caldwell was killed in a car accident. Between the birth of her first child and the death of Caldwell, Sturm had said that she had had her own “Memento Mori” moment and decided to step down from the band, just prior to their release of the new record. When Sturm left the band, the future of the band would be up in the air only for a short time before making the announcement that former Vedera front-woman Kristen May would take over lead vocals. While May is certainly talented, many fans were unsure if the band would be able to pull off the switch. Kristin May’s first full release with Flyleaf came in 2014 with the release Between the Stars. I noticed a drastically different musical tone with this record, which sounded broke down and very much distant to previous band efforts.
With this one, in my opinion, Flyleaf is not Flyleaf without Lacey. Don’t get me wrong, I love Kristin and she’s got a voice, but that uniqueness that Lacey brought to the band can not be replicated. But fear not Lacey fans, for if you are looking for more Lacey, she is to release her solo debut in 2016 called Life Screams and if the first single “Impossible” is any indication, it will sound an awful lot like the music we grew to love with early Flyleaf.
My (2016) Pick: Lacey Sturm was Flyleaf.
My (2018) Pick: Same, same, same on this one. That voice! Oh man, that voice is what made Flyleaf, well Flyleaf. Well since writing the first article and this one, replacement singer Kristen May decided to leave the group. With the future of the band shrouded with question marks, whether the band will get a second coming with Lacey Sturm is still unknown. Fans could be somewhat optimistic after a 2016 article published in RockRevolt Magazine asked Sturm if she would ever return to the group. Her response was “I feel like I’m the kind of person that I think so much happened that I never in a million years thought would happen, so I’ve learned to quit saying ‘never.’ She concluded however with saying “I don’t have any plans for that, but then again, you never know. I don’t know… [Laughs] They haven’t called me. And I don’t have any plans [to go back].” I don’t know but Sturm’s exit, in my opinion, was the end of the Flyleaf we loved.
When Matt Hammitt announced that he was leaving Sanctus Real at the end of 2015, there were many fans, including myself that thought Sanctus Real was done as well. After all, it is a group he co-founded with some friends back in Toledo, Ohio in 1996, and for nearly 20 years, Hammitt is the only voice we have heard in this band. I was surprised to find out from close sources that the band will in fact continue on without Hammitt, which came as a shock. When you have a band run as long as Sanctus Real has, and suddenly bring in a new singer, how exactly will that be welcomed by long-time fans? In my opinion, that’s like Third Day going on without Mac Powell, or Casting Crowns without Mark Hall or even Mercyme without Bart Millard. It’s hard to fathom, but it’s been made clear that the band will continue. We’ll leave this one open for debate.
My (2016) Pick: Same as Flyleaf, Matt Hammitt was Sanctus Real.
My (2018) Pick: Since writing this article, like Flyleaf, my position hasn’t changed. Even with the addition of Dustin Lolli on lead vocals and the imminent release of the band’s 2018 debut with Lolli called Changed, I really feel like Sanctus Real is one of those bands you can’t just switch lead vocals on. I mean when you have a lead singer for 20 years, it’s really hard thinking of the group with someone else singing. Lolli sounds great, but his vocals are a far cry and honestly too different from Hammitt’s to consider the current lineup of Sanctus Real… well Sanctus Real. But alas, for those who were big fans of Hammitt, you will be happy to know that he released his second solo album, Matt Hammitt, his first since departing the group.
!!NEW ADDITIONS IN 2018!!
When Hawk Nelson started out in 2004 with their debut record Letters To The President, there were high hopes for the Canadian band. With a slew of radio hits and even an appearance in the 2005 remake of the film Yours, Mine and Ours, the band was destined to stay atop the mountaintop of Christian pop/punk/rock. But, with the sudden, and mysterious departure of original vocalist Jason Dunn in 2012, the band’s future didn’t lay in limbo for two long. Long time guitarist Jonathan Steingard stepped into the lead role where he has helmed for the past two records, a third coming in April 2018 called Miracles. The popularity of the band has dropped off as far as mainstream appeal goes, but the band’s message has stepped up entirely bringing focus more on Biblical points of views than the previous incarnation’s efforts.
My (2018) Pick: Many Hawk Nelson fans are probably going to disagree with me on this one – but I would have to go with the Steingard-led Hawk Nelson over the Dunn-lead. I know, I know, that’s like picking Van Hagar over Van Roth, but hey, I love what Jonathan Steingard has brought to the band. The message of the group’s new records is much better and less watered down than the original lineup’s albums. But, if you truly are a bigger fan of the original lineup, I did see a video of Jason Dunn mentioning in 2017 about him and a few of the founding members starting a new band and even touring.
FAMILY FORCE 5
Where do I start on this crazy bunch of guys? Haha Well anyone who knows the story behind this band knows that they started out as the group simply called The Brothers – which consisted of brothers Solomon, Jacob and Joshua Olds. The group released a few records in the 90’s produced by their father, Jerome Olds, also a Christian singer in his own right. In 2005, the group of brothers added a few more members and a lot of crazy nicknames, and formed the group we know now as Family Force 5. I have to be honest with you, I have seen these guys quite a few times and I have to tell you there probably isn’t a crazier group of guys around then these jokers. But, I can say that they put on an incredible show that will leave you aching after all of the jumping, yelling and just moving around. Like other bands where lead singers have left, when Solomon “Soul Glow Activatur” Olds left the group in 2013 to focus more on the production side of music – the band’s future was in question. Although the group behind Solomon was great in their individual roles, how would someone step in continue to the crazy momentum? They didn’t have to look to far as Jacob Olds aka ‘crouton’ stepped out from behind the drum kit to assume lead singer duties. March 2017 was supposed to see a release of a new record called Audiotorium, but due to the band’s label Word Records being sold to Curb Records, the project has sat on the shelf with no release date in sight.
My (2018) Pick: Although the momentum of FF5 shifted into a more serious and CCM sound with their 2014 record Time Stands Still, and the band’s raucous stage antics continue live in concert – I feel that the band is just not the same without Solomon at the helm. Don’t get me wrong, I still love this band and the two singles they’ve sent to radio since the switch (“BZRK” and “Walk On Water”), the original lineup is the one I liked best. Who knows, the one single I have heard from Audiotorium called “Out Of This World” (which strangely isn’t even available on iTunes) is amazing and if the whole album is like this – we have a lot to hope for.
GAITHER VOCAL BAND
Okay, I may have lost some of my readers on this one, because most will see the list above and ask – how do you go from Flyleaf and Decyfer Down to the Gaither Vocal Band? Well, when I gave my life to Christ back in 2003, I had a pretty wide variety of musical tastes. I could listen to anything from classical and jazz to pop and heavy metal. Yeah, I guess I was a regular Sears and Roebuck of musical tastes. Funny though, is that I didn’t really care for country much growing up even though it was the music most of my mom’s side of the family listened to – and there is an uncanny resemblance of most country tunes to Southern Gospel – I owe the love of some southern Gospel music to my wife Shannon. I went to my first Homecoming tour back in 2005 and I have to say that I was mesmerized. Not by the style of music mind you, but the incredible harmonies that these guys possessed. The Gaither Vocal Band in 2005 comprised of Bill Gaither (only remaining original member and patriarch of Southern Gospel music), gifted soprano and the guy I have dubbed “The Voice”, David Phelps; Guy Penrod; Wes Hampton and Marshall Hall. Though the Gaither Vocal Band has been around since 1981, the band’s roots actually go way back in 1957 as the The Gaither Trio, and since the inception of the Gaither Vocal Band, every big-name vocalist in Christian music history has been part of the group. Michael English, Larnelle Harris, Steve Green, Mark Lowry, Russ Taff and Adam Crabb are just a few of the talented vocalists to be a part of this iconic group. Even after 37 years together, Bill Gaither, even at nearly 82 years of age is still determined to bring audiences that ‘old-school’ style of Gospel music out in every performance. I have been fortunate enough to see the band with three different lineups. So as a fan of music, I consider myself lucky to have witnessed this group of talent here.
My (2018) Pick: Out of the three lineups I saw, I would say that the 2005 lineups of Gaither, Phelps, Penrod, Hall and Hampton would hands down have to be the best. I have heard the other incarnations of the group sing together in harmony, but when you put this group of guys together – man oh man, what a sound! Go and listen to “Alpha and Omega” from the 2002 record Everything Good and you’ll hear just what I mean.