march 2011

Bob Marovich's Gospel Picks

medicine'...soul stirring performances and messages..'
Various Artists
MCG Records

In October 2010, artists a-plenty participated in a concert to raise operating support for Dallas's Black Academy of Arts and Letters, a nonprofit organization founded by Curtis King in 1977 that is now the largest multi-discipline black cultural institution in the United States.

In the process of delivering some much-needed financial medicine, the collection of singers, actors and musicians provided no small amount of spiritual medicine in the live program, captured for posterity on Medicine.

The CD's finest moments are the first moments, when American Idol's Ruben Studdard delivers an extraordinary performance of album producer Sam "Shake" Anderson's inspirational "Medicine for Someone Else." The song--about taking time to be a blessing to others--can stand on its own, but Studdard's velvety tenor makes it top-grade.

Also taking it higher are the dynamic Yarbrough & Peoples, whose The Two of Us LP I wore out in the early 1980s. Their "Jump Til' You Feel Something" on Medicine evokes some of the hypnotic funkiness of "Don't Stop the Music" while pulling on the secular sanctification of Sly Stone and House of Pain's party-starting "Jump." This selection could make the R&B charts and also find its way onto roots radio show playlists.

Other high points are when Ann Nesby of Sounds of Blackness sings from the loneliness of the prayer closet on the haunting "What Would You Have Me Do?" The neo-traditional rafter raising "Won't Have to Worry" is led by the effervescent shouter Tommye Young-West and supported by the Academy Choir, which sings with polish and pizzazz throughout the CD.

All of the songs on the album were written or co-written by Anderson, and represent a impressive body of inspirational work.

Medicine concludes with a poignant and thought-provoking poem called "My Language." Curtis King wrote this ode to the enduring spirit of African Americans as expressed through the fine arts for the Academy's 30th anniversary season in 2007. Actress Jasmine Guy (A Different World) recites the poem with appropriate emotional power over an ever-shifting jazz soundtrack. When she recites a litany of significant writers, actors, artists and musicians, it is a confirmation, if one is needed, of the enormously rich and immeasurable contributions African Americans have made to the world's cultural treasure chest.

Gospel fans in particular will enjoy Medicine for its soul-stirring performances and messages, but enthusiasts of any kind of music will find the collection appealing. It's worth it just to hear Studdard sing sacred music, which this collection suggests he ought to do more often.

For more about the Black Academy of Arts and Letters, check our report in this month’s Gospel News & Notes.

Picks: "Medicine for Someone Else," "Won't Have to Worry."


yrm'...all the ingredients of a flawless gospel album...'
Donald Lawrence & Co.
Available at

Those enchanted by the Grammy- and Stellar Award-winning Donald Lawrence's previous work will appreciate that YRM (Your Righteous Mind) follows artistically in the footsteps of his most immediate predecessors, The Law of Confession Part 1 and I Speak Life.

On this, his third solo CD, Lawrence uses his authoritative voice to teach lessons, declare simple truths, send audibles to the choir, and explain the stories behind some of the songs, which are often inspired by teachings of favorite pastors (one appears here: Bishop Tudor Bismark of South Africa). Though its messages are diverse, a unifying element of YRM is the belief that you are what you, in your mind, declare yourself to be. When you affirm your personal "I Am," God will move in your life accordingly.

Time and again, the ensemble plucks similarly fundamental, and sometimes complex, themes from the Bible and distills them into simple, operational truths, such as on "Second Wind," based on the story of Caleb. "Spiritual," one of the album's already-released singles, proclaims we are all "spiritual beings having a natural experience." The song's sophisticated strut evokes Lawrence's 2008 hit, "Back II Eden."

Donald Lawrence's 2008 hit, 'Back II Eden'

There are many fine performances throughout the CD, but the ballad "II Chronicles" stands out in particular for its soaring majesty. And on "Through the Fire," the group doesn't gospelize Chaka Khan's 1985 hit but instead renders it nearly note-for-note. They just simply redirect the song's object of affection.

A number of A-team gospel artists join Lawrence & Co. on YRM, among them Dorinda Clark Cole on the hit title track, Israel Houghton on the poignant "We Agree," and fellow Chicagoan Kim McFarland on Walter Hawkins' classic "When the Battle is Over."

Besides the slate of fine soloists, much needs to be said about "& Co." It is a group of exceptional singers with perfect diction who deliver lyrics with precision and power. In a time when music can overtake the message, with Donald Lawrence & Co., you not only hear each word, but you also feel each word.

YRM has all the ingredients of a flawless gospel album: great songs, talented singers and musicians, a team of guest artists, superb production and well-articulated messages. Thus, at the conclusion--and it feels like a conclusion--when the ensemble sings "Anything can happen/If we agree," you know it will.

Picks: "Spiritual," "We Agree," "II Chronicles."


journey'...maintaining a smooth jazz vibe...'
Cynthia Jones
Kingdom Records (release date: August 23, 2011)
Available at

"Are you ready for Miss Cynthia Jones?"

So asks Grammy- and Stellar Award-nominated neo-soul gospel singer Cynthia Jones on the introductory track of her new project, Journey of Soul. Spelling her name rhythmically in Fergie style, Jones sets the chill-or-dance mood "on the journey of soul" in the album's opening moments.

Journey of Soul maintains the smooth jazz vibe that Jones established on her 2008 Kingdom Records CD, Gotta Soul. The North Carolina-based singer sounds like she was raised in New York or L.A., her music nurtured by smart vocalists such as Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Lisa McClendon and Lauryn Hill. Jones' snappy repartee on "Unconditional" suggests she even picked up a couple of vocal tips along the way from the late Michael Jackson.

The album lyrics are part praise, part honest conversations with God, and part life lessons imparted with an intimacy, as if it's just you and Miss Jones, hanging out on a shaggy-carpeted living room.

Cynthia Jones's 2008 hit, 'Gotta Soul'

But Jones wants listeners to do more than just sit and listen. She offers plenty of opportunities for partaking in praise dancing, including the finger-popping "Child of the King;" the Christian club-ready "Universal Praise," where Jones asks for the "universal praise word" (it's "Hallelujah"); and the aptly titled "Judah Jam," where Jones sings, "I want to dance like David danced. I'm gonna cut a step tonight." Even the apocalyptic "Midnight" encourages listeners to heed the End of Days, but not without a little shape cutting.

"Revival" injects some straight-up gospel atop purringly hypnotic background harmonies. Speaking of straight-up gospel, Jones playfully places snippets of familiar gospel hymns (and at least one recent popular R&B song) into several of her selections. I leave it to the listener to locate them.

Journey of Soul is the aural equivalent of wearing a comfortable and stylish pair of jeans. It's Kingdom Records' shimmering Seventies side.

If you are in the Raleigh, NC area, do a little praise stepping of your own at Cynthia Jones' CD release party. See her website for more details.

Picks: "Unconditional," "Universal Praise," "Revival."



lovetones'...lay ministry of hope and comfort...'

Standing on the Rock, the LoveTones' latest full-length CD, continues the ensemble's commitment to seasoning traditional gospels and spirituals with rich vocal harmonies. To this end, the LoveTones sound somewhere in between a quartet and a male chorus.

Standing on the Rock demonstrates dramatically improved production and vocal arrangements, and stronger harmonies, than the group’s previous Jubilee. An a cappella introduction to the opening selection, "Joy Everlasting," captures the listener's attention from the outset, and the closer, "We've Come This Far By Faith," comes as close as any track on the CD in evoking the muscular might of Atlanta's Majestic Male Chorus.

The album's nine tracks are a step back in time. "Old Ship of Zion" opens with a strong harmonic arrangement and continues with bluesy flourishes, while "Born Again" taps into the group's quartet side with a driving verve appropriate to the subject matter.

The musicians, anchored by engineer/mixer and guitarist Joe Laquidara, provide solid support to the LoveTones, though the vocal ensemble could just as easily have sung everything a cappella.

Standing on the Rock is a much finer example of the LoveTones musical "lay ministry of hope and comfort" than their previous recorded examples. One can only hope the ensemble continues to hone its craft because traditional gospel classics and vocal group harmony are worth preserving.

Picks: "We've Come This Far by Faith."


tre'...immersed in the quiet storm groove...'
Tre' Thomas
Available at

Born in New Orleans and a former member of the Howard University Gospel Choir, Tre' Thomas grew up in church but prefers laid-back R&B to express his religious conviction. The ten tracks on Thomas' debut album, A Natural Contrast, find him immersed in the quiet storm groove as he lays bare his soul to the listener.

Thomas' cool, elastic and expressive R&B-infused voice is a blend of his musical influences, including Richard Smallwood, Eric Benet, and Luther Vandross. Naturally, then, he is at his best on the album's worship ballads--love songs to the Most High--especially "My First Love" and the praise and worship "More than Anything." "My First Love" finds Tre' drifting well above the stave in wordless lines of improvisation that express his adoration for God, an adoration for which he can find no adequate words.

Tre' Thomas, 'My First Love,' from his album A Natural Contrast

In keeping with the album title, Thomas turns the temperature up on the rock guitar-driven "All Things," a song about keeping the faith and trusting in God. At one point in the selection, his voice sounds like an Indian pungi (snake charmer instrument) as he improvises in auto-tune. "Imagine" continues down the same lyrical line of reasoning by declaring that if one lives right, God will take care of the rest.

Thomas, who has sung background for Tye Tribbett, Ted &Sheri, DeWayne Woods and Maurette Brown-Clark, seeks to break down barriers between gospel and secular sounds. "It doesn't matter what you do, just do whatever comes from your heart," Thomas said. "But it is important to remember that we are all here for something other than ourselves."

You can hear Thomas every Monday at 9:00 p.m. ET on his online radio show, LoveLudes, broadcast on the award-winning Bonnerfide Radio.

A Natural Contrast is a modern soundtrack to modern challenges with solutions that are time-tested.

Picks: "All Things," "More Than Anything."


marovichBob Marovich is a gospel music historian, radio announcer, and author. In its seventh season, Bob's "Gospel Memories" program of vintage black gospel music and artist interviews airs live first Sundays from 3:00 to 7:30 a.m. on Chicago's WLUW 88.7 FM, and streams live at Snippets of recent broadcasts can be heard at Bob is also editor of The Black Gospel Blog.


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