march 2011

Bob Marovich's Gospel Picks

munizzi'...masterful command of a worship service'
Martha Munizzi
Martha Munizzi Ministries (2011)
available at

Is it me or does Martha Munizzi get even better with each successive CD?

The Florida worship leader's latest release, Make It Loud, definitely lives up to its title. The opening selections barrel out of the starting gate as if powered by racing fuel. The title track and "Excellent" are stadium filling, high-energy praise and worship celebrations.

Munizzi sings with the friendly, instantly appealing verve of Shania Twain, and possesses a practiced sense of timing and mood setting. Like a pleasant aroma, her extended improvisations quietly captivate listeners, draw them in and, once in the palm of her hand, bear them to a state where body, mind and soul are in synch.

After a thunderous beginning, Munizzi switches to acoustic praise ballads dignified with lovely and simple melodies. The finest among them is "No One Higher," and on "Fill Me," Munizzi and Daniel Eric Graves--one of several featured guest vocalists--build the atmosphere to fever pitch.

Martha Munizzi, 'New Season,' from The Best Is Yet To Come DVD

On "My God is a Big God," Munizzi works with the popular William McDowell and Jeff Smith, whose leap into falsetto brings joy to some female members in particular. This song is the crowd pleaser: by the end of the nine-minute reprise, the entire congregation is wrapped up and tangled up in the spirit.

Speaking of guest vocalists, Martha's daughter Danielle sounds strikingly like a teen version of her mother as she renders her lovely original composition, "Your Love Oh God."

Recorded live before an appreciative congregation at City of Life Church in Kissimmee, Florida, Make It Loud demonstrates Martha Munizzi's masterful command of a worship service.

Picks: "Make It Loud," "Excellent," "No One Higher"


kim-burrellBlurring the line between spiritual and physical love...
Kim Burrell
Shanachie Entertainment
available at


It's all you need. A many-splendored thing. According to Mickey and Sylvia, it can even make you fail in school. It's hands-down the most popular subject in popular music history, if not history, period.

Grammy nominated and Stellar Award-winning singer Kim Burrell takes on this timeless subject in all of its manifestations on her appropriately titled The Love Album. The collection of ten songs deliberately blurs the lines, musically and lyrically, between spiritual and physical love. Here, the "you" in "I love you" is sometimes ambiguous and other times unambiguously cleaer. As Kirk Franklin commented, "Ms. Burrell is beginning to break down those walls of the church and the romantic."

Throughout the album, urban AC songs are converted into religious performances and vice versa, but whether Burrell is singing about love of God or love of a human being, it's a sweet love, a clean love, a pure love. In this, the project is reminiscent of another Shanachie release, 2009's The Gift of Love, by Melba Moore and Phil Perry.

'Be Grateful,' Kim Burrell performs at the Oct. 2010 Bishop Walter Hawkins tribute concert

The first four selections, including the current single, "Sweeter," are just okay and do not give Burrell room to flex her estimable vocal talents, although the string-laden "Love So Pure" does allow her to weave in light top notes extemporaneously like Sarah Vaughan.

"Open Up the Door," a lovely praise ballad written by Kim's sister Kathy, throws open the door to a far more musically interesting second half. This selection allows Burrell to do what she does best: improvise over, under and through the melody like a finely honed gospel instrument. Similarly, "Is This the Way Love Goes?" is a thing of beauty, as Burrell sings accompanied by Eddie Brown's marvelous classical-jazz piano.  A CD teaming Burrell and Brown--throw in a string bass but nothing more--would be an aural treat.

Speaking of aural treat, The Love Album has a deft production courtesy of a team of producers, including the talented Asaph Ward.

Songs such as Twinkie Clark's "Jesus is a Love Song" is given an especially jazzy treatment and El DeBarge's "Love Me in a Special Way" has explicitly religious overtones. The concluding track, "Pray for Love," sums up the album's intent.  It is an R&B-drenched cry to hate evil and grasp love.  "Grab somebody by the hand and pray for love," Burrell sings. Amen.

Picks: "Open Up the Door," "Is This the Way Love Goes?"

*** her element, leading a praise and worship service...'
Tonya Baker
Kingdom Records
available at

Tonya Baker's sophomore album for Kingdom Records, The Live Encounter, is a great way to experience the singer. The Dayton, Ohio, psalmist is in her element leading a praise and worship service, which is essentially what this CD is.

Like most Kingdom Records artists, Baker knows how to move a congregation from introspective prayer to extroverted worship. She can alter the atmosphere and tone of a service as easily as adjusting a thermostat. She has a lovely and deliciously listenable soprano, a human saxophone given to extended flights of improvisation.

The first four selections on The Live Encounter are punchy, arm-waving, high-energy praise songs. The current single, "Miracles," is sassy on the radio edit but mood-setting on the reprise, which goes in such a different direction it feels like a separate composition altogether.

Tonya Baker, 'Miracles,' from The Live Encounter

At this point, Baker slows things down and stretches out on a series of hypnotically calming praise and worship songs. "Bless Your Name" and "Let Your Glory Fill This House" are examples. The latter is a turning point for the audience, which is audibly moved by the song's extended reprise, which is, as are several tracks, a smooth gospel jam session that lowers the musical temperature while raising worshippers' emotional fever.

The last three songs are anticlimactic because they follow "I'll Sing Forever," a lovely praise anthem that incites high emotions among the audience. Anticlimactic, yes, but not irrelevant. One, "Kingdom Advancement," evokes label mates Shekinah Glory Ministry in its depiction of worshippers as warriors for the kingdom.

Fans of Tonya Baker and those new to her ministry will appreciate The Live Encounter. To get a feel for its continuity and flow, listen to it straight through, in one sitting. You will be rewarded.

Picks: "Miracles," "I'll Sing Forever"


jay-white'...gospel and inspirational music with a contemporary touch...'
Jay White
Intercession Music
available at

The acorn doesn't fall far from the tree, as the saying goes. In the case of singer-songwriter-musician-producer Jay White, that tree grows in Brooklyn and has deep roots in gospel music.

White's father is Bishop Jeffrey L. White, Senior Pastor of Brooklyn's Greater Temple of Faith ("House of Judah"). He played bass for artists such as Elder Timothy Wright, Reverend James Cleveland, Bishop Albert Jamison & TriBoro Mass Choir, and Bishop J.C. White and the J.C. White Singers. The J.C. White Singers in particular were musical innovators, having been a part of the contemporary gospel movement and cast members of the original The Gospel at Colonnus.

Bishop White makes a brief appearance delivering the Word on his son's debut solo album, Larger Than Life, a CD anchored by crisp, jazzy musicianship that evokes the Winans' early work. Complex Take Six-like harmonies underpin White's omnipresent vocals that make frequent leaps into falsetto. The selections are love songs to the Lord, delivered with a conviction suggesting a love forged in the crucible of trial. To that point, the poignant "Cry 4 Help" is about a worship leader who battles inner demons and emerges victorious through tear-stained prayer.

Larger Than Life is one of the rare albums where I agree with all of the single selections. The rhythmic and exuberant title song, the swaggering warning to haters called "I Don't Need You," and the ballad "Only One I Need" are compelling tracks. In addition, "Love Lifted Me" is a melodic praise song with excellent jazz accompaniment, and "I Know a Man," with its declaration of joy, has a relaxed soul vibe with a touch of traditional in the faint warbling of an organ.

Those who enjoy gospel and inspirational music with an urban contemporary touch will enjoy Jay White's Larger Than Life.

Picks: "I Don't Need You," "Larger Than Life," "Only One I Need"


Bob 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 founder and editor of The Black Gospel Blog:


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