october 2011

Bob Marovich's Gospel Picks

forever‘…exuding the contentment of straight-up, no frills ministry…’
Forever Jones
EMI Gospel (2011)
Available at www.amazon.com

They sing! They play! They write songs! They have fantastic stage presence!

The “family band” of Forever Jones--originally from Washington State and now living in Shreveport, Louisiana--is a polished, well-disciplined group that bristles with energy, smiles, and talent to spare. The group would be gospel’s Partridge Family, except they are real. Still, the clean-cut, all-for-one Forever Jones evokes Shirley Jones’s (no pun intended) television family.

To maintain public momentum for the Stellar Award-winning ensemble in lieu of a new album, EMI Gospel released a deluxe edition of Forever Jones’ debut album Get Ready, which includes the original CD plus a 45-minute DVD performance recorded at TBN.

Those who know Forever Jones only from its willowy radio hit “He Wants It All” will be surprised at how downright funky the group can get on Get Ready. Further, their pop inflections evoke early Winans, while family matriarch Kim Jones’ vocal work on “Bless the Lord” brims with the blue notes of traditional gospel. This reintroduction reacquainted me with the delicate, tuneful “Time to Believe,” another strong candidate for single status on Get Ready.

On the well-produced DVD, essentially a television special, Forever Jones sings every song on the album (in a different order) and demonstrates how bandbox neat they look and how professionally they come across in performance. Dominique’ is the family’s go-to soloist; she’s the lead voice and pianist on “He Wants It All.” The ladies are up front for most of the program, though the male Joneses, who are among the musicians, contribute a lead vocal line or two.

Not histrionic but musically focused in performance, Forever Jones exudes the contentment of straight-up, no frills ministry. One hopes that the group continues to offer their brand of honest musicality for a long time.

Picks: “He Wants It All,” “Time to Believe.”


wow‘…music for a restful Sunday afternoon…’
Various Artists
EMI Gospel/EMI Christian Music Group/
Word Entertainment/Verity
Available at www.amazon.com

The long-running WOW Gospel Series, which serves as a yearbook of gospel hits, and a couple of new titles tossed in for good measure and greater sales, has extended its brand to include specialty titles, such as the just-released WOW Gospel Worship.

This new disc is a collection of sacred hits whose connecting thread is the praise and worship lyric. The musical accompaniment ranges from the punchy, in-your-face contemporary gospel arrangements of VaShawn Mitchell to Smokie Norful’s simple, expressive vocals on the song-prayer “Dear God,” to Shekinah Glory Ministry’s breakout P&W smash “Praise is What I Do.”

The collection, mined from a few major gospel music labels, spans the past fifteen years: from Fred Hammond’s 1996 “No Weapon” to the present day. Many of the songs are gospel radio staples, such as Kurt Carr’s “In the Sanctuary,” and Byron Cage’s “The Presence of the Lord,” the latter which almost defines the P&W sound.

Others, such as Heather Headley’s part-bluesy, all-marvelous “Here I Am to Worship,” from her under-appreciated masterpiece Audience of One, may turn heads anew. "Great is Your Mercy" from Donnie McClurkin's Live In London and More... is a mesmerizing selection ripe for reacquaintance. Familiar or not, the titles mix well and provide a fine listening experience from start to finish.

The new titles are rendered by special combinations of gospel artists. Noted as “the top worship song in the United States,” “Mighty to Save” is covered by Myron Butler, Sheri-Jones Moffett and the family band Forever Jones. “Majesty” is performed by a trio of muscular-voiced male psalmists--Deon Kipping, Jason Nelson and William Murphy--who solo as solidly as they harmonize.

WOW Gospel Worship is music for a restful Sunday afternoon.


darryl‘…untraditional rhythms for traditional church chestnuts…’
Darryl Anderson
Available at www.amazon.com

When it comes to gospel jazz, the saxophone predominates. Vernard Johnson. Harold Rayford. Reggie Houston. Angella Christie. Ron Brown. The list goes on.

Add Darryl Anderson to the list.

The Harlem-born Anderson is an accomplished musician from an accomplished family: his uncle was a recording artist in the 1960s and cousin is a multi-instrumentalist, including jazz saxophone. Earlier this year, Darryl Anderson was the featured saxophonist on the five-day One Love Gospel Cruise.

On his new CD, You Are, Anderson interprets popular gospel, hymns and his own compositions in the smooth jazz style, from Mary Mary’s “Seattle” to Fanny Crosby and W. Howard Doane’s “Do Not Pass Me By.”

Rather than go through the motions, Anderson and his crew lay down some untraditional rhythms for traditional church chestnuts “Do Not Pass Me By” and “The Blood.” Anderson gives the former a world music vibe by adding sultry Middle Eastern riffs on what sounds like soprano sax.

Hearing Sophia Green’s vocal contribution, alternately vulnerable and insistent, on the concluding “I Got a Praise,” one wishes she appeared more often in the project, especially on some of the latter tracks that lacked the strong, melodic distinctiveness of the album's earlier selections.

Nevertheless, You Are is a pleasant listening experience, especially for fans of gospel jazz or just straight-up smooth jazz.


jawn‘…removing the ‘un’ from unsigned artist…’
Various Artists
EMI Gospel
Available at www.amazon.com

Last February, Jawn Murray, the popular Washington D.C.-based on-air entertainment reporter for the Tom Joyner Morning Show and a columnist for AOL Black Voices, called all unsigned gospel artists to participate in his UNTAPPED competition.

Produced in partnership with EMI Gospel, UNTAPPED would give unsigned artists a chance to remove the “un” from the adjective in a major way.

The promotion received more than 300 entries from gospel artists, each of whom submitted a single recording for review by an all-star panel of judges. Ten finalists would be placed on a CD compilation and one grand prize winner would, as the legalese stated, be “entitled to enter into an exclusive physical and/or digital recording deal with EMI Gospel.”

Although the grand prize winner will not be announced until next year, the compilation, Jawn Murray Presents UNTAPPED, was released in mid-September.

Among the ten young contemporary gospel artists putting their best audio foot forward on UNTAPPED, the ladies are the shining stars. Detroiter Tasha Page-Lockhart’s “The Love of God” is among the album’s jewels. It’s the kind of bracing, bright, and catchy pop-infused piece that one expects from a Detroit singer. Minneapolis resident Tonia Hughes’ nuanced and intense “Rest on Me” is a gripping praise and worship workout. Madelyn Berry sings the Chris Tomlin P&W anthem “How Great is Our God” with the urgency of South Africa's Queen of Gospel, Rebecca Malope.

Speaking of Berry, readers of The Black Gospel Blog will recognize three finalists on the project. Berry, Brian C. Reeves & Heart After God and F’Lana have each graced this blog in the past.

UNTAPPED is full of youthful energy and creativity, and it will be exciting to find out who is selected as grand prize winner, though EMI Gospel can’t go wrong with any of the ten. Meanwhile, a lyric from F’lana’s “2nd Chance,” which closes the comp, articulates what the finalists must be thinking: “If not now, then when? If not me, then who?”

Picks: “The Love of God,” “Rest on Me.”


cheairs‘…singing with the intensity of a man given a second chance…’
Dr. Andrew Cheairs & the Songbirds
Emmanuel Records
Available at www.amazon.com

On his new CD, Makeover, Dr. Andrew Cheairs sings with the gut-wrenching intensity of a man given a second chance.

And he was.

Shortly before Christmas 2010, Rev. Cheairs was involved in an automobile accident and suffered a punctured lung and broken bones. Recovery was slow but sure, and although I am not certain whether the new album was recorded before or after the accident, some of the song titles, such as “1 More Day,” “God Will,” and “Grateful,” seem to bear witness to his grateful attitude anyhow.

Cheairs and the Songbirds are known for their church-wrecking traditional quartet performances, but on Makeover they go above and beyond their usual power, making this one of the best quartet recordings this year. The album even deserves a nod for having one of the more notable covers of 2011: a sepia-toned photo of an old-fashioned river baptism.

Makeover is resplendent with extended performances and vamps, and Cheairs’ explosive hard-shouting lead is omnipresent. The meaty title track has a driving mid-tempo beat and hooks the listener with a quintessentially down-home quartet lyric, “I’ve got a makeover/Since Jesus took over.”

Additionally, “Let’s Praise the Lord” is fun in a Rance Allen Group sort of way. A slow and bluesy version of the congregational song “I Know It Was the Blood” evolves into a call-and-response that somewhat evokes the lyric playfulness of Inez Andrews’ solo on the Caravans’ classic “Mary, Don’t You Weep.”

After the vocal thunder and lightning, the group cools it down for “Journey,” the concluding cut. Here they muse on how “this is not an easy journey; sometimes things get a little rough.” They “have been singing for fifty-two long years/Sometimes shedding sweat and crying many tears” (remember the group’s 1971 single for Style Wooten’s Designer imprint?). They conclude, “We’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go….we’ve got to keep on singing.” Their fans sure hope so.

Picks: “Makeover,” “Let’s Praise the Lord.”

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 http://www.wluw.org. Snippets of recent broadcasts can be heard at http://www.gospelmemories.com/. Bob is also editor of The Black Gospel Blog.


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