October 2011

Bob Marovich's Gospel Picks

sling shot‘…messages of encouragement and empowerment…
Various Artists
Strike the Rock Entertainment
Available at www.striketherockentertainment.com

“We’re a new generation…we say it loud!”

So announces talented newcomer Bria Manaway on “Say it LOUD,” the initial single from the SlingShot 2011 Soundtrack. And she does, they do, and the result is impressive.

According to what sounds like its mission statement, the SlingShot All-City Youth Conference in Tukwila, Washington, “gives youth and young adults the time, tools, teaching, training and transformative experience they need to deepen, grow and sustain their Christian faith.” Ingrid Fields, President of Strike the Rock Entertainment, got the idea to capture some of the flavor of the conference's music and spoken word artists on a compilation CD.

The comp features songs written and co-written by Fields associate and inspirational innovator Michelle Lang.  A theme common to the songs, one that resonates among young people, is the desire to overcome human frailties and be more like Jesus. For example, on her “I’m a Witness,” Lang asserts that she wants to stay close to Him “when the world calls my name.”

While all of the singers are uniformly strong and genuine, two stand out. Seattle's Mark Wagner sings his own composition, “There is Hope,” with the edgy confidence of John Legend while accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. Canadian Morrissa Nicole Brown’s marvelous “What If” evokes Tori Amos’s “God” when she asks, “What if we are the only Jesus people see?”

Not all the selections are musical. Tia Nache’ offers a clever spoken word piece called "iGod," which raps on the vicissitudes of communicating in an e-world when the real thing is twice as nice.

What the SlingShot 2011 Soundtrack suggests is that Christian/gospel pop, with its messages of encouragement and empowerment, candy-sweet tunes and strong beats, often makes better pop music than pop music.

Picks: “Like Him,” “What If”


oakland‘…meaty, polished and well-trained…’
Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir
Available at www.oigc.org

The contemporary gospel sensibility found on the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir’s self-released Hear My Prayer bears witness to the work of another Bay Area contemporary ensemble, the Hawkins Family.

In fact, it’s difficult to listen to the choir’s version of  “I Can Change,” or fellow Californian Margaret Pleasant Douroux’s “Give Me a Clean Heart,” and not hear echoes of the majestic sweep of Edwin Hawkins’ Northern California State Youth Choir.

But as meaty, polished and well-trained as the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir is, the CD belongs just as much to its talented lead singers. In particular, Carmen Jones on “Give Me a Clean Heart” and Keziah Buggs on the Gaithers’ “There’s Something About That Name” pepper their solos with blue notes and gospel runs that provide marvelous counterpoint to the smooth, booming tones of the choir.

Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, ‘Get Ready For Your Miracle,’ at Yoshi’s Jazz Club, Oakland, CA, March 23, 2008. The soloist is Terrance Kelly.

Terrance Kelly, who directs the multi-cultural, multi-denominational chorus, pulls a roomful of sound out of the ensemble, especially on the rolling “All That I Need.”

Not a one-trick pony, the OIGC just as easily launches into a cappella arrangements of “Ev’rytime I Feel the Spirit” and the late Moses Hogan’s hymnic “Hear My Prayer.” Upon hearing Hogan's dynamically stunning track, one can only wonder what other greatness he would have produced had he lived to a ripe old age. Meanwhile, on the standard “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” Kelly channels J. Robert Bradley in his muscular operatic lead.

The Benediction, sung by the choir and led in spoken word by Pastor George Cummings, could easily be subtitled “Funky Benediction,” with the wah-wah guitars in the background.

Hear My Prayer is a capably-produced, superbly-wrought work and no doubt captures the live spirit of the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir with fidelity.

Picks:  “Give Me a Clean Heart,” “Hear My Prayer.”


muyiwa‘…a global musical journey…’
Muyiwa and Riversongz
Riversongz Music
Available at www.riversongz.com/

Someone asked me recently what I thought gospel music would sound like in five years. Without missing a beat, I said it would incorporate more components of world music. The person looked at me as if I had seven eyes and a tail.

Enter Muyiwa Olarewaju and Riversongz.

They are a U.K.-based praise and worship ensemble who on Declaring His Name All Around the World take the listener on a global musical journey. The group incorporates polyrhythmic African beats and Indian music on “The Name of the Lord,” Afro-Caribbean and reggae on “Jehovah Jireh” and sing some verses in Chinese on the gentle “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

Overall, however, the group maintains a rootedness to the infectious rhythms, simple melodies and tight four-part harmony singing evocative of Africa. The melodies in particular are comprised of major chord simplicities heard in South African gospel. On the hymnic “My Heritage,” Muyiwa’s tribute to his parents, Riversongz harmonizes with the tightness heard in traditional South African church singing.

Muyiwa serves as a James Fortune or John P. Kee style MC, but with an African accent as he exhorts the listener and Riversongz--a professionally polished and cheerful choir--in word and song. “Only You Be God,” for example, sounds every bit as if it was produced in South Africa, and is one of the album’s outstanding selections.

‘This is just worship from a different culture’: Muyiwa & Riversongz,’God of Miracles,’ a popular Nigerian praise anthem

Another highlight on Declaring His Name All Around the World is the haunting praise and worship ballad “I Praise Your Name,” led by a strong female lead whose vocal style contains more than a measure of hard-singing traditional gospel technique.

American artists guest starring on the album are Mary Alessi, who delivers “I Will Call on Him” like Faith Hill at church; and P&W favorite Darwin Hobbs on “I Love You Lord.”

Muyiwa is no stranger to European listeners, having received the BBC’s Young Musician Award and presenting the “Sounds Of Africa” program on Lufthansa Airlines. He also hosts the award-winning programs “Gospel Tonight” and “Worship Tonight” on UK’s Premier Radio.

Declaring His Name All Around the World will be a treat for enthusiasts of African gospel and an eye-opener for those hitherto unfamiliar with gospel from across the big pond. The album suggests that my comment about gospel incorporating world music styles may not be so crazy after all.

Picks: “Only You Be God,” “I Praise Your Name.”


vicki‘…her best work to date…’
Vicki Yohe
Shanachie Entertainment
Available at www.amazon.com

Stellar- and Dove-Award nominee Vicki Yohe is among a handful of blue-eyed gospel singers who have not only found an appreciable and appreciative audience in the African American church, but whose work has also landed on Billboard's Top Gospel Singles and Albums charts.

Her tenth and latest CD, I’m At Peace: A Praise and Worship Experience, was recorded live at Bethel World Outreach in Brentwood, Tennessee. The album demonstrates the praise and worship leader’s tuneful vocals and proclivity for pop-rock beats, evocative of fellow P&W artists Martha Munizzi and Mary Alessi. “Somebody Worship,” the album’s opening selection with its juicy flourishes of brass, exemplifies the clean, fresh, aerobic sound that Yohe relishes.

Vicki Yohe, ‘I’m At Peace,’ the title track of the artist’s new album, I’m At Peace: A Praise and Worship Experience

Still, the singer’s ballads are her sweet spot. The emotionally rendered title track, a beautiful and simple song co-written by producer Ay’Ron Lewis and featuring his crisp piano work, has a melody that you’ll swear you’ve heard before, but you haven’t. That is the mark of a song with staying power. No doubt “I’m At Peace” will be covered by gospel and inspirational artists for years to come.

Yohe enthusiasts will revel in nine-plus minutes of majesty on “Heaven on Earth,” a song Micah Stampley recently recorded. Yohe has plenty of room on this track to exercise her supplicant soprano.

A couple of interesting cuts on I’m At Peace are “So Many Reasons” and “I’ve Been Redeemed.” The former is a duet with Christian hip hop artist Canton Jones, a head-scratching pairing on paper but Yohe and Jones render a surprisingly powerful duet. Jones’ work here proves that beneath his cool hip hop swagger beats the heart of a true gospel singer. The latter is a nice change of pace: a traditional church-wrecking, choir hand-clapper that quickens the pulse and heats up the room.

I’m At Peace: A Praise and Worship Experience is smooth and pleasant, arguably Vicki Yohe’s best work to date.

Picks: “I’m At Peace,” “So Many Reasons.”

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


Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024