june 2012

Bob Marovich's Gospel Picks

tim bowmanStepping out on his own
Tim Bowman Jr.
Trippin 'N' Rhythm Records
Available at www.amazon.com

A member of the Royal Family (Winans) in the city of musical innovation (Detroit) and with a professional musician for a father (smooth jazz guitarist Tim Bowman), it was written in the stars that Tim Bowman Jr. would not only go into music, but also step out on his own.

When I spoke with Bowman last May, he was doing just that: finishing his solo debut, Beautiful, produced by his father. Released in April, the album is what Bowman said it would be: a blend of urban R&B with traditional licks tossed in here and there, and vice versa.

On Beautiful, Bowman explores many musical styles--from urban R&B to acoustic to contemporary and traditional gospel to rock--but the eclectic mixture blends nicely and never causes aural whiplash. "Throw it Away" and "Free," for example, crackle with Detroit-fueled techno energy, while the title track and "Healer" have a gentle, acoustic feel. The piano-driven "Healer" comes close to pop or CCM. The throbbing "Promise" and "I'll Try" evince a rock influence.

Tim Bowman, Jr., ‘Free,’ from his new album, Beautiful

The best two tracks on Beautiful are Bowman duets: "Sunday Morning" with Dorinda Clark-Cole, and "He Will" with (Aunt) Vickie Winans. Not only do the ladies bring their A games to their respective selections, but both songs have a contemporary gospel flavor that hearkens back to the Winans' and Clark Sisters' golden eras. "Sunday Morning" in particular possesses stylish lyrics about replenishing the soul and finding "the joy that I need" on Sunday morning.

Beautiful ends 180 degrees from its beginning, with the "Abide With Me Medley." Here there is no Detroit techno energy, just Bowman singing flatfooted gospel packed with Smokie Norful-style curlicues. Amen!

Picks: "Sunday Morning," "He Will."


new awakeningPlain and simple does it...
A New Awakening
Sharp Records
Available at www.amazon.com

Sometimes, plain and simple does it. 

On It's a Blessing, the quartet A New Awakening from Cheraw, South Carolina, combines soulful and strong lead vocals, fine harmonies, talented musicians, and a pleasant production. The CD reminds you why you enjoy quartet music.

Members are James Polston, Thomas Frazier, Nathaniel Rory, and Edmond Garner. Among their influences are the Mighty Clouds of Joy and Canton Spirituals. You can hear smidgens of both famous quartets in A New Awakening's traditional sound.

The CD contains a nice balance of slow numbers and drive-tempo songs with decent vamps. Of the latter, the opening "I'm So Glad" is the standout. "Thank You for the Rain" is another driver. Here, the group thanks God for the sunshine and the rain, too, because nothing is promised. They then transition into a hand-clapping litany of daily problems that are, after all, "nothin' but rain."

The best solo performance on the CD is on the title track, in which the lead singer soulfully counts his blessings, including those we take for granted, such as "to be alive." He remembers everyone who is "dead and gone," and recognizes that any one of us could be next. "Don't Be Too Proud" instructs the listener not to "look down on a sinner, unless you're trying to pick him up."

While most of the selections are traditional quartet fare, "With God On Your Side" is a contemporary piece with smooth harmonies and nice guitar work.

Look past the generic cover and lack of liner notes, and even their non-traditional quartet name, and go straight to the music. These guys are for real.

Picks: "I'm So Glad," "Thank You for the Rain."



'...packed with authentic, soulful ensemble singing...'
Rev. Frank H. Evans & the Cleftone Gospel Singers
Are You Saved?
Sharp Records
Available at www.amazon.com

Like Atlanta International Records (AIR) and Malaco, the Sharp Records imprint is one of the few labels remaining that specializes in current artists performing traditional gospel.

Case in point: Are You Saved? by Rev. Frank H. Evans & the Cleftone Gospel Singers.

The six-track EP by this Jacksonville, Florida group is packed with authentic and soulful gospel ensemble singing. Rev. Evans earned his trad badge by working with Rev. James Cleveland for five years, though the Cleftone Gospel Singers have been around, in one iteration or another, for more than fifty years. Impassioned shouting leads by Rev. Evans on Are You Saved? are backed by tight harmonies for a "sweet and salty" listening experience.

A highlight of the album is a cover of Dot Coates and the Gospel Harmonettes' "You Can't Hurry God." The Cleftone Gospel Singers retain much of the rawness of the original. "The Other Side" is wistful thinking: in a crying shout evocative of Bishop Paul Morton, Evans sings that whatever indignities he has to ensure in this world, things will be better on the other side.

On the title track, Evans asks the Big Question ("If Jesus comes right now, will you be ready?") adding that it doesn't matter if you sing in the choir or how long you've been on the usher board: you have to be saved.

Are You Saved? concludes with a drive-tempo version of the spiritual "Swing Down, Chariot." Though quintessentially quartet, the arrangement is different from the conventional harmony version popularized in the 1940s and 1950s.

The album packaging is simple and funky, as is generally the case with Sharp product, but the authenticity of the music is what matters most.

Picks: "You Can't Hurry God."


zacardi'...from praise and worship to southern soul quartet...'
Zacardi Cortez
Black Smoke Worldwide
Available at www.amazon.com

The title of his new album notwithstanding, Zacardi Cortez really needs no introduction. His signature performances with James Fortune and FIYA on "I Believe" and "The Blood" were sufficient to sear his gruff but tuneful preacher's tone onto the minds of gospel music enthusiasts.

Cortez is not just a hard-shouting vocalist. On The Introduction, he also croons while traversing the gospel scale. He is joined on the album by an all-star crew of artists, including Fred Hammond, John P. Kee, and Isaac Carree as well as Kierra Sheard and Lalah Hathaway. Ay'Ron Lewis, Preashea Hilliard and Aaron Sledge are among the team of songwriters who provide the album with its raw material.

From Zacardi Cortez’s The Introduction, ‘God Held Me Together,’ featuring James Fortune

Of the songs, none is more beautiful than the inspirational "Every Promise." This duet with Lalah Hathway is stunning and makes mince meat of the lazy writing that dominates the pop charts today. The smooth and soulful  "It Was Love" has the ingredients of a Babyface composition and then transitions seamlessly into a B3-drenched hymn medley that includes "Love Lifted Me" and "Pass Me Not."

The hit from Gospel Mix Volume V, "One More Time," is a bluesy cry for one more heavenly favor that teams Cortez with John P. Kee. The duet with James Fortune on "God Held Me Together," however, demonstrates that this duo still generates the most gospel electricity.

Cortez also demonstrates fealty to the quartet sound on "Praise You" (featuring Fred Hammond) and the concluding "He Brought Me," with the Williams Singers.

While "The Blood" remains Zacardi Cortez' all-time church wrecker. The Introduction is a fine package of performances that showcases several sides of the singer: from praise and worship to southern soul quartet.

Picks: "God Held Me Together," "Every Promise."


texas gospel…mining the Duke/Peacock vaults for Golden Era goodies
TEXAS GOSPEL VOLS. 8 & 9: PAY DAY 1955-1960
Various Artists
Acronym Music CD 1011 (2012)
Available at www.pewburner.com

With Pay Day 1955-1960, gospel scholar Opal Louis Nations continues to mine the Houston-based Duke/Peacock vaults for Golden Era goodies.

This latest two-CD set focuses on the latter half of the 1950s, as the quartet revolution, which dominated the gospel scene from the late 1940s, was beginning to give way to piano-led groups and large gospel choruses. While Peacock was still considered the most significant quartet label--you were somebody if your group was on Peacock--Pay Day uses a chronological lens to show how Don Robey couldn't disregard the slow shift in listener preferences.

Thus, in addition to Gospelaires and Five Blind Boys discs on Peacock, Robey released singles by Clara Ward and the enigmatic Chora'leers on his Duke subsidiary. Check out the Sister Barbara Jones selections if, for no other reason than to marvel at Jones' otherworldly shouts.

Pilgrim Jubilee Singers, ‘Testify.’ Group members: Percy Clark, Richard Crume, Clay Graham, Cleve Graham, N. Major Roberson, Theopholis Graham, Elgie Graham.

Still, quartets remained Peacock's bread and butter, and Pay Day makes available such superb performances as Roscoe Robinson's lead on the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi's "Sending Up My Timber," the Sensational Nightingales' powerful "Over in Zion," and the Gospelaires' gut-wrenching workout "If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again." The set also includes the first Peacock releases by the Mighty Clouds of Joy, a quartet that, like the Dixie Hummingbirds and Nightingales, would become Peacock mainstays. "Jesus Lead Me Safely" finds the Clouds leaping out of the gate with a song containing a hypnotic, frenetic vamp.

A special addition is the Pilgrim Jubilee Singers' smash hit, "Stretch Out," featuring bass legend Willie Dixon. As popular as "Stretch Out" was at the time, it is difficult to find the original single today. 

Nations includes as many liner notes as made sense, given that he has written about many of these artists in previous editions. My understanding is that these compilations aren't pressed in large quantities, so if you are interested in securing a copy, act quickly.

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.


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