june 2012

Bob Marovich's Gospel Picks

leandria johnsonEmbodying the sine qua non of gospel …
Le’Andria Johnson
Music World Gospel
Available at www.amazon.com

“Who knew that I’d be here?/You couldn’t have told me that this time last year.“

So sings Le’Andria Johnson on “Overtaken,” one of the seven songs on her new CD, The Evolution of Le’Andria Johnson. Truer lyrics could have not been sung. The song is a rhythmic testimonial and offering of gratitude from an artist who has gone from “flip flops and a dream” (she writes in the liner notes) to a Grammy Award.

Given her life story, Le’Andria Johnson has much to share with others, and Evolution is something of a series of mini-life lessons with an urban contemporary soundtrack. The musical backdrop changes slightly from selection to selection, but what does not change is Le’Andria’s vocal urgency. Singed at the edges, her voice is full of amazing and gut-wrenching melismatic twists, turns and curlicues. Somewhere there is a fifty-five gallon drum of high-octane power that she draws upon when needed.

The current single is “Let It Go,” a collaboration with Raphael Saadiq that blends neo-soul--led by Saddiq’s playful piano motif--and a lyric lecture on eliminating the baggage of the past. (“I know you’re tired of being the poster girl for the woman scorned.”)

The song on the album that comes closest to her church-wrecking hit “Jesus” (from 2011’s The Awakening of Le’Andria Johnson) is “Sooner or Later.” It’s a slow-burning audience rouser that Le’Andria delivers with an evangelist’s wrath, seemingly pulling sound out of every organ in her slim frame.

Another powerful track is “I Shall Leap,” a prayerful ballad with soothing lyrics delivered with seething vocal authority. Gospel slow jams such as “Sooner or Later” and “I Shall Leap” are Le’Andria’s sweet spot. She should record more songs like these.

I reiterate what I have written before: with the proper A&R and management, Le’Andria Johnson has the potential to become gospel music’s next superstar. Notwithstanding her need to learn more about the business and craft of gospel singing, she already embodies the quintessential soul, the sine qua non of gospel.

Picks: “Sooner or Later,” “I Shall Leap.”


javon inmanIn summary…
Javon Inman
Liberty Music
Available at www.amazon.com

Born in Canton, Ohio, singer-songwriter Javon Inman credits his tenure with the Young Adult Choir and Praise Team of Refreshing Spring COGIC in the DC/Maryland area (Myrna Summers and the Refreshingettes are alumnae) for helping him perfect his choir directing abilities.

What Inman learned at Refreshing Spring and elsewhere is summarized on his debut album, Heart of a Worshiper.
“Joy” is the album’s single and as good an example as any of Inman’s music, which blends gentle melodies, soaring lead vocals, and confident harmonies with breathlessly exuberant arrangements and musicianship. “My Portion,” a soft CCM-like ballad highlighted by Inman’s rising gospel tenor, is the album’s high point.

Javon Inman performers his hit gospel single 'Redeemer' from his album Heart of a Worshiper, in Frederickburg, Viriginia, May 19, 2012

Heart of a Worshiper stands on the quality of the singers and musicians, Inman’s strong but delicate tenor, lush arrangements, and the willingness of the choir to experiment. This experimentation includes several instances of skillful sectional contrapuntal singing, such as on “My Home” and “Never Thought.” The acoustic piano work of Clifford R. Flowers, Jr. is particularly deft on “Life,” and the use of real brass and even a flute underscores a commitment to authentic instrumentation in establishing a worship-centered listening experience.

Inman wrote all of the songs on the album. While his lyrics are conventional P&W, he has a way of tweaking a melody so it goes where the listener doesn’t anticipate.

Heart of a Worshiper is an example of an independent project that has all the components of a major label release.

Picks: “Joy,” “My Portion.”


jason nelsonNothing generic within…
Jason Nelson
Verity Gospel Music Group
Available at www.amazon.com

Recorded live in Baltimore and released on May 22, Shifting the Atmosphere is the major label debut of Jason Nelson, Pastor of Greater Bethlehem Temple and brother of the equally talented Jonathan Nelson.

At the outset of the live program, Jason Nelson is introduced as “one of this generation’s greatest male voices.” It’s not just hyperbole: he possesses a very handsome, elastic, extroverted voice with enough pulpit-hewn roughness to add authority. Comparisons to Marvin Sapp—for whom Nelson wrote “Thirsty” and “Place of Worship”—are likely to be forthcoming.

“We worked hard to put together a CD with no fillers,” Nelson said, and he’s spot-on. There’s nothing generic about the praise and worship pieces, and no retreading on any of the selections. 

Jason Nelson, the title track from his album Shifting the Atmosphere

Ballads are Nelson’s sweet spot and Shifting the Atmosphere is packed with them. The title track and current single is a meditative praise and worship song. “No Words” is lithe and features a pleasant duet between Nelson and Leon Timbo. “Don’t Count Me Out” is a compelling assertion that “God sees me finished.” The antiphonal “Nothing Without You” is a hypnotic prayer that moves at the pace of a slightly raised heartbeat. It morphs into a medley of introspective hymn singing by Nelson and members of his team.

A nice change of pace is “Power in His Name,” a traditional-flavored selection that even Nelson acknowledges “shifted the atmosphere” of the recording session. Indeed, it is followed by a nearly four-minute praise break, which is refreshing because praise breaks are often abbreviated on albums.

Shifting the Atmosphere is well produced and well constructed, the aural equivalent of a peaceful day of prayer, reflection, and affirmations with a praise break at intermission.

Picks: “Power in His Name,” “Nothing Without You.”


angela spiveyShouting the rafters down…
Angela Spivey
Innovative Records
Available at www.amazon.com

The title of Angie Spivey’s new album, He Keeps His Promise, couldn’t be more fitting.

After trying for some time to get her sixth CD in the hands of the masses, Spivey, a Chicago-based singer-songwriter, found success in Florida by partnering with Pastor DeWayne Harvey and his newly-formed Innovative Records imprint. With additional assistance from Central South Distribution and the estimable influence of power player Vicki Mack Lataillade, the album is on the market. 

He kept His promise.

He Keeps His Promise finds “The Princess of Gospel” in fine form, a wooden-church gospel shouters with the lung capacity of giants such as Pastor Shirley Caesar, Evelyn Turrentine-Agee, and Lemmie Battles. The songs on the CD are variously traditional and contemporary gospel, and almost uniformly about encouragement, hope, and deliverance. Most of the songs were written by Harvey or Spivey.

Angela Spivey, the title track from her album He Keeps His Promise

In addition to the vigorous title track and current single, He Keeps His Promise features two up-tempo traditional church wreckers: “I Want to Be Ready” and “Lord Take Me Higher.” On the first part of “My Outcome is Victory,” Spivey sings flatfooted in true Chicago fashion, with only piano for accompaniment.

Even the album’s few praise songs, such as “King of Glory” and “You’re The Reason,” feature Spivey’s trademark gut-wrenching explosions of vocal dynamite. Truly the best songs on the CD are those where she emotes unfettered; calmer moments such as her introductory vocals on “Move Let God Do It” are not nearly as powerful.

Spivey is assisted by the Greater Blessings Praise Team’s antiphonal support on such songs as “Lord Take Me Higher.” 

He Keeps His Promise suggests that no matter how adventuresome gospel music gets, no matter how much praise is channeled through techno and auto-tune, there will always be singers like Angie Spivey with the soul force to shout the rafters down.

Picks: “He Keeps His Promise,” “Lord, Take Me Higher.”


cheneta jonesA pretty voice with a retractable serrated edge…
Cheneta Jones
Habakkuk Music
Available at www.amazon.com

Cheneta Jones of St. Louis may be the lead background singer for Tye Tribbett, but on her new, much-anticipated CD, Transformed, she demonstrates her ability to deliver songs all by her lonesome.

The 2008 winner of KATZ Hallelujah 1600’s Praise Alive Talent Search, Jones has a pretty voice with a retractable serrated edge. The rough edge serves her well on the album’s rhythm and praise tracks such as “I’m Yours” and the album’s first single, the melodic “Be Like You.” Her gentle, lithe touch works best on “Get There,” a whispery evocation of Heaven, and on her latest single, “My Everything,” penned and produced by Percy Bady.

Cheneta Jones, ‘Be Like You,’ from her new album, Transformed

Thematically, Transformed focuses on the decision of discipleship: following Jesus, living like Jesus, being available to Jesus. “Liberty” declares that “I’m not who I used to be,” because by accepting Christ, “I’m free.” “Hold On” encourages the listener to “hold on to God’s unchanging hand,” especially during the unsteady times. In other words, discipleship isn't valid only during the good times.

“Turn Back” is interesting because it is written from the Lord’s point of view. He encourages His own to “come back to your first love,” no matter the circumstances. “Fire,” on which Jones is transformed by the biblical “fire shut up in my bones,” is the album’s most fascinating arrangement. It’s a throwback to the 1970s soul era as articulated by brassy groups such as Earth, Wind & Fire.

Transformed is a gentle CD: not too hot, not too cool. It has just enough electronica to satisfy young listeners and plenty of laid-back grooves to fill the quiet spaces in one's soul.

Picks: “My Everything,” “Be Like You.”


new converted voicesStraight outta Tupelo….
The New Converted Voices
Vision Records
Available at www.amazon.com

The New Converted Voices are a quartet from Tupelo, Mississippi. Organized in 1989 by Rev. Patrick Whitfield, the group benefited from a close working relationship with Lee Williams & The Spiritual QC's, who helped them travel and sing across the South.

The New Converted Voices’ latest CD, A New Beginning, delivers the goods that quartet enthusiasts want to hear from their heroes: no-nonsense Christian lyrics, impassioned traditional singing, tight harmony, and one or two good ol’ drive-tempo songs with backbeats and extended vamps.

The two drive songs, “Good God” and “He’ll Make a Way,” turn out to be the album’s best selections. "He'll Make a Way" recommends bringing to Jesus whatever troubles one has. The single, “I Call Him Jesus,” is another fine track. It features Lisa Knowles contributing her distinctive quartet-molded vocal delivery to the mix.

“That’s Alright” reworks and gospelizes the Impressions’ hit of the same name. Lead singer Tobie Blanch acknowledges that although he doesn’t have a fancy car or a home on a hill, and (to add insult to injury) “everywhere we go to sing, sometimes people don’t always know who we are…we got a mansion if we keep doing His will.”

On the subject of the mansion, the quartet’s ballad “Home with Jesus” imagines the place beyond the sky where the streets are paved with gold and there are no more troubles, including no sugar diabetes. “Perfect People” admits that none of us are perfect, and there are too many hypocrites to contend with, but “the only time we should look down is when we lend a helping hand.” Amen.

Picks: “Good God,” “He’ll Make a Way.”


necie bLove is in the air…
Necie B.
Power Move Management
Available at www.amazon.com

Shreveport, Louisiana, songstress Necie B. teams with The Good Guys Production Team (Jor’Dan Armstrong, Jeshua “TedyP” Williams and Franchise Tief) on her debut CD, Runaway Love.

Love is in the title and love is in the air for Necie B. Love is the dominant theme of the CD. One might say, in fact, that the album is a collection of (mostly) love songs not sung to a human man but to the Lord. “I’m in love with this man and I don’t want to let him go,” Necie B. declares on “My God.” On “Over and Over,” she acknowledges that her Lord treats her like a lady, even when she breaks her promises to Him. She admits her mistakes and seeks divine help not to repeat them.

‘Love Locked Me Down,’ Necie B. from her debut album, Runaway Love

Club-ready Christian dance tracks such as “Girls Around the World” and “Get It From My Daddy” (both up for En Sound Music Awards) are likely to generate the most buzz from the young adult demographic. Inspirational slow jams such as “Your Love” and “Over and Over” will appeal to urban AC enthusiasts. “Necessary,” which falls in the later category, stands out as the album’s finest track musically. A jazz piano-dominated love ballad to the Lord, “Necessary” enables Necie B. to flex her vocal muscles and let the quality of her candy-covered soprano shine through.

Runaway Love is a well-produced and delightfully sung debut that captures Necie B's free spirit. In addition to making urban contemporary gospel music (she refers to it simply as “life music”), the singer is a recent graduate of Northwestern University and owns a company that makes customized bow-ties for men, women and children.

Picks: “Necessary,” “Love Locked Me Down.”


memphis harmoinzersDefinitive quartet singing…
The Memphis Harmonizers
E&J Records

George Dean could be named an honorary member of the Memphis Harmonizers. The lead singer for the popular Gospel Four produces, writes, sings lead, and even offers background vocals for his fellow Memphians on their new CD, Keep Running On.

Keep Running On has what quartet enthusiasts expect from their singers: Bible-based testimony, common sense pointers on living, and old-time religion wrapped in meat-and-potatoes masculinity that has more testosterone than most other popular and folk music today.

Then there’s that funky blend of B3, bass and drums that somehow sounds tangier coming from Memphis than anywhere else in the world. I can’t for the life of me figure it out, but the Memphis Harmonizers employ it on songs such as “Power of Christ,” and the hand-clappers “Free at Last” and “Getting Us Ready.”

The Memphis Harmonizers perform the title track from their 2008 album Catch On Fire

The final two selections (written by Dean) exhort the listener to “count your blessings” for the things we take for granted, like walking and talking. Revs. Demarcus Smith and Ronnie Wilson make it plain on “Stop Complaining,” as they reference the story of the woman touching the hem of Jesus’s garment as an example of someone who “counted her blessings.” Dean lends his musky voice on the follow-up, “He’s Been Good to Me,” a song that lyrically evokes the Gospel Four’s “He’s Blessing Me.”

In the liner notes, Memphis Harmonizer George McClain wrote that his health problems were such that “I wasn’t sure if I would be able to sing on this project.” Which produces the poignant moment when McClain leads a quartet-dipped version of “Deep River.” His voice wavering but remaining on point, McClain delivers the spiritual and adds some couplets from "Move On Up a Little Higher." He concludes by proclaiming “over in Zion...I won’t be sick no more.” Can he get an Amen?

Picks: “Free at Last,” “He Delivered Me.”

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 www.gospelmemories.com. Bob is also editor of The Black Gospel Blog.


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