may 2012

Bob Marovich's Gospel Picks

southern sons of mmphiscrisp harmonies, tight musicianship…
The Southern Sons of Memphis
SOME Records

Anchored by lead vocalist Bob Holloway, the Southern Sons of Memphis, Tennessee have a traditional, funky southern soul sound that evokes the musical richness of their native city.

Save for the final two selections, the Another Dimension--Live DVD captures the Memphis quartet in live performance--interstitial comments and all--at Brown Missionary Baptist Church in South Haven, Mississippi. What you witness is a serious, no-nonsense singing group that eschews fancy choreography and bench-walking for crisp harmonies and tight musicianship. The mild-mannered Holloway ("I'm country as I can be," he declares at one point in the video) is at his most animated when he starts to hard-singing, which is frequently. At turns, he shouts with an almost otherworldly fury.

"Lord, I Need Your Help" is the DVD's single drive-tempo song. Despite their measured movement, "Lord Have Mercy" and "God Is Good to Me" maintain handclapping, foot-tapping rhythms. "Don't Want to Run This Race in Vain" is as quintessentially traditional as the Southern Sons, and the lyrics of "If I Don't Wake Up Early in the Morning" is flush with such country church vernacular as "cooling board," "winding sheet," and such lines as "I could have been dead, sleeping in my grave."

The video's final two segments feature the Southern Sons singing in the recording studio. One of the selections, "Lord I Need You," finds the group seeking Jesus' favor "up and down the dangerous highways" and even "in the White House." The other, "Jesus I'll Never Forget," is a reworking of the Soul Stirrers/Sam Cooke classic.

There's no substitute for seeing a gospel quartet live.  For the Southern Sons of Memphis, the Another Dimension--Live DVD offers the next best thing.

Picks: ""Lord I Need Your Help," "Lord We Need You."


forever jonesliving life out loud…
forever JONES
EMI Gospel
Available at

On their second full-length CD, forever JONES--the multi-talented seven-member family band and the most attractive gospel group ever--lives life out loud. Literally. 

Musical Revival is just as tuneful and worship-driven as the group's debut CD, Get Ready, but more sonically explosive.  The songs have an AC power pop drive that crackles with throbbing electronica and effusive spirit.

The opening selection, "Hallelujah," is a rhythm and praise song with an anthemic melody. It sets a smiley tone that the album maintains throughout. Whether the songs are rock-tinged, as on "Hold Me Still," or acoustic, such as the love song to Jesus, "Just the Way," the album is ceaselessly optimistic in sound and lyric.

forever JONES, ‘Every Moment,’ from the album Musical Revival

"Every Moment" is the current single, and it echoes "He Wants It All" in its piano-dominant and new-age simplicity. Lead vocalist Dominique' delivers the praise with emotional bursts of volume that evoke Lana Del Rey and Alicia Keys. Her vocal on the pop radio- and soundtrack-ready "Most of All," with its prodigal daughter lyric, is so doggone scary good that it is easy to see her doing successful solo work in the future.

The Jones men, who typically hold down the back office musicianship for the ladies up front, take a turn at the mic on "I Know Who I'm Living For" and the album's bluesiest gospel cut, "Rescue," which portrays the Lord as a hero, a knight in shining armor saving His people.

The cleverest lyric is the title track, which is a song about a song. "What would it be like if music could talk?" thought writer D'Jeniele'. "From there I got the idea for the album title as well as the lyrics to that song."

Musical Revival is forever JONES doing what they do but in a more extroverted manner. I'd be surprised if the album doesn't also make noise on the Christian album charts. Kudos to Keith Thomas for masterful production.

Picks: "Every Moment," "Most of All."


john redmon…supporting a noble, worthwhile cause…
John Redmon & Friends
Reaching Records (2009)
Available at

John Redmon founded Reaching Records in Oakland, California in 1994. His 2009 compilation, Faith, Love & Unity, Volume 1, was a 9th Annual Independent Music Award nominee.

The compilation traverses gospel, CCM, R&B, and hip hop flavorings of the sacred but, more importantly, is dedicated to focusing more attention on the AIDS and HIV epidemics, especially among African Americans. Phill Wilson, CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, says that African Americans "represent half of all new HIV infections, including two-thirds of the new cases among women and 70% of the new cases among adolescents."

John Redmon & Friends, ‘Miss You,’ from the album Faith, Love & Unity, Volume 1

The album's opening track, "Just What I Needed to Hear," is its finest. The irrepressible Sallye Jones hits Aretha-esque notes on this inspirational gospel, supported by the First SDA Church Choir, the funkiest SDA choir I've ever heard. Patti LaBelle's reading of "I Believe" comes from her album Live! One Night Only and proves that her vocal prowess comes distinctly from the church.

Like "I Believe," many of the tracks on the collection were previously released. BeBe and CeCe Winans' "Nevertheless" comes from the duo's 1984 debut album. Several of the songs, in fact, are of 1980s vintage, such as Daniel Winans and the Second Half's "Oh I Know" (1987) and Hawkins alumna Shirley Miller's cover of Danniebelle Hall's "God Knows Best." Minister Miller's inclusion, I suspect, also has to do with her steadfast support of the Ark House, a Bay Area residence for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Faith, Love & Unity, Volume 1 supports a noble and worthwhile cause and a portion of the proceeds from the album's sale supports AIDS foundations throughout the U.S. and abroad. The collection would have been much stronger had songs been selected for their explicit or at least metaphorical messages about the physical and emotional plight of those struggling with HIV/AIDS, or rallied against the myriad prejudices and misunderstandings surrounding the disease. The Jackson Family's "Make Us One" comes closest, calling for unity in the church specifically and humankind generally. More songs like that would have been ideal.

The inclusion of more contemporary selections from the featured artists, original recordings from them, or at least their best known hits of the era would also have helped bolster the collection's potential impact.  Nevertheless, John Redmon and Friends are to be commended for doing something about one of the most devastating problems in contemporary society.  A "1.1" version of the album, with sing-along tracks, is also available.

Picks: "Just What I Needed to Hear."


terea…intensely personal…
25 Keys Productions
Available as an mp3 download at

On her debut CD, It's Up 2 You, singer-songwriter Terea'--known to her fans as the "songbird"--blends techno sounds with hip hop beats and neo-soul vocals.

The songs on It's Up 2 You feel intensely personal. The title track is the most distinctly autobiographical, as Newark-born Terea' sings about her mother, who made ends meet to care for her young daughters. Mama's determination left an impression on the adult Terea', who concludes, "Don't let life get the best of you." God gives us free will, and "what you choose is up to you."

Tracks such as "Stay," "He'll Never Leave" and the single, "My Friend," depict Jesus as a father, protector, and friend who is always there to help, despite our human failings and frailties. Even when others gave up on her, Terea' sings, Jesus never did and never will.

From her album It’s Up 2 You, Terea' performs ‘He’ll Never Leave’

The most distinctive album selection is "Rock Bottom,” a moody, ambient song of encouragement on which Terea' sings that it's tough to hit rock bottom, but then again, the bottom is where the firm foundation is. The song reminds me of the tenet: "When you hit bottom, there's nowhere to go but up."

While it is clear that Terea's interest is in gospel with a heavy beat, and 25 Keys Productions lays down an assortment of them for her, the singer shines best on the two final tracks, which are melodic and rich in their understatement. "My Everything" is a gentle prayer of praise sung in whispered tones and with keyboard accompaniment. Similarly, "Secret Place" gives Terea' space to embellish, express and extend vocal lines.

I had a bit of trouble following the song order as the track listing on the CD jacket is not 100 percent accurate. Nevertheless, Terea has a lovely voice and It's Up 2 You is a decent debut. I hope her sophomore project features more straight singing with the piano, because that's her sweet spot.

Picks: "Rock Bottom," "My Everything."


out of fire…fresh youthful sounds for timeless messages…
Various Artists
FAAB Ink (2012)
Available at

Out of the Fire is a compilation of a dozen independent artists whose sound, notes executive producer Drew Ferelle of FAAB Ink, is best categorized as "Kingdom Music." That is, the album traverses pop, hip hop, rock, soul and even spoken word "fused with gospel messages."

Ferelle, who is the project's compiler, turns out to be one of the strongest presences on the album.  Her "Voice of the Nonbeliever" is an electronica-driven argument delivered by a nonbeliever on why Christianity isn't for her (mostly it's the hypocrisy of those who don't practice what they preach), though a thread of doubt as to the inflexibility of her stance unravels at the end. The title track is similarly hyper-charged, with Ferelle flexing her dance music-flavored voice on the principles of Deuteronomy 4:12 ("out of the fire came a voice") to articulate how God is ever-present. On "I Hear You Calling," she sings that she does not need Grammys or millions--just the Lord.

In addition to Ferelle, male vocalist JJ Evans delivers solid performances on "Superman" and "Be Who You Are." The latter inspirational piece, about grasping the talents God gives us, is the album's finest selection in terms of melody and strength of vocals.

Perhaps the most dramatic track on Out of the Fire is Erika Walton's hip-hop selection, "With Christ." She portrays an angry young woman who fights because that's all she ever saw her parents doing. Through the grace of God, she's not dead "in the trap" and instead focused forward. An effective Christian rapper, Walton's hushed pop voice is just as fascinating.

Other selections of note include Phylicia Pengame Goings' neo-soul sacred love song "Your Love" and Christy Erving's musings on individuality on "Identity."

Out of the Fire brings fresh, youthful sounds to bear on timeless messages.

Picks: "Be Who You Are," "With Christ."


voices of praise…deliciously sweet harmonies…
Voices of Praise
Voices of Praise (2012)
Available at CD Baby

Organized in 2000 by Delmark Joseph out of the First Wesleyan Church of Brooklyn, Voices of Praise is now a sextette that represents several different churches and whose members write original songs. I Give My All is the group's new CD.

What's immediately notable about Voices of Praise is its deliciously sweet harmonies. The blend is bright and fresh-faced, like Forever Jones or the Irish pop group the Corrs. Old-schoolers like me hear something of the folk group the Seekers in the Voices of Praise's crisp tonality. Their harmonies are so tight a thin razor could not fit between the notes.

The album's songs come from the pens of group members, with Marisa Joseph contributing the album's two finest tracks, "Owe It All" and "I Give All of Me." Both are representative of the group's CCM-inflected pop melodies with contemporary gospel underlayment and a smidgen of Smallwood in their semi-classical flourishes. Despite the uncomplicated melodies--"The Heart of the Father" is as straightforward as it gets--I Give My All suggests the group has had classical music training. Bobby Soverall's solo piano variation on "I Give All of Me" is ample testimony to that.

The lyrics are almost uniformly about praise and adoration, though "The Heart of the Father" and "My Word" find the soul struggling for salvation in times of trouble.

While the first few tracks on I Give My All are the strongest, with the light Caribbean beat of "My Strength" setting the mood, all of the songs and performances on the album are as likely to please members of liturgical churches as those who prefer more demonstrative worship services.

Picks: "Owe It All," "I Give All of Me."

bob 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 Snippets of recent broadcasts can be heard at Bob is also editor of The Black Gospel Blog


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