April 9th, 2008
A Traditional Voice in the Present
This latest recording by the Georgia Mass Choir is a representation of how traditional gospel choirs maintain their significance in contemporary times. Although the CD cover features a photograph of the choir in conventional gospel robes, the fifteen tracks on the album incorporate musical styles ranging from grass roots church vamps to contemporary gospel grooves (e.g. Tye Tribbett) and neo soul vibes. Consequently, the album may resonate with both the purist and the evolutionary-minded gospel music consumer.
The title track, “Tell It” (track 1, although it is listed as track 3 on the back tray card), reflects this idea. The vamp is sung by the choir using traditional triadic harmony while the instrumentalists, led by music director D. Titus Robertson, re-harmonize the sustained groove, resulting in the necessary tension which moves the section forward. “It’s Not Over” (track 5) exemplifies sacred/secular fluidity by combining neo soul and Philly soul instrumental styles with the gospel message that illustrates the sovereignty of God.
For the gospel purist, “He’s A Battle Axe” (track 4) presents the quintessential African American performance practice: call and response between the soloist and choir, a simple two and four beat pattern in the drums emulating the typical hand clapping and foot stomping of the traditional Black church, vocal timbre variations and switch leads. Notable mention should be given to “I Want To Be In Your Will” (track 10) for its commentary on the social conditions of worshippers who thirst for the will of God over their lives. This song not only represents the general message of the artistic expressions on the album, but ultimately the essence of gospel music, which speaks to the social and spiritual needs of the church.
The Georgia Mass Choir successfully merges sacred and secular terrains without marginalizing their traditional gospel audience. However, beware of the filler tracks with songs that seem to meander. For instance, “I Got A Right To Praise The Lord” (track 6) is a static presentation that may be more acceptable in Sunday morning devotionals where more time is allowed for musical development. “I‘ve Got To Tell Somebody That Jesus Lives” (track 7) is fairly loose regarding groove conception, imparting a kind of jam-band feel to the choir’s accompaniment. “I Go To The Rock” (track 11) is a cover that does not fit the artistic mode of Georgia Mass. This song demands a higher level of musicianship – the vamp section is over one minute and thirty seconds long without any significant vocal variation and the instrumentalists (as in the previously mentioned track 6) tend to overplay, which shifts the song out of character.
Overall, Tell It is a must for all who aspire to understand the broad spectrum of African American performance practices within the sacred context and the significance of traditional gospel choirs that continue to contribute to such expressions.
Posted by Tyron Cooper
Review Genre(s): Gospel Music and Spirituals