New Gospel Releases, Part 1

Following (in three parts) are short reviews of several gospel music CD releases from the first quarter of 2009.  While there are many others that could and should appear on this list, I chose to present these projects based on a few criteria.  For instance, some are highlighted because they present new music from performers who have experienced an extended absence from the industry as recording artists. Other releases were chosen based on their abundant airplay and high placement on chart listings. In addition, some appear as a result of the artist’s presence in the gospel music industry over time.  Nevertheless, the aggregate of these artists exemplify gospel music spanning traditional and contemporary styles.  My hope is that the reader will identify with at least one of the highlighted CDs, which might lead him/her to explore other projects by the same artists along with those who perform similar styles, thus expanding their knowledge and experience of this religious artistic expression that is gospel music.

Title: Audience of One

Artist: Heather Headley

Label: EMI Gospel

Format: CD

Catalog No.: 5099922651228

Release Date:  January 13, 2009
Heather Headley’s new release, Audience of One, might lead some to assume that the R&B singer has crossed over into the gospel music industry.  However, given her background (her father was a pastor) as well as her soulful delivery on this project, its apparent that Headley never left the church.  Steeped in lush orchestrations and soulful, eclectic grooves, Headley presents a vocal gem consisting of tonal clarity, well placed phrasing, and emotional drive. Put succinctly, she gives thoughtful worshipers a musical vehicle by which they can mull over the goodness of God and the significance of dependence upon Him.  For a clear example of her renderings listen to “Simply Redeemed,” “I Need Thee Every Hour,” the churchy “I Know The Lord Will Make a Way” and “Here I Am To Worship.”  With special appearances by Smokie Norful and the Tri-City Singers, along with arrangements by Keith Thomas, Marc Harris and Cedric Thompson, Audience of One will resonate across racial, denominational and generational boundaries.

Title: The Law of Confession Part 1

Artist: Donald Lawrence

Label: Verity

Format: Enhanced CD

Catalog No.: 886972347325

Release Date:  February 3, 2009
Donald Lawrence continues to prove why he is one of gospel’s most sought after artists/producers.  With his newest release, Law of Confession, recorded live in Chicago at the Living Word Christian Center, he illustrates in song how words have the power to change life circumstances.  The 14 tracks are based on a book and sermon entitled Law of Confessions by Rev. Bill Winston, the pastor of Living Word where Lawrence is a congregant.  The title track, “Law of Confession,” sums up the entire album, as Lawrence challenges the live audience to begin speaking the words of the Lord over their lives.

The song “Back II Eden” has also proven to be an enormous hit among the gospel audience, with its message of prosperity promised by God, which allows for “Kingdom people” (Lawrence’s term) to “live on top of the world.” Also very powerful is the rendition of “The Blessing of Abraham,” which was performed as a reflective ballad in contrast to the original up-tempo version recorded by Lawrence in 2006.  This ballad style allows for “Kingdom people” to internalize the covenant between God and Abraham as well as his descendants.  It is enough to usher the listener into a mode of worship.  Every song on this CD could be used as a tool for shifting the mindset of the listener from a state where anything is accepted to a place where one dictates, through the word of God, what his or her life will be. The project is musically excellent and Biblically sound. The Law of Confession is a must have!

Posted by Tyron Cooper

New Gospel Releases, Part 3

Title: We All Are One (Live In Detroit)

Artist: Donny McClurkin

Label: Verity Gospel/Zomba

Format: CD

Catalog No.: 88697-36108-2

Release Date: March 31, 2009

After a five-year break, Donnie McClurkin released his eighth CD, We Are All One, for Verity, which was recorded live in Detroit at the Straight Gate International Church.  This project consists of 14 tracks illustrating styles from Black Pentecostal church music (“You Are the Great I Am”) to the praise and worship phenomenon that is sweeping the Sunday morning service (“You Are My God and King”). While this project presents more of the same (for those who are familiar with McClurkin’s dynamic performance style), it also expands the artists’ musical parameters by including rock and symphonic elements as well as collaborations with CeCe Winans, Yolanda Adams and Mary Mary, among others.

Notable tracks are “Wait On The Lord,” “Trusting In You,” “Purple,” and “Hallelujah Song.”   However, the entire project reflects the essence of McClurkin’s distinct style of delivery, which focuses on sound musicianship and the ability to make God applicable to the listener.

Title: No Ways Tired

Artist: Kim Burrell

Label: Shanachie

Format: CD

Catalog No.: 5774

Release Date: April 7, 2009
Kim Burrell is back with a fresh approach to gospel music after nine years without a new solo project.  Her latest release on Shanachie, No Ways Tired, consists of hymns, gospels and even a George Gershwin piece in Burrell’s eclectic style of delivery.

This album, produced by Burrell along with Chris “Big Dog” Davis, demonstrates why Burrell is still considered a vocal powerhouse. She has mastered various music genres and has successfully positioned them in the context of Black religious music.  The 12 tracks, which include a prelude and postlude, will leave one desiring more of Burrell’s melodious ministry in song.  For clear examples of such ministry one could search through any track. If you have a desire to get straight to it, just listen to “No Ways Tired” and “Yes To Your Will.”  Kim Burrell continues to amaze us with her tremendous gift.  This project was worth the wait!

Title: Live

Artist: Smokie Norful

Label: EMI Gospel

Format: CD (DVD ed. scheduled for release on June 30, 2009)

Catalog No.: 5099951283223

Release Date: April 7, 2009

Smokie Norful’s fourth album, Live, is a collector’s item for diehard gospel music lovers.  This 10 track project, recorded live in Memphis, is funky, soulful, and most of all, its ministry. On the funky side there is “I Will Bless The Lord.”  If you want to hear soulful listen to “Don’t Quit.” In addition, “Justified” is the quintessential song of ministry on this CD, although all of the tracks minister in a specific way.

Notable is “Jesus Is Love,” a duet between Norful and Heather Headley.  This orchestrated version of the Commodore’s 1980 hit has an emotional drive that builds to a climax, and parallels the developing character of a traditional Sunday morning sermon.

Simply put, this album is a must have for those who are interested in music that not only feels good, but also speaks directly to the conditions of those who realize the power of God in their daily lives.

Posted by Tyron Cooper