The First Twenty Years

Title: The First Twenty Years
Artist: Mississippi Mass Choir
Label: Malaco Records
Catalog No.: MCD4556
Release Date: 2008

For the past two decades, the Mississippi Mass Choir, founded by the late Frank Williams of the Jackson Southernaires, has developed and maintained a reputation as an ensemble with impeccable musicianship. More importantly, they are known for their collective evangelic nature, which takes the Sunday morning worship service everywhere they go.  The First Twenty Years, the choir’s newest release, celebrates their longevity in the gospel music industry.  This twelve track compilation illustrates both of these characteristics.  The songs are taken from five earlier albums that present the songwriting talents of well-known artists and producers such as David Curry Jr., Walter Hawkins, Dorothy Love Coates, Frank Williams and Rev. Milton Biggham, amongst others.

While most compilations possess two or three real musical gems, this project is full of hits.  Simply play the CD from beginning to end and it will be a rewarding experience.  For instance, “Near The Cross” presents a timeless interpretation of Fanny Crosby’s popular hymn via Frank Williams’ solo vocals and the choir’s tight triadic harmonies in the traditional gospel quartet singing style.  “Having You There” has an infectious medium tempo groove and meaningful message of gratitude for God’s presence in one’s life.  This is a quintessential example of vertical praise.

“Your Grace and Mercy” positions the listener in a Sunday morning worship service. The song’s lyrics highlight God’s goodness reflected in His abundant grace and mercy that shields all from hurt, harm and danger.  It is a declaration of God’s works in an old time fashion that resonates with past and present saints (Christians). Frank Williams’ solo vocals are carefully placed in such a way that they create space for hollers and shouts of the audience as the spirit of God is ushered in.

“When I Rose This Morning,” lead by Mother Mosie Burke, is a handclapping, foot-stomping testimony of faith in God.  If you like gospel quartet music, African American call and response tradition, the blues, the vamp, improvisation (ad-libbing) and shout music, this song is your lecture/demonstration workshop.  Finally, “Jesus Paid It All” takes us back to the days when the late Rev. James Moore dominated gospel radio.  His lead vocals, particularly in this song’s introduction, illustrate the true essence of gospel singing that mirrors a core-Black preaching style.  His vocal quality shifts, his “appropriate” use of melismas or runs (as they call them in the Black church) and his gradual buildup to a climax are all characteristic of this phenomenon.

The Mississippi Mass Choir has released an artistic and evangelical treasure of songs that illustrates their ability to maintain their iconic sound and style in an industry that tends to change with the newest trends. More importantly, for two decades the ensemble has given the listener a meaningful tool to use when reflecting on the magnificent presence of God in the lives of Christians.  One can only wait with great expectations for “The Second Twenty Years.”  Until then, The Mississippi Mass Choir: The First Twenty Years will keep us busy praising!!

Posted by Tyron Cooper