Tuesday, July 31, 2007

TBGB Reviews...Dexter Walker & Zion Movement

Dexter Walker & Zion Movement
Found Sound Music 2007

I first heard the Zion Movement Chorale two years ago, at Chicago’s Southside Neighborhood Gospel Festival. Even though the program was filled to the brim with national and local talent, Zion Movement outshined, outsang, and outperformed everyone else.

Dexter Walker's Zion Movement combines that quintessentially Chicago full-throttle choir sound – open-throated and in your face – with clever choreography. At a recent performance for the Chicago Area Gospel Announcers Guild, Zion Movement sang while toppling like dominoes with ballet-like athleticism and precision. If you think it’s easy to sing -- and sing well -- while writhing downward, think again.

With Move, the world can now experience the sound of Dexter Walker & Zion Movement. The CD begins with the traditional “Open My Mouth,” sung a cappella and at maximum volume, like a highly-caffeinated Wings over Jordan, with vocal pyrotechnics reminiscent of vintage O’landa Draper. The group's vocal dexterity is showcased elsewhere throughout Move, such as on "Victory" and "Work."

Top-shelf gospel artist Vashawn Mitchell helps out on “Lift Him Up,” and the undervalued but always soul-shaking La Varnga Hubbard channels the Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer Warriors’ Dianne Williams on “The Blood” (which makes more sense than one might think: Hubbard recently starred in a stageplay inspired by Williams’ extemp vamp on Cosmo’s “Jesus Can Work it Out”). In-demand session musician Joey Woolfalk on guitar rounds out the CD’s all-star Windy City cast.

The “Chicago Bump” – a relatively new term for the keyboard-led frenetic gospel instrumental that erupts after a communally-felt presence of the Holy Ghost – takes hold of the participants after Minister Tim White delivers the bluesy “No Goodness” and tags on an energetic sermonette called “The Picture Story.”

I said it two years ago and will repeat it now: Dexter Walker & Zion Movement is deserving of national attention. They could well be the next best choir out of Chicago, the city that invented the gospel chorus.

Three and a Half of Four Stars

Monday, July 30, 2007

Jessie Mae Hemphill Headstone Dedication Ceremony

From Beale Street legend Richard Johnston:

On July 30 a headstone will be dedicated at the grave of blues and gospel artist Jessie Mae Hemphill, who died on July 22, 2006 and was buried a week later, on July 30.

Hemphill, who was born October 18, 1923, was best known as a blues guitarist, songwriter and vocalist, and in this capacity toured widely in Europe and won several W.C. Handy Awards for her recordings. For many years she also performed as drummer in fife and drum bands, a long-established musical tradition in her native north Mississippi. Her grandfather was Sid Hemphill, a multi-instrumentalist who was
recorded by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress.

The dedication ceremony will take place beginning at 4:45 pm at the Senatobia Memorial Cemetery, which is located on Highway 51 South in Senatobia. Reverend John Wilkins, the son of early blues and gospel recording artist Robert Wilkins, will lead a prayer service, after which attendees are invited to join in a group performance of Hemphill's "Lord Help the Poor and Needy."

Special thanks to Olga Whilemine Mathus and the Jessie Mae Hemphill Foundation for the dedication and follow-thru concerning the headstone.

TBGB: For those of you who are unaware, Johnston, who recorded with Hemphill, truly walked the last mile of the way with her during her last days. He deserves a tremendous amount of gratitude for the humanity he showed her during some very difficult times. Respect.

(photo by L. McGaughran)

Saturday, July 28, 2007

CD Single Review: "Magnify" - Pastor Rudolph McKissick, Jr. and the Word & Worship Mass Choir

Pastor Rudolph McKissick, Jr.
and the Word & Worship Mass Choir
from the forthcoming CD Intimate Worship
Emtro Gospel

“Magnify,” the first single from Pastor McKissick and the Word & Worship Mass Choir’s new release, Intimate Worship (due out August 28, 2007), has plenty of mid-tempo vocal and instrumental energy, but the composition and arrangement are formulaic and indistinguishable from the thousands of high-octane praise songs already recorded by leader/vocalist-and-choir combos.

“Magnify” could have outshined the competition had the instrumentation dropped out two-thirds of the way through so the choir could do an a cappella minute, but it was not to be. Perhaps the next single will be more inventive and better showcase all that the group has to offer.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Essential Gospel – Classic Recordings: No. 143

“I Stretch My Hands to Thee”
The Trumpet-letts
Bilesse 0006

Bill Moss may be gone, but his legacy remains strong.

In addition to his own work with wife Essie as innovative gospel group Bill Moss and the Celestials, Bill ran a record label (also with Essie) called Bilesse, an obvious elision of their first names. Bilesse’s main claim to fame is being one of the first to capture on vinyl some of the second generation Moss/Clark Family members, all (or most all) who have become household names in gospel. For example, J Moss’ first record, recorded when he was five years old, was on Bilesse: the cheek-pinching cute “Great God Almighty.” And I have heard there’s a Clark Sisters LP on Bilesse, though not having seen it, I cannot confirm or deny its existence.

Bilesse also produced an early single for longtime Detroit group the Trumpet-letts (aka Trumpelettes). “I Stretch My Hands to Thee” effectively blends the early ‘60s proto-soul girl group ballad sound with Pentecostal emotion, like the Chantels or Quintones shouting down the glory at a revival meeting. The lead vocalist cries her vocals at the beginning but builds to shouting by the conclusion.

“Father” is drop-dead gorgeous, literally dripping with humble supplication, and the best release on Bilesse. If you like slow, moving, soulful doo-wop, you’ll like this single. To paraphrase the late Alan Freed, it’s almost too pretty for radio.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

TBGB Pick of the Week: July 23, 2007

“No Limit”
From the CD With Praises from the Heart
Dana Mackey
DDM Music, LLC 2007

I know that “With Praises” is the radio single, but to my ears, “No Limit” is the finest track on Dana Mackey’s ultra-modern debut CD, With Praises from the Heart. Polyrhythmic and with rich, multi-layered vocals, “No Limit” is infectious and gospel dance-club ready. The combination of Mackey’s pleasant mid-range voice and the exuberant energy of her musicians blends to perfection here.

Dana Mackey serves in the music ministry of Grace World Outreach Center in Brooksville, Florida, under the leadership of Pastors David and Nellie Garcia.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

CD Reviews....G. Mayes & Nu Era

Diary of a Strong Souljah
G. Mayes & Nu Era
Light 2007

I continue to be impressed by the tough hip-hop gospel sounds pouring forth from Light Records these days. Another such selection hits the streets next week: Diary of a Strong Souljah, Houston-based Gary Mayes and Nu Era’s third project.

There’s so much music packed on Diary that it takes two CDs to contain it all. And you have to love CDs bedecked in camouflage, and a press packet that includes a dog tag, but it makes sense, because the project turns time and again to the “I’m a Soldier in God’s army” motif. The cover photo (above) shows said dog tag and Mayes in fatigues.

The opening (and likely the hit) track, “Hit the Deck,” is hypnotic, with rapper BB Jay and Mayes leading a “shakedown, takedown,” shouting orders as the choir, like a saved and sanctified security force, gives the devil ten seconds to “put your hands where my eyes can see.”

Nikki Ross contributes an amazing solo on “Wait on Him,” and “He’ll Come Through” is a nod to the traditionalists, with a Hammond organ and inspired preaching and singing by Kurt Carr vocalist Nakitta Clegg framing this seven-minute piece. Some time editing could make it another radio single. “It’s Time to Worship” features an organ-driven riff that sounds like the product of a 60s garage band. “Gr8 Day in the Mornin’” is a church rouser (with such a title, what else could it be?).

The second CD includes the upbeat “Oh I Thank You” with memorable hooks, and the live jam vibe of “This Joy,” featuring the Nuworld Muzick Family.

Of course, traditionalists will wince at the text-message influenced titles (“It’s time 2 worship” and “Gr8 day n the mornin’” are examples), but contemporary gospel fans will enjoy the non-stop movement as Mayes and Nu Era give the devil fistfuls of gospel ooh-rah.

Three of Four Stars

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Essential Gospel – Classic Recordings: No. 142

“In A City Where Sun Will Never Go Down”
Bishop P.H. Passon and the Evening Light Singers
Lance 1026
ca. 1950

"In a City Where Sun Will Never Go Down" (sic) is enthusiastic female group singing, hand clapping, and delightful barrelhouse piano that guides the singers while throwing its own holy shapes in the way Thomas Dorsey and Arizona Dranes intended. The performance is simple, infectious and timeless. A Pentecostal lost treasure.

The flipside of the 78 is an impassioned sermon by Bishop Passon (spelled 'Passion' on the label): “Living in an Insane World.” And getting more insane by the minute, it seems.


Want to discover more "Essential Gospel"? Go to
Gospel and scroll down to Bob Marovich's earliest essays on gospel classics.

(TBGB thanks Stan North of Gospel Flava for his Internet archaeology that helped unearth the contents of the long-lost "Gospel" website.)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

CD Review: Evangelist Robin Smith

“Praise Him”
Evangelist Robin Smith
From the CD Emmanuel Live
Spiritual City Music 2007

It’s amazing to listen to Evangelist Robin Smith, with her auditorium-filling voice, and realize she’s a throat cancer survivor. Her soaring Aretha-like hollers on “Praise Him” are huge and powerful. The track's up-tempo instrumental and choral backing bounces it along with a rousing cadence that sets the perfect tone for the rest of Emmanuel Live.

"Oh, How He Loves You and Me," a fast-paced, churchy track from the live project, gives "Praise Him" a solid run for its money, but the latter's more effective exposition of Smith's larger-than-life voice helps it win by a length and a half.