Thursday, October 30, 2008

November 2 "Gospel Memories" Marks 45th Anniversary of JFK Assassination

Tune to 88.7 WLUW Chicago this Sunday morning, November 2, from 3:00 to 7:30 a.m. Central Time for the monthly live broadcast of “Gospel Memories” – the soundtrack to That Old Time Religion.

NOTE: Don't forget to set your clocks back one hour Sunday at 2:00 a.m.!

Not in Chicago? No problem. Go to www.wluw.org, click the Listen Live button, and enjoy “Gospel Memories” from wherever you are!

Highlights of the November 2 Broadcast:

Benediction: “Our Father” – Brother Joe May

“That Awful Day in Dallas”
This month marks the 45th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. Many gospel artists wrote and recorded songs in tribute to the slain leader, including Mahalia Jackson, Thurman Ruth, the Jewel Gospel Singers, the Southern Bell Singers and Brother Will Hairston. Some were recorded just one week after the assassination.

We will feature some of these musical testimonials throughout the morning (check out Guido van Rijn’s Kennedy’s Blues for more information on blues, soul and gospel tributes to JFK).

Selections from the debut recording by the Gospel Music According to Chicago Choir – Sunday morning singing as only Chicago choirs can do it!

Preacher Feature:
Bishop Louis Henry Ford: "Small Things" (mid-1970s)
Church of God in Christ, Chicago
(photo below from 1939 Chicago Defender)

Recordings by classic artists such as:
Roberta Martin Singers
Dixie Hummingbirds
Angelic Gospel Singers
Traveling Echoes
Kindly Shepherds
Strings of Harmony – acetate feat. quartet pioneer Charles Bridges?
Sister Bonnie Bradford
Flying Clouds of Detroit
Heaven Bound Four
Davis Sisters
Mary Johnson Davis Singers

…and many more!

So tune in and turn on to “Gospel Memories”…it’s your monthly radio-therapy!

Down in New Orleans - Blind Boys of Alabama (Time/Life 2008)


The Blind Boys of Alabama
Down in New Orleans
Time/Life 2008
www.blindboys.com

Since its organization nearly seventy years ago, the Happyland Singers (aka Blind Boys of Alabama) has developed from one of many professional quartets appearing at country churches and high school auditoriums for a slice of the widow’s mite to a top gospel quartet attraction to an American icon. After its seminal role in the popular musical The Gospel at Colonnus, the Blind Boys played folk and roots music venues throughout the country, produced four Grammy Award-winning albums and leveraged their visibility to score cross-genre collaborations, most notably with Bonnie Raitt, Lou Reed, Randy Travis, Peter Gabriel and Ben Harper.

On Down in New Orleans, the Blind Boys join forces with another iconic ensemble, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and with legendary NOLA pianist Allan Touissant and the Hot 8 Brass Band, in a production that has the air of a Saturday afternoon jam session. Hearing these musicians working together demonstrates just how fine a line exists between the secular and the sacred, and how difficult it is to know exactly where one ends and the other begins.

The Blind Boys of Alabama have recorded in New Orleans at least twice before: at Cosimo Matassa’s fabled studios for a 1957 Specialty Records session, and during an appearance at New Hope Baptist Church ten years later, during which they all but ripped the roof off the church with their fiery performance.

For these recordings, the alpha presence in the group was charter member Clarence Fountain. Fountain’s recent absence from the group has placed lead responsibilities in the capable hands of diminutive Jimmy Carter. Audiences will recall Carter as the singer-athlete who walked the aisles and did backbends during his show-stopping rendition of “If I Had a Hammer.”

Down in New Orleans is comprised of the evangelical hymns, gospels and spirituals that were the mainstays of quartet presentations during the Golden Age. “You Got to Move” and “I’ve Got a Home” are drive songs especially reminiscent of 1950s Blind Boys recordings, while “How I Got Over” has that slow, swaying Pentecostal feel that Mahalia Jackson bestowed on the composition in 1951.

“How I Got Over” and another album track, “If I Could Help Somebody,” were part of Jackson’s considerable repertory, and that’s no mere coincidence. ‘Halie grew up in New Orleans’ “Pinching Town,” her singing style forever a postcard from home. It contained what Carter describes in the liner notes as a key component of New Orleans music: “syncopation, a push and pull.”

Sure the Blind Boys of Alabama are not as vocally rambunctious as they were fifty years ago – their Specialty sessions of the early 1950s are arguably their finest – but in their voices today are carved the wisdom of experience and the toughness of dedication. They have earned every bit of their reputation as rocks in a weary land.

Three of Four Stars

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Florida's Stars of Harmony Say Farewell

In the Miami Herald, Margarita Sweeting writes:

"For over six decades, gospel group Stars of Harmony gave audiences a look back at gospel music birthed in the old churches of the south. Now, they said goodbye, giving their last performance recently at the Church of God by Faith in Miami Gardens."

Read more at: Stars of Harmony

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

He Reigns - William Smith Jr. & The Renewed Voices for Christ


He Reigns
William Smith Jr. & The Renewed Voices for Christ
Self-released 2008
(312) 409-4782

You can take the choir out of the church, but you can’t take the church out of the choir.

That’s certainly true for Chicago choirs, anyway, which have always had a Sunday morning vibe even when they aren’t trying to be traditional.

Case in point: the first few tracks on Chicago-based William Smith Jr. & The Renewed Voices for Christ’s self-produced He Reigns are robust praise & worship pieces, especially the majestic “You Are,” but the choir’s full bodied sound hints at untapped power just beneath the surface. By the sixth cut, the Pentecostal handclapper “Send the Praise Up,” the group’s inner flame becomes a full-fledged forest fire. From then on, it’s Chicago-style.

Talented male and female soloists contribute greatly to the album’s verve. LaWanda Campbell’s work on “Power” is particularly soulful and noteworthy, while Alisa “Shantae” Gray goes all Dianne Williams on the vamp during “Send the Praise Up,” a song Shantae co-wrote with music director Jeral Gray.

And as for Anthony McSwain, who solos on “Lord, I Thank You”: TBGB wonders if he is kin to Frank McSwain and the McSwain Singers/Sunlight Radio Choir. Their 1970s choir singles are so extraordinarily gymnastic and formidable that any choir director listening to them wouldn’t be faulted at all for quitting on the spot and changing careers.

Back to He Reigns: be sure to check out the “New York/Chi-Town Medley,” which presents classic choral moments from the Tommies’ Darius Brooks (“Over and Over”), as well as from James Hall and Ricky Dillard. Hezekiah Walker’s popular shouter “Jesus is the Light” was a pleasure to hear again, also.

The two brief reprises at the conclusion of He Reigns were anti-climactic, and it would have been better to replace them with one brief but powerful slow-tempo killer number at the end. Still, it is pleasing whenever a privately-made project like He Reigns packs respectable wallop.

Three of Four Stars

"Something Got a Hold of Me" - GI (BGA Music Group 2008)


“Something Got a Hold of Me”
GI (God’s Image)
BGA Music Group 2008
www.gods-image.com

Vocoder meets B3 in this modern cover of James Cleveland’s 1960 classic, “Something’s Got a Hold On Me.”

Back in James’ day, with Rev. Charles A. Craig and Detroit’s Voices of Tabernacle, the arrival of the Holy Ghost produced frenetic piano chording and excited hand clapping. In GI’s version, the church stands up and the choir does the “church walk,” really a full-body strut, an urbane variation on the holy dance. You know it when you see it.

Yes, I realize that “Get Up” is GI’s current radio hit because it’s catchy; I enjoy its sudden ending, like a runner out of breath. All the same, it’s nice to hear young groups such as GI re-treading the classics and introducing them to a new generation.

GI (God's Image) is Branden Anderson, Marlon Anderson, Lamonte Harris and Curtis Langley.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Coko Christmas - Coko (Music Doll Entertainment/Light Records 2008)

A Coko Christmas
Coko
Music Doll Entertainment/Light Records 2008
www.lightrecords.com

As the Memphis soul singer Carla Thomas once crooned, “Gee Whiz! It’s Christmas!”

Indeed, the Holiday season is nigh upon us, and with it come new gospel music recordings to celebrate the Yule from home, car, iPod, office, computer, and so on....

It’s a gospel music tradition reaching back to the pre-gospel 1926 recording of “Silent Night” by the Elkins-Payne Jubilee Singers, though it was Sister Rosetta Tharpe who demonstrated the sales potential of marketing Christmas recordings to church folk when she waxed the two-sided “Silent Night” and “White Christmas” in 1949. In so doing, Tharpe scooped her chief competitors, Mahalia Jackson and the Ward Singers, who didn’t record Christmas singles until the following year.

Fast forward to 2008 and Cheryl “Coko” Clemons, formerly of RnB smash group SWV and Hezekiah Walker’s Love Fellowship Tabernacle Choir, is among the first to get in the Holiday spirit with A Coko Christmas. This brief collection features a good deal of previously released material and was likely intended to bridge the gap between Coko’s successful debut gospel album in 2006 and a brand new solo effort in 2009. That is, three of the tracks on A Coko Christmas are from SWV’s 1997 A Special Christmas (their last record as a group), and two (“Grateful” and “Holy”) can be found on Coko’s 2006 album.

Of the four new tracks, a duet with “American Idol” contestant-turned-gospel-recording-artist George Huff on “Give Love on Christmas Day” has the most appeal, although truthfully, “The Christmas Song” and “O Holy Night” from the SWV album are the real standouts. In fact, after hearing those two latter recordings – which best showcase Coko’s tremendous vocal ability – I concluded that if more Christmas songs couldn’t be recorded and added to the album, the project would have been stronger as a budget-priced EP. The EP could have showcased the album opening “We Thank You,” the duet with George Huff, and offer the three SWV cuts as “bonus tracks.” So it goes.

Regardless, A Coko Christmas reminds us that Coko's attractively tuneful soprano is ideally suited for singing Christmas favorites. Perhaps down the road she will release a full album of newly-recorded Christmas songs accompanied only by piano. Whoa -- now that would be something!

Two of Four Stars

Sunday, October 26, 2008

TBGB Pick of the Week: October 27, 2008


“Victory Shall Be Mine”
Nu Tradition
From the CD Nu Tradition
Tyscot Records 2008
www.tyscot.com

The newly-assembled gospel group Nu Tradition lets loose its youthful energy on the churchy chestnut “Victory Shall Be Mine” like it is part quartet, part choir. A special vamp represents both traditions, and a rollicking instrumental background keeps everything moving forward at freight train tempo. Definitely a Sunday morning wake-up song and a superb performance.

Nu Tradition was inspired by the vision of Bishop A.T. Moore of Louisville, Kentucky, who at 96 is not only the oldest living active bishop in the Church of God in Christ, but is just a tad younger than the denomination itself. Co-producers Austin Moore and Nathan Young gathered some of gospel music’s finest artists, including Judith Christie McAllister, Lawrence Thomison of Bobby Jones’ Super Choir and Nu Springs Record Company artist Lamar Campbell, to create the group. The result is inspired and inspiring.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

'Wonders of His Love" Felisia Gladney (JAW Entertainment 2008)

Chicago's Felisia Gladney honed her singing skills first under the tutelage of the late Patricia Andrews-Marovich and the Providence-St. Mel School Concert Choir, and most recently as a member of the world-famous Chicago Mass Choir.

Gladney is ready to release her first solo project, Finally Free, produced by Harvey Allbangers. The album's first single is "Wonders of His Love," a gently-swaying inspirational piece that is a good cool-down number after a Sunday's worth of churchin'.

Demos are available by contacting P.J. Harris at (630) 430-6557. The production is being completed by JAW Entertainment.

Perfect Peace - Kristie L. Sibley (K Love Music 2003)

Perfect Peace
Kristie L. Sibley
K Love Music 2003
www.cdbaby.com/kristie

Perfect Peace is Kristie Linley-Sibley’s debut project, an independently produced inspirational jazz album.

In the spirit of indie albums, Sibley and her crew multi-tasked: her husband Corey produced the album in association with two of their talented musicians, Clarence Hill and Alton Gibson. Gibson also helped engineer the CD. Sibley wrote most of the songs herself and even contributed the background vocals by multi-tracking her voice on high harmonies that sound like the early Pointer Sisters.

Sibley has a versatile but gentle and pretty soprano ideally suited for jazz, although she can, and does, transition on a dime into gospel bluesy melisma, such as on her interpretation of “Amazing Grace.”

But make no mistake: after seven jazz-flavored cuts, including the radio-friendly title track, Sibley turns the tables by delivering two successive church-wrecking performances: a setting of Psalm 51 and the classic “Walk With Me, Lord.” On “Psalm 51,” she is accompanied only by piano on an improvisational workout that is the true test of any gospel singer’s musical muster. “Walk” will bring a congregation to its feet, shouting and clapping and waving hands in complete communion with the artist.

If Kristie Linley-Sibley records another CD -- and since the Clarksville, Tennessee resident is in the dawn of her career, she probably will -- it would be a critical success if 80 percent of it is made up of church-wrecking performances such as “Walk With Me, Lord” and 20 percent were piano-vocal jazz, such as “Psalm 51” or even the nice small combo jazz sound on “Adonai.”

Two and a Half of Four Stars

Friday, October 24, 2008

Thank You Jesus, One More Time - Frozene Lott Hayes (LotHay Music 2008)


Thank You Jesus, One More Time
Frozene Lott Hayes
LotHay Music 2008
www.cdbaby.com

After losing two young adult sons in 2006, just six months apart – one to an act of violence and another to an automobile accident – Frozene Lott Hayes could have crawled into a hole and never come out. No one would have faulted her for that. Instead, she channeled her emotions into music and the result is Thank You Jesus, One More Time.

But what could have become just another indie gospel project among thousands released each year was turned into something special by multi-talented producer Nathan Young. The Nashville-based Young, director of the Orchestra Nashville Gospel Choir, is Hayes’ musical guardian angel: he produces the album, plays a wicked B3, directs the background voices, and demonstrates the magical musical drive more typically representative of big budget, major label productions.

Frozene is an old-fashioned, spitfire church singer in the style of Leanne Faine (who introduced her to Young), Angela Spivey, Dottie Peoples and Lemmie Battles. Thus, Frozene is at her best on the uptempo traditional numbers, and she knows it, too, because three of the thirteen tracks are rousing church wreckers.

The finest moment on the album, however, can be heard on the title track. Here, Frozene duets with an unnamed male lead (possibly Nathan Young). The two engage in a fiery testifying tournament that turns the heat way up on the performance. One can imagine assembled saints leaping to their feet, hands waving in testimony and voices lifted in praise and reverie.

Genesis, the young mixed vocal group that provides the background, offers quality harmonies and in some instances is given center stage, where they certainly belong.

No stranger to the recording studio, Hayes – who hails from Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, just north of the Wisconsin/Illinois border and near Kenosha – already has two independent releases under her belt (1985’s Reach Out for Jesus and 2003’s Build Bridges Instead of Walls). She also provided lead vocals on two CDs by Rev. C.L. Fairchild and the Voices of Greater Faith.

Meanwhile, Hayes established the Lt. Robert Hayes and Aaron Hayes Memorial Scholarship and Youth Basketball Foundation (www.bobcatandgoat.com) in memory of her deceased sons.

One can only hope that on her next project, Frozene Lott Hayes focuses entirely on old-time churchy, traditional, bluesy songs, even recording some gospel chestnuts like “My God is Real” and “I Surrender All,” which would really demonstrate her ability to get the house.

Three of Four Stars

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Stellar Awards Announces 2009 Nominees

The nominees for the 24th Annual Stellar Gospel Music Awards were announced at a press conference Tuesday at the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Leading the pack in nominations are Marvin Sapp with nine; Beverly Crawford, Kirk Franklin, Dorinda Clark-Cole and Ricky Dillard with four or more; and Marvin Winans and Byron Cage with three each.

Canton Jones and Jonathan Nelson also earned multiple nominations.

The awards will be presented at the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville on January 17, 2009. Sinbad will co-host the show, which will air on Gospel Music Channel television network. GMC has been tagged as the exclusive first-run cable home for The Stellar Awards as part of a new multi-year licensing agreement with Don Jackson's Chicago-based Central City Productions.

For a complete list of nominees by category, visit:
www.thestellarawards.com

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Virginia Aires: "Drugs" (Dove Records 2008)

"Drugs”
The Virginia Aires
Dove Records 2008
www.solidrockworldwide.com/virginiaaires.htm

This summer, the popular Virginia Aires quartet of Chesapeake, VA declared jihad on drugs.

“Drugs are a trick of the enemy,” the group harmonizes in that languid tempo characteristic of modern quartet singing. It’s a song that bemoans the devastating impact substance abuse has on the abuser and his or her family, but it also encourages abusers to have hope, to seek freedom from the captivity of addiction. “Drugs and alcohol have you hooked/but you’re still somebody in God’s book,” Kenny Halsey reminds the listener.

Talking with some of the group members at GMWA this year, I learned that the group is really pushing this single (pun not intended) in hopes that more lives will be saved by turning away from drug and alcohol addiction. In other words, they're not out for the sole purpose of promoting a quartet record; they are doing what every good gospel singer does: promote a new way of living.

The Virginia Aires also hope the public understands that addiction is not someone else’s problem. Halsey hammers it home with vivid imagery: “It could have been my daughter or yours/knocking from door to door.” Amen.

"Mercy" - James Ingram (Music One 2008)


“Mercy”
James Ingram
From the CD Stand (In the Light)
Music One/WEA 2008
www.jamesingramsmusic.com

“Mercy” is a blues-soaked song with inspirational lyrics rendered by smooth-as-silk balladeer James Ingram. That’s it. Ingram doesn’t attempt whatsoever to change his style to sound more “gospel” in his delivery. It’s the warm sound you have come to know and love from the man with the million dollar voice.

And that’s precisely what makes “Mercy” work. It’s a song with a spiritual message, and you can (slow) dance to it.

Mind you, Ingram does add just a dash of downhome soulfulness, because after all, the song is a plea to Jesus to show mercy on a sorrowful sinner. And it sounds as if that sinner's done something big time wrong and needs forgiveness yesterday. Other than that, singer, melody and arrangement are all straight out of the Ingram library.

Ingram has added yet another music chart to his collection, since as of this writing, “Mercy,” from his brand new inspirational album called Stand (In the Light), has just entered the Radio & Records Gospel Singles chart.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Dee Dee Warwick Dies at 63; Started in Gospel

SOUTH ORANGE, New Jersey (AP) -- Dee Dee Warwick, a noted soul singer who won recognition for both her solo work and her performances with her older sister Dionne Warwick, has died. She was 63.

Dee Dee Warwick was the niece of gospel singer Cissy Houston and a cousin of pop star Whitney Houston.

Warwick died Saturday at a nursing home in Essex County, New Jersey, said family spokesman Kevin Sasaki. He said she had been in failing health in recent months and that her sister was with her when she died.

Warwick had several hits on the soul and R&B charts in the 1960s and '70s, including "Foolish Fool, "She Didn't Know (She Kept on Talking)" and a version of "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" that was later covered by Diana Ross and The Supremes.

Warwick also was a two-time Grammy Award nominee and sang backup for Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and others before starting her solo career.

A member of a musical family, Warwick was the niece of noted gospel singer Cissy Houston and a cousin of pop star Whitney Houston.

TBGB Note: Dee Dee Warwick started out as a teenager singing gospel with Dionne as the Gospelaires and later as a member of the famous Drinkard Singers, a family group comprised of Warwicks and Houstons.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

TBGB Pick of the Week: October 20, 2008


“Dance of Eternity”
Benita Farmer & New Journey
From the CD Come Home
www.benita4newjourney.com

Swirling, psychedelic prog rock with spasms of Pentecostal handclapping and shouting, inspirational lyrics and gospel-style singing and preaching…that’s Benita Farmer & New Journey’s “Dance of Eternity.”

The group, whose musical architect is Benita Farmer’s brother Lawrence Farmer IV, is an earful of magic that will blow you away just as the Winans did some thirty years ago. Inspired by a variety of musicians – Chick Corea to Tye Tribbett – Benita Farmer & New Journey has just pushed the sacred envelope ahead one space on the gospel game board. What is most fascinating about “Dance of Eternity” is that it pulls the listener into territory occupied by the complex rhythms and chord changes of Emerson, Lake & Palmer but still stays rooted within a sacred soundscape.

Flashback: I Can Feel the Fire - Rev. Walter Butts & the W.J.B. Singers (Elisha Records 1994)


Flashback:
Rev. Walter Butts & the W.J.B. Singers
I Can Feel the Fire
Elisha Records 1994

Rev. Walter Butts, founder and pastor of Chicago’s Mount Carmel Children of God Baptist Church and the self-proclaimed “Big Man of Gospel Music,” has a throaty, tear-stained baritone voice that sounds uncannily like the late Rev. James Cleveland. King James said so himself when he first heard the young man sing.

Rev. Butts, who was a featured soloist on the 1996 CGI recording of the National Baptist Convention Mass Choir (Let's Go to Church), has produced a number of full-scale projects over the years, but I Can Feel the Fire stands out as his best work. He is at his finest on traditional and traditional-style songs such as the opening workout and title track, and on a poignant reading of Dorsey’s “Precious Lord.” Rev. Butts’ medley of classic Rev. Cleveland numbers hammers home the vocal similarities, especially on “Lord Do It.” The W.J.B. Singers offer solid support throughout.

Three of Four Stars

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Gospel Music According to Chicago Choir - Volume One (Rewind 2008)

Gospel Music According to Chicago Choir
Volume One
Rewind Records 2008
www.rewindinc.com

Imagine, if you will, the combined energy of iconic, big-voiced choirs from Chicago’s First Church of Deliverance, Fellowship, Cosmopolitan, Greater Harvest, St. Paul COGIC, and the Tommies. That aural image should give you some sense of the power of the Gospel Music According to Chicago (GMAC) Choir, which is set to release its first project, Volume One, later this month.

GMAC is the brainchild of Chicago Area Gospel Announcers Guild President Dennis E. Cole. Cole’s vision is to honor Chicago’s gospel music roots, and the “living legends” who are the protagonists of that history, while maintaining the city’s role in the forefront of the gospel music industry. One manifestation of GMAC has been a choir comprised of several living legends, some legends-in-the-making, and other gospel singers of all ages who have signed on eagerly to fulfill GMAC’s mission.

The GMAC Choir, under the skillful direction of Fellowship’s longstanding music director LouDella Evans Reid, closed out this year’s Gospel Music Workshop of America with a grand flourish. But on Monday, October 22, 2007, the choir gathered at historic First Deliverance. Despite a chilly rainstorm, it was hot and humid in the church as the choir presented a program and live recording. Volume One captures the spirit and nostalgia of that event.

Listening to the songs on Volume One is like greeting old friends at a high school reunion. The only difference is that at a reunion, most people don’t look like they used to. Here, the songs sound as vibrant and fresh as they did when they were first recorded years ago.

The project is obviously focused on Chicago gospel performers and songwriters. It opens with Rev. Clarence H. Cobbs’ jaunty “Come On Children, Let’s Sing,” which features a swinging Hammond B3 reminiscent of the choir’s 11:00 p.m. radio broadcasts. Roberta Martin’s majestic “God is Still on the Throne” is given a royal reading by vocal firecracker Angela Spivey. Another Roberta Martin Singers classic, “Only a Look,” is performed with equal verve by the choir, and Martin Singer Eugene Smith’s classic gospel blues, “I Know the Lord Will Make a Way,” features the musky vocals of COGIC legend Vernon Oliver Price. James Cleveland’s “I Don’t Feel Noways Tired” is featured on the album, too, because with all due respect to Detroit and Los Angeles, the irrepressible King James was born in Chicago and spent his formative years singing, producing, playing, writing, directing choirs and otherwise marketing the music around the Windy City.

More recent but no less masterful choir pieces are not left out. Volume One contains Walt Whitman and the Soul Children of Chicago’s classic from 1990, “Perfect Praise” (aka “How Excellent”) as well as Rev. Clay Evans and Fellowship’s traditional rouser from this decade, “I’ve Got a Testimony.”

GMAC has done for Chicago gospel music history what Armen Boladian‘s Sound of Gospel Records did for the Motor City with its marvelous compilation, called Detroit Remembers. Simply stated, GMAC’s Volume One is the soundtrack of Chicago gospel music.

Four of Four Stars

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Concert Supremes - The Message Becomes Clear


The Concert Supremes
The Message Becomes Clear
Quartet Boyz Records 2007
www.theconcertsupremes.org

The Concert Supremes of Natchitoches, Louisiana look like a young group fresh on the scene but make no mistake: the quartet, albeit with the inevitable personnel changes, has sung and recorded together for two decades. Today, the group is comprised of five singers (Ronald Kennedy, Marvin Howard, Napoleon Gilbert, Michael Cutwright and Russell Raymond) and three musicians (Mark Randle, Quinton Helaire, and Michael Larry).

Their latest project for Quartet Boyz Records is The Message Becomes Clear. This is a very impressive, solid piece of work that gets better with each successive track. Of enormous assistance is the album's producer, Quartet Boyz Records owner Dwight Gordon. A former member of the Mighty Clouds of Joy, Gordon puts his group singing experience and intuition into the engineering, producing a superb sounding album.

The Message Becomes Clear opens with “Down On My Knees,” an uptempo, churchy performance that sets a stimulating tempo for the project. The next several cuts favor a slower, walking bass-led boogie-woogie backbeat, the quartet world's equivalent of the running play. Many of the songs conclude with an extended vamp by the lead singer, who pleads with the cold sweat and stamina of James Brown, who of course borrowed his technique from the church.

Guest soloists abound: Andre Tate and Ron Staples each contribute one track, and fellow Louisianan Charles Clay shouts troubles over on “Blessing Me.”

“Lord You Know” is properly introduced by several euphemisms for the old time sound, including “like the old folks used to sing” and “let’s go back to the country.” “I Love You” is a new composition with a melody that sounds like it came from a dog-eared hymnal. The final track, “All I Want to Do,” breaks with routine, leaving the listener humming a pop-influenced tune.

I could have stood to hear one more drive-tempo song by the Concert Supremes but no matter: The Message Becomes Clear is a truly enjoyable quartet album, one likely to grow on you after just a few spins.

Three and a Half of Four Stars

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

LaShun Pace Released from Hospital


From a press release, courtesy of Jason Lee:

LASHUN PACE "ONE OF THE GREATEST VOICES IN GOSPEL MUSIC" RELEASED FROM HOSPITAL AND SET TO RESUME MUSIC MINISTRY

Stellar-Award winning gospel artist LaShun Pace has been released from an Atlanta medical center after undergoing a successful heart procedure. Despite rumors and hearsay, Pace is doing well and has been cleared by her physician to resume concert dates.

Pace was released from the hospital a week after her surgery and was instructed by her medical team to cease all travel until she was able to fully recuperate. She is scheduled to minister in song in New York City, Washington, DC, Memphis and Philadelphia in the coming weeks.

"I'm doing very well and I look forward to ministering to God's people in song again," Pace said from her Atlanta home. "I just really want to thank my medical staff, Atlanta Heart Association and many, many thanks to all my well-wishers and supporters. It's great to know people care about you and appreciate your ministry. I feel really good and thank God for His blessings."

The good news is that Pace's heart condition is treatable with proper nutrition and exercise. She has had a small device placed under her skin to help control heart rhythms. This device uses electrical pulses to prompt the heart to beat at a normal rate.

"What I have is a treatable condition that requires me to eat more healthier selections and incorporate more exercise in my daily routine," she says, adding that she has experienced little to no side effects from the procedure. In addition to loving friends and family helping to boost her incredible spirit, Pace of course has her music and has been inspired during the entire process.

About LaShun Pace
Pace had her beginnings in the mid-seventies in a singing group formed with her siblings, the renowned Anointed Pace Sisters. The phenomenal siblings gained popularity first in Atlanta and then internationally, gaining the greatest recognition with 1992's U-Know. LaShun Pace launched her solo career in 1991 with He Lives, a debut that was among the top ten gospel albums of the year.

Over the next decade, Pace went on to record six more acclaimed albums - Shekinah Glory, Wealthy Place, Just Because God Said It, God is Faithful, It's My Time and Complete - earning numerous industry awards including two of gospel's coveted Stellar Awards.

The singer/producer/songwriter/author/evangelist now adds author to her long list of credits. After a series of life altering experiences, Pace wrote her autobiography: For My God But For His Glory.

Pace is now accepting speaking, concerts, ministry and workshop dates for 2009. For booking information and interview requests, please call 202-903-4373 or email Ebony at singlashun@aol.com.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"God Did That Thing" - Bishop Bobby Hilton & Word of Deliverance Mass Choir


“God Did That Thing”
Bishop Bobby Hilton & Word of Deliverance Mass Choir
From the CD God Did That Thing
BVHilton Entertainment and Productions Group, LLC 2008
www.bobbyhilton.org

Idiomatic expressions have been the mainstay of gospel song titles and lyrics for years. Some expressions used in songs were sayings already popular in the African American church, while others were first breathed into life as a song title or phrase and later became affirmations for the church folk. Often it’s a chicken-and-egg dilemma as to which came first: the expression or the song title.

Regardless, classic examples of clever colloquialisms in gospel music song titles include Roberta Martin’s “Try Jesus, He Satisfies,” a 1960 recording that paraphrased Chesterfield Cigarettes’ popular advertising slogan (“Try Chesterfield’s – They Satisfy”). Dorothy Love Coates and the Gospel Harmonettes’ 1956 smash “99 ½ Won’t Do” gave us another mantra: I'm trying to make one hundred percent; ninety-nine and a half won’t do.

Many gospel performers have riffed on the theme of “You Can’t Hurry God – He’s Right on Time,” and "God Said It - I Believe It - That Settles It." A more recent example is Norman Hutchins’ 2002 hit “God’s Got a Blessing (With My Name on It!).” At least one historian has noted how gospel songs have become ambassadors of the faith by delivering these nuggets of truth to those who have never set foot within a church.

All this is to say that “God Did That Thing” by Bishop Bobby Hilton & Word of Deliverance Mass Choir falls squarely within this tradition of sacred sloganeering in song, an exclamation destined to become part of church vernacular. Recorded live on April 26, 2008 in Forest Park, Ohio (near Cincinnati), “God Did That Thing” is a mid-tempo choir recording with a driving beat and the venerable Dorothy Norwood as guest soloist. Norwood gives the song additional trad cred, but it could stand pretty well on its own in the traditional department.

Expect to hear testifiers saying, "God Did That Thing" in a church near you.

Carolyn Adams, Yolanda Adams' Mother, Passes Away

TBGB has learned that Ms. Carolyn Jean Adams, the mother of gospel artist Yolanda Adams and a beloved schoolteacher in the Houston area, transitioned from labor to reward on Monday, October 13, 2008.

The award-winning singer has credited her mother's commitment to music as important in her development as a gospel artist.

Read the obituary in the Houston Chronicle and consider sending a comforting word to the family in the online guest book.

The Black Gospel Blog sends Ms. Adams and her family its deepest sympathies.

Monday, October 13, 2008

TBGB Pick of the Week: October 13, 2008


“Keeping the Faith”
Javen
From the forthcoming CD Keeping the Faith
RKD Music Management
www.javenonline.com

Television, movies, stage musicals, commercial jingles and Christian music/gospel are all contained in the resume of Los Angeles-based “PK” Javen. As a gospel music enthusiast, you may have caught Javen’s 2002 single “Never Give Up on Love” or his 2003 CD Change.

The title track of Javen’s January 2009 release, Keeping the Faith, is blessed with a chorus that is nothing if not infectious. Opening with vocoder-drenched vocals, “Keeping the Faith” is about hanging on when hanging on is hard to do. “Things will be fine/It just takes time,” Javen assures.

“Keeping the Faith” is an body-swaying, feet-moving, pop-inspired urban inspirational recording that has that magic ability to make even The Grinch smile.

Mary D. Williams - Word and Song from the Black South

Some months ago, we wrote about the amazing work Mary D. Williams is doing to preserve African American gospel music traditions. She is ensuring that students don't grow up without knowing the musical roots that are their rich heritage.

Out of the deepest respect for Williams' contributions, TBGB is happy to announce that her program, "Word and Song from the Black South," will be held on Friday, October 17 at 7:30 p.m. at the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham, NC.

For more information, call Boston D. Williams at (919) 616-4314 or email williamsboston@yahoo.com.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

"The Struggle" - Bill Moss Jr. (Salathiel Records 2008)


“The Struggle”
Bill Moss Jr.
From the CD Manifested Favor – Live in Detroit
Salathiel Records 2008
www.billmossjr.com

You might think that since Bill Moss Jr. and J Moss are from the same musical family – remember the teenage Moss Brothers (AIR 1985)? – they obviously have similar musical styles. That’s not necessarily the case. Whereas J and his production company PAJAM have pushed gospel way out of its comfort zone and into new realms of sonic imagination, Bill tends to favor a more laidback, mainstream contemporary gospel sound, not unlike his father, the late Bill Moss, Sr.

At least that’s what I discern from Bill Jr.’s current single, “The Struggle.” The song has a comfortable melody and arrangement with a hook-heavy chorus that pleases the live audience in his hometown of Detroit.

There’s no question, however, that the full nine minute-plus album track is superior to the radio edit. The edited version, only about half the length, establishes the song’s premise – despite daily struggles, we’re still blessed – but the longer track gives Bill an opportunity to deliver a passionate and extemporaneous exposition on his simple affirmation. He outlines the various struggles that plague today’s society, such as HIV, depression, suicide, finances, and marital strife. Even pastors have their problems, Bill sings, as they can be burdened by crushing debt and divided churches. It is during this sermonette that Bill really hits his stride and sells the song.

A favorite line from the album cut is, “Somebody’s thinking about their unpaid bills/Get down, get dirty and develop your creative skills.” It's a clear call to entrepreneurship and economic self-determination. When big banks and monolithic corporations are crumbling under the weight of greed gone wild and wiping out pensions and life savings, it’s really not a bad idea.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Paul Porter - A New Day (Light 2008)

A New Day
Paul Porter
Light Records 2008
http://www.lightrecords.com/

Paul Porter left the Christianaires earlier this year, after three decades with the quartet, to give voice to musical ideas that have been forming in his mind, ideas that did not necessarily fit within the Christianaires' format.

Porter certainly does experiment with sacred sounds on his new solo project for Light Records, A New Day, but be encouraged, ye quartet enthusiasts: there's plenty here around which to wrap your arms and fill your ears.

For one thing, two songs -- "My Redeemer Lives" and "I Made It Through" were written by musician Joey Woolfalk, who is himself a product of a quartet singing family. "I Made It Through" in particular has hit potential with its easy-like-Sunday-morning feel and catchy melody. Rance Allen joins Porter on "If There's No Tomorrow." "What Did You Do" is the churchy quartet "drive" number that is currently climbing the charts. So there's no paucity of good old fashioned quartet singing on A New Day.

Of the ten tracks on the album, by far the most soul-stirring and poignant is the Paul Porter-Harvey Watkins Jr. joint venture, "He's There All the Time." Propelled by a slow rock-a-bye-baby "gospel waltz" tempo, and cast in the likeness of "He Knows How Much You Can Bear," the song serves as a vehicle for Porter's personal testimony. It's truly a remarkable performance, an intimate interplay between two quartet lead singers young enough to still sing with lung-expanding gusto but old enough to have seen and experienced it all on the gospel highway.

Yes, there's some contemporary synth work and female background singers on some of the songs, and yes, even a little rock steady in the final track, "I Know a Man," but overall Porter doesn't stray too far from his quartet roots. It may be A New Day, but a little old-time religion never hurts. Indeed, it gives us a strong foundation from which to gain the courage to venture forth into new territory.

Three of Four Stars

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Chicago Area Gospel Announcers Guild - 13th Anniversary Summit October 10 & 11

Be sure to attend the Chicago Area Gospel Announcers Guild's 13th Year Gala Anniversary Celebration and Gospel Music Summit on October 10 and 11, 2008.

Friday, October 10, 7:00 p.m.: "Dress Up" for a Gospel Music Showcase featuring Ami Rushes, Jai Reed, Paul Porter, Evelyn Turrentine-Agee, the Victory Travelers, and many other artists about whom you've read on The Black Gospel Blog.

Saturday, October 11, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.: "Dress Down" for a series of informative panel discussions and presentations on all aspects of the gospel music industry, from making it as an artist to navigating the radio and record industry. Bob Marovich, Editor of The Black Gospel Blog, is scheduled to be one of the day's panelists, along with industry leaders such as Percy Bady, Debra "Snoopy" Hanna, Benita Bellamy, Gina Miller, Tyrone Porter, D.A. Johnson, Jerry and Val Griffis, and Michael Weatherspoon.

In addition, you'll have a chance to hear from gospel music's leading lights such as Al "The Bishop" Hobbs, Bishop Sam Williams and Lady Donna Creer (national leaders of the Gospel Announcers Guild), Don Jackson (founder and producer of the Stellar Awards), top gospel announcers Reggie Miles and Ace Alexander, a special book signing of Uncloudy Days: The Gospel Music Encyclopedia by historian Bill Carpenter, and oh, so much more!

Gospel music's most important artists and industry movers and shakers...the people who make things happen...all together in one place for one weekend....for only $30 per person (group discounts available). You owe it to yourself and your ministry to attend!

October 10 and 11 activities will be held at Cosmopolitan Community Church, 5249 South Wabash Avenue, Chicago where Rev. Henry O. Harding is Host Pastor.

For more information, visit www.chicagogag.com.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Blind Boys of Alabama & Preservation Hall Jazz Band -- Together On One Stage









The iconic Blind Boys of Alabama join forces with the equally legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the MacAninch Arts Center at College of Du Page in Glen Ellyn, Illinois on Friday, October 10 at 8 p.m. For tickets, call 630/942-4000.

Kathy Lanser, representative of the show, says the program is getting rave reviews and sent TBGB this article by Stephen Brookes of the Washington Post:

It was a relief, frankly, to get away from the biting and clawing of the campaign season and head down to the Kennedy Center on Sunday night, where two of the country's most venerated groups -- the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the Blind Boys of Alabama -- put on an evening of upbeat, optimistic and quintessentially American music.

"You don't have to sit there and be polite," laughed trumpeter Mark Braud as the Preservation Hall players took the stage, and the packed concert hall clapped along through most of the classic, get-up-and-boogie New Orleans jazz that followed. Braud himself turned in a virtuosic performance -- his playful, free-form solo in "Sugar Blues" was a knockout -- while Charlie Gabriel took some sly and serpentine turns on the clarinet, and Clint Maedgen used his light tenor voice to channel jazz-era crooners in "Complicated Life" and the 1941 Ink Spots hit, "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire." But things really got interesting when Walter Payton took a break from the bass and shimmied his substantial self through a baritone version of "Sister Kate" -- one of the most memorable performances of that song, ever.

The star singers of the evening, of course, were the redoubtable Blind Boys of Alabama. "We are going to make a joyful noise tonight," promised lead vocalist Jimmy Carter, as the Boys, decked out in zoot-suit-y outfits in Cheese Curl orange, launched into an hour of soul-stirring gospel. From the classic "People Get Ready" to the funkier "Free at Last," they sang with all the passionate joy that has won them multiple Grammys over the years.

And as if that weren't enough, they teamed up with the Preservation Hall players for "I'll Fly Away," "Uncloudy Day" and the timeless "Down by the Riverside" -- high-energy performances that had the audience on its feet to the very end.

Monday, October 06, 2008

TBGB Pick of the Week: October 6, 2008

"Vengeance is Mine"
Tonya
From the Kingdom Records CD Special Friend
www.kingdomrecordsinc.com

On "Vengeance is Mine," singer-songwriter Tonya Baker of Dayton, Ohio exhorts listeners to not take matters into their own hands when things get bad. God will take care of the matter, Baker asserts confidently over a laidback, RnB-infused, finger-popping groove and conversational lyrics that ooze with the comfort and assurance of sisterly advice.

Baker's lovely and expressive vocal frankness are given perfect support by the background instrumentation. Top notch production puts the vocals where they belong, up front and center, where the message can be heard clearly.

"Vengeance is Mine" is a sonic bear hug for the anxious and angry.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

He Changed Me - Dr. Bobby Jones Presents Renee Spearman and Prez (JDI Records)

He Changed Me
Dr. Bobby Jones presents Renee Spearman and Prez
JDI Records 2008
www.jdirecords.com

Gospel Music Workshop of America Duo of the Year Renee Spearman and Eugene “Prez” Blackmon II enjoyed a very strong presence on the Billboard gospel album chart with their 2004 Celebrate, and are back with He Changed Me. This latest release is a one-size-fits-all project that demonstrates the musical versatility of a duo that has worked together since the mid-1990s.

On He Changed Me, Spearman and Prez present a mutual fund of sacred music varieties, running the gamut from traditional (the pulse-pounding hit single and title track) to urban inspirational (“You Could’ve Chose Someone Else”) to praise & worship (“King of Kings”). They even throw in some complex Take 6 harmonies (“Come to Jesus”), and “Good God” pleases with a bouncy, modern quartet feel. The duo smartly added the heart-tugging “Happy Mother’s Day,” a track guaranteed adds next May regardless of hit potential. Most of the songs were either written or co-written by Spearman, with at least one penned by Prez.

Many gospel projects these days offer a bouquet of styles to meet the varying tastes of today’s music-buying public, but He Changed Me goes beyond most in its variety. The musical mixture was intentional, Renee Spearman told Ambassador Jones in an interview that concludes the album. While her earlier work was rooted in traditional lyricism and a contemporary gospel sound, Renee Spearman said the duo understands that churches are not homogeneous when it comes to music. Some churches like the traditional format, others favor praise & worship, and yet other congregations prefer the contemporary sound. They wanted to create an album that had something to offer every church music ministry, regardless of emphasis.

One might question whether the musical diversity will make it hard for the duo to define their own style in a business that is keen on putting labels on artists. While the two perform admirably in all formats, they seem most comfortable on He Changed Me in traditional, at least according to the rousing “He Changed Me” and the audience's favorable reaction to it. At the same time, their resume points firmly to expertise in the RnB flavored small group sound, which is certainly confirmed on “He Cares for Me” and is, I suspect, their true forte.

Having Ambassador Bobby Jones in your court doesn’t hurt, but Renee Spearman & Prez more than hold their own as singers. Produced by Michael Bereal and Professor James Roberson, who both know a thing or two about sacred variety.

Three of Four Stars

Friday, October 03, 2008

DeLeon - "Here in Me" (CD Single)


“Here in Me”
DeLeon
From the CD Here in Me
Demari Entertainment/Arrow Records 2008
www.deleonmusic.com

The Grammy and Stellar-nominated singer, songwriter and actress DeLeon Richards Sheffield is back in the spotlight with a gospel CD titled Here in Me, released on her new Demari Entertainment imprint and distributed by Arrow Records.

The title track is an introspective inspirational ballad with a prominent Spanish guitar giving the performance a touch of Latin flavor. With a smooth yet soulful voice reminiscent of Toni Braxton (the entire production sounds like vintage Braxton), DeLeon sings about the need for personal strength despite all odds. Not surprising. The Chicago native has had her share of trials and tribulations over the years, but since this is not a gossip rag, you’ll have to find that stuff out for yourself.

“Here In Me,” with its catchy chorus, could easily be classified as adult contemporary, smooth jazz, gospel, inspirational, or better yet, all of the above.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

RIP 'Godfather of gospel music' Rev. Eddie Templeton

From the Longview (TX) News-Journal's website, www.news-journal.com:

Friends remember Templeton as mentor to area musicians

By CHRISTINA LANE

The Longview chapter of the Texas Mass Choir has postponed a concert indefinitely as friends and family mourn the death of the chapter president, the Rev. Eddie Templeton.

"He was a Godly, loving man," said his wife, Jo Ann Templeton. "He was a great husband, a great father, a friend to all mankind, a humble servant of God. There's just so much that I could say — so many things that he was."

Templeton, 61, died Tuesday of congestive heart failure. He was the minister of music at Galilee Baptist Church in Longview.

"Longview, Texas and America has lost a great soul, who had a great impact on anybody he met," said the Rev. Lamar F. Jones, pastor of Galilee Baptist Church in Hallsville. "We're going to miss him. We have a lot of great things that we can thank God he was able to do while he was here."

Templeton was on the board of directors of the Gospel Music Workshop of America, was a member of the Longview Ministerial Alliance, and was a board member for the Stellar Awards, a gospel awards show. He also owned Rev. E.T. Gospel Music Store on Eastman Road in Longview.

Read the entire story at: Longview (TX) News-Journal

Tommy Cotton of the Cotton Brothers on "Gospel Memories" October 5


Tune to 88.7 WLUW Chicago Sunday morning, October 5, from 3:00 to 7:30 a.m. Central Time for this month’s live broadcast of “Gospel Memories” – the Soundtrack to That Old Time Religion.

Not in Chicago? No problem. Go to www.wluw.org, click the Listen Live button, and enjoy “Gospel Memories” from wherever you are!

Highlights of the October 5 Broadcast:

Interview: Tommy Cotton, original member of the Cotton Brothers (Song Bird). Tune in to hear what internationally famous soul singer was instrumental in the quartet’s early success!

Preacher Feature:
Rev. H.E. Walden, Pastor - Grant Memorial AME Church, Chicago (early 1950s)

Recordings by classic artists such as:

Mighty Gospel Giants
Voices of Jerusalem
Five Blind Boys of Alabama
Argo Singers
Caravans
Willa Dorsey & the Mighty Faith Increasers
Rev. Walter J. Butts
Soul Stirrers
First Church of Deliverance Radio Choir
Psalmeneers (early Bernard Upshaw)
Rev. Maceo Woods & Christian Tabernacle Choir
Zion Travelers
Cross Jordan Singers
Singing-Aires

…and much more!

So tune in and turn on to “Gospel Memories”…it’s radio-therapy!

Studio Line: (773) 508-WLUW (9589)

Dwight & the Sweet Singing Souls - Music Is My Way of Life (Quartet Boyz 2008)


Music Is My Way of Life
Dwight & the Sweet Singing Souls
Quartet Boyz Records 2008

Dwight Gordon is a quartet singer and guitarist who in the past three decades has worked with the likes of the Mighty Clouds of Joy, the Williams Brothers, and with his own group, the Racy Brothers. He is now the owner and CEO of a new record label called Quartet Boyz Records. The Texas-based label sports groups such as Lil' Blair and the Violinaires, The Concert Supremes, Gifted, Chuck and the Guiding Clouds, The Holy Sons, and a new aggregation out of Dallas called Brotherly Luv.

On his own project, Music Is My Way of Life, Gordon triple-tracks his voice in the grand tradition of Clara Ward, Patti Page, and others who did what is only possible in the recording studio: harmonize with yourself. Calling himself Dwight & the Sweet Singing Souls (“Triple S Dwight”), Gordon backs several high-energy lead quartet singers on twelve tracks that vary from churchy traditional to urban hip. Lyrically, the album is redolent with words of encouragement and examples of struggles overcome, all steeped in the tradition and testimony of quartet music.

To my ears, Rev. George W. Easley takes top prize, with his old-school hard singing on the project’s two finest tracks, “Let it Shine” (aka “This Little Light of Mine”) and “Wade ‘N the Water,” the latter a 21st Century take on the classic spiritual.

Terrel “Midge” Gatlin’s fine lead work on the slow Southern cooker “He Didn’t Bring Me This Far” and Bill Willis’s straightforward delivery on “C What the End’s Gonna B” are also deserving of special mention.

“Mighty High” is present as well, in recognition of Gordon’s own contribution to the Mighty Clouds’ massive 1975 crossover hit that went to #2 on Billboard’s Disco chart. It’s a nearly note-for-note cover of the original, complete with the sweeping and lush instrumentation.

The CD concludes with a June Bugg remix of “You’re My Savior,” a laidback '70s groove that sounds as if it were plucked off the soundtrack of a Melvin Van Peebles film.

The bottom line is that there are plenty of reasons to like Music Is My Way of Life, not the least of which is the production quality. While sound production can be a real challenge for indie quartet labels – too many projects suffer from muffled harmonies and overbearing bass and keyboards – Quartet Boyz seems to have it under control.

Three of Four Stars

Flashback: Brenda Lowe - Somebody Somewhere Was Praying for Me (Alpha 7 Ministries 2002)


Brenda Lowe
Somebody Somewhere was Praying for Me
Alpha 7 Ministries 2002
www.alpha7ministries.com

After the recent release of the heartwarming “Somebody Somewhere” by V.O.W. (JDI Records) and our review of the choir’s single and full album, Minister Randall Ogans of the Alpha 7 Ministries label in Fairfield, California contacted TBGB. Had I known about an earlier version of the Andrew Gouche-penned composition as rendered by gospel songstress Brenda Lowe? Back in 2002? Hat in hand, I admitted I had not. So Minister Ogans kindly sent it to me.

I wish I hadn’t missed this album the first time around. Lowe's project is exceptional, reminiscent of the GMWA and National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses Mass Choir LPs of the 1970s and 1980s. Those LPs, and Lowe’s project, do not attempt to cover all the musical bases; instead, they simply and graciously offer generous helpings of superb gospel singing supported by excellent accompaniment and strong, rich background vocals.

Lowe has the veteran gospel singer’s talent to work a song from whisper to shout until the church is up on its feet. She is ably assisted by instrumentalists that include the multi-talented choral master Ricky Grundy on trad gospel piano and the Bay Area’s Hammond B-3 master Melvin Seals on organ. Seals has worked with everyone from the late Jerry Garcia to Chuck Berry to Charlie Daniels.

Also contributing to the overall quality of Somebody Somewhere was Praying for Me is the selection of songs. In addition to the aforementioned Gouche piece, Lowe renders the old chestnut “Come Ye Disconsolate” as well as songs by Percy Gray (“Send Me I’ll Go” and “By Your Word”) and Pastor Shirley Caesar (“You Can Depend on Jesus,” with Michael Mathis).

Backing Lowe are a hand picked group of singers from various Bay Area church choirs as well as Minister Ogans’ own group, Jus-B-Cuz. Together they provide an aural comfort blanket underneath Lowe’s vintage gospel singing.

Although I'm still partial to that cry in LaToya Williams' voice on V.O.W.'s version of "Somebody Somewhere," Lowe does a marvelous job in her own right. She is even more magnificent in her delivery of "Look How Far the Lord Has Brought Us," "Send Me I'll Go," and in a spendid duet on "Come Ye Disconsolate." This is a CD definitely worth your time and resources.

Four of Four Stars