Rev. Timothy Flemming, Sr.
God's Strength Records 2009
Atlanta pastor Rev. Timothy Flemming, Sr. likes to take chances. He is not afraid to inject well-placed humor in his sermons. He posed on his Old Time Camp Meeting Songs - Vol. III in a pair of overalls. His latest music offering, Something New, suggests that once again, Rev. Flemming seeks to surprise.
The album title infers that the fourteen songs and arrangements in the collection are not normally associated with Rev. Flemming. First, most of the songs come from the R&B, jazz and pop worlds but are given a gospel makeover with straightforward praise and worship lyrics. "God is So Good to Me," for example, pulls its melody from Joe Cocker's "You Are So Beautiful." "Seasons" is Rev. Flemming's spritely take on the Byrd's classic "Turn Turn Turn." "Lifting Higher" is Jackie Wilson's late 1960s gospel-inspired R&B hit "Higher and Higher" that, having reclaimed its gospel heritage on Something New, revels in its original spirit.
Second, Flemming re-arranges classics such as the Baptist hymn "A Charge to Keep I Have" as a mid-tempo soul ballad, and his mournful falsetto moaning on Gershwin's "Summertime" gives the dramatic lullaby an undercurrent of unspeakable sadness.
What keeps Something New from realizing its true potential is that most all of the songs are slow and protracted instead of tight and vibrant. "Yes, I Made It" clocks in at nearly seven minutes, but had the tempo been accelerated slightly and the overall energy and mood of the song taken up a notch, the piece could have topped out at five minutes and been ready for radio play.
The final moments of "Take My Hand (Precious Lord)" give a glimpse of the album that could have been, as Rev. Flemming and a female vocalist engage in a dynamic duet that pits shout against shout. Instead there are more instances like "Pray" that are way too slow and deliberate to grab and hold listeners' attention.
An exception is Rev. Flemming's version of "Elijah Rock." Like Rev. Cleophus Robinson, whose version of this song was nearly as good as Mahalia's, Rev. Flemming can go from a whisper to a shout in no time flat. His demeanor and voice are perfect for this cool, finger-popping classic.
Perhaps more encouragement from the musicians or recording the project for a live audience would have helped pick up the momentum. Regardless, Something New is missing that zestiness that gives gospel music its appeal.
Two of Five Stars
gPod Picks: "Elijah Rock"