Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Take Me to the Water - Dust-to-Digital

Various Artists
Take Me to the Water
Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography 1890-1950

Dust-to-Digital 2009
www.dust-digital.com

Collectors who have salivated over the Grammy-nominated Goodbye Babylon from Lance Ledbetter’s Dust-to-Digital imprint, take heart: Take Me to the Water, a compilation advertised as “what could easily be seen as the seventh part of the acclaimed…box set,” is the next best thing.

In truth, this handsome hardcover coffee-table tome has its own soul. It is resplendent with ancient sepia-toned photographs of countryside baptism ceremonies. Like opening a stranger’s scrapbook, the reader is excused if he feels an admixture of wonder and religious voyeurism while peering at the aged photographs of men and women dressed in white, standing waist-deep in ponds, lakes and rivers, waiting for the moment of immersion signifying holy conversion. Equally fascinating are the faces of the congregation, sometimes just a few and other times dozens, crowded on the riverside.

While most of the 75 vintage photographs are of anonymous crowds, one dated August 20, 1945 captures the enigmatic Daddy Grace performing a mass baptism of more than 200 in Philadelphia.

Dust-to-Digital’s 25-track companion CD is a splendid soundtrack to the captivating photographs. It contains quality sound reproductions of pre-war 78 rpm recordings by black and white artists performing folk songs and folk sermons on the subject of baptism. Of particular interest is the mournful lining hymn singing accompanying Rev. R.M. Massey’s 1928 two-sided disc for Paramount, entitled “Old Time Baptism.” On the opposite end of the spectrum is Bill Boyd and His Cowboy Ramblers’1937 western swing recounting of the baptism of “Sister Lucy Lee” that, with its vaudeville delivery, is wryly erotic.

As one might imagine, the CD contains plenty of variants on the spiritual “Wade in the Water,” but it never gets tiresome. The Carter Family’s “On My Way to Canaan’s Land” and J.E. Mainer’s Mountaineers’ “Goin’ Down to the River of Jordan” will be familiar to African American listeners who have heard countless jubilee quartets performing these exact arrangements back in the day.

Speaking of jubilee and spiritual quartets, the companion CD features the work of several top-notch and rhythmic but rarely anthologized quartets and singing groups, including the Southern Wonders Quartet, Empire Jubilee Quartet and Rev. Nathan Smith’s Burning Bush Sunday School Pupils.

Offering the Holiness argument is Elder J.E. Burch, who in his 1927 “Baptism by Water, and Baptism by the Holy Ghost” sermonizes how baptism by the Holy Ghost trumps baptism by water, followed by vigorous singing by the studio congregation.

It’s hard to see how Dust-to-Digital could have selected a more perfect blend of recordings to accompany Take Me to the Water. If nothing else, the reader and listener will finish the book with a sense of how Christian religious ceremonies and sacred singing by black and white congregations in segregated America had more in common than not.

Five of Five Stars

Monday, June 29, 2009

TBGB Pick of the Week: June 29, 2009

“Stepping Up”
Sonday
From Kerry Douglas Presents Gospel Truth Magazine’s Gospel Mix, Vol. III (2009)
www.gospeltruthmagazine.com

Formerly known as “100% Cotton,” the fresh-faced urban contemporary gospel trio Sonday is Erika, Amber and Krystal Cotton.

Hailing from Wagoner, Oklahoma, the group recently scored a major goal by landing a distribution and marketing deal with Black Smoke Music and making the third volume of Kerry Douglas’ popular Gospel Mix collection with its upbeat, infectious, shoulder-shaking “Stepping Up.”

Taking an important tip from the “How To Write a Hit Single” book, Sonday adds a singalong “uh-huh-huh/uh-huh-yeah” hook in “Stepping Up.” This and the song’s overall optimistic mood are sure to get the praise party started. “Today is a brand new day…I have seen the light.” Fans of Mary Mary will especially embrace Sonday.

Sonday’s first full-length CD and video are scheduled for release in the fall of 2009 with four subsequent releases through 2014.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Greg O'Quin & iPraise - After the Storm

Greg O’Quin & iPraise
After the Storm
Pendulum Records 2009
www.pendulumrecords.biz

After an eight-year recording hiatus, Dallas-based Greg O’Quin, pastor and founder of The Church Without Walls International, is back with a new group and a new project, After the Storm, a sequel to his previous hit, “I Told the Storm.”

O’Quin and iPraise are dynamite singers and After the Storm is a dynamite release. It hits right between the eyes with sharp, tight production courtesy of Pendulum Records CEO Ruben Rodriguez, an accomplished power choir and a bullpen of top-quality female lead singers who more than complement O’Quin’s own smooth vocals.

While the lyrics are consistently prayerful and worshipful, the variety of music styles runs the gamut from praise and worship to RnB to contemporary, with a Mediterranean vibe on “Pray” and liberal use of Vocoder-enhanced vocals throughout the project. O’Quin’s current hit single, a neo-traditional track called “Lead Me Jesus,” is a congregational singalong that opens with a country-bluesy harmonica riff, all to a hand-clap beat reminiscent of label mate Regina Belle’s 2008 hit “God is Good.”

Besides “Lead Me Jesus,” the album’s other highlights include “Survivor” and “Breakthru.” Both feature stunningly hard-singing lead work courtesy of P. Jacobs, who listeners will remember as the vocalist on "I Told the Storm." Both "Survivor" and "Breakthru" speak directly to today’s issues of lost jobs, lost income and lost families. More than once the singers call for the listener to overcome today’s economic meltdown, or at least to remain steadfast in faith and hopeful. The storm metaphor, ever-popular in gospel but even more so after the wake of Hurricane Katrina, is ever-present here.

Nelda Washington’s fine lead on the opening choral outing “Convinced,” and Nadia Washington’s lovely lead to “iWorship” are additional highpoints. I cannot emphasize enough how the female leads on After the Storm are alone worth the listen.

Nods to popular music can also be found on the album. The group’s cover of Bacharach-David’s “I Say a Little Prayer” falls somewhere between Dionne Warwick’s original recording and Aretha Franklin’s souled-up version. Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” is interpolated in “Joy.”

Needless to say, Greg O’Quin & iPraise – in synch with today’s technology revolution in name and style – is back and destined for big things.

Five of Five Stars

Friday, June 26, 2009

American Black Film Festival Features "Pastor Brown"

From a press release:

AMERICAN BLACK FILM FESTIVAL (ABFF) TO FEATURE HIGHLY ACCLAIMED ROCK CAPITAL FILMS’ “PASTOR BROWN”

VIP EXCLUSIVE SCREENINGS FEATURED ON JUNE 26TH FOR ABFF AND JUNE 28TH FOR THE CITY OF MIAMI

Rock Capital Films, CEO Steven Belser, American Black Film Festival executives and participants, industry leaders, VIP’s, Celebrity guests and stars from the movie.

Film Life’s 13th annual American Black Film Festival, June 24-27th in South Beach Miami, will feature Rock Capital Films’ uplifting and inspiring movie PASTOR BROWN as its Centerpiece Premiere.

The film stars Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Nicole Ari Parker, Keith David, Michael B Jordan, Ernie Hudson, Michael Beach, Tasha Smith, Rockmond Dunbar, and Creflo Dollar.

In PASTOR BROWN, Jesse (Salli Richardson) reluctantly returns home to face the family and now-teenaged son she left behind more than a decade ago. A powerful update of The Prodigal Son, PASTOR BROWN shows Jesse and her family working through the universal themes of forgiveness, restoration, redemption and unconditional love.

With a thought-provoking and motivational message at its core, PASTOR BROWN strengthens and empowers families. It gives viewers the hope and encouragement they need to look honestly at their own journeys. Audiences around the country have consistently called PASTOR BROWN “a must see.”

ABFF VIP Screening: Friday, June 26th, 2009 (Time: 8:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.)
Colony Theater 1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach, FL 33139

For more information, contact ABFF @ (646) 375-2144.

Public Memorial Set at Sweet Holy Spirit Church for the Late Michael Jackson

From a press release:

BISHOP TROTTER, STELLAR AWARD WINNING GOSPEL ARTISTS, PUBLIC OFFICIALS AND COOK COUNTY RESIDENTS TO REMEMBER MICHAEL JACKSON IN SONG

OVER 2000 TO MEMORIALIZE THE GREATEST SINGER AND ENTERTAINER EVER TO WALK THE EARTH

Sunday June 28TH, 2009 @ 11:30 A.M.

Sweet Holy Spirit Church, 8621 S. South Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL

Bishop Larry D. Trotter – Senior Pastor of the Sweet Holy Spirit Church of Chicago - will lead over 2,000 musicians, public officials and residents in a public memorial for the late Michael Jackson.

Bishop Trotter will be joined by several popular gospel artists, including Stellar award winning singer/songwriter Ricky Dillard, as they pay tribute to Michael Jackson in song. A 100 voice choir will be on hand to perform various Michael Jackson hits.

The general public is being asked to bring candles in which will be lit in Michael Jackson’s honor. Public testimonies of individuals will share their life changing experiences with Michael Jackson. A proclamation will be read by Cook County Board President Todd H. Stroger along with other officials. Bishop Trotter will speak to the mass audience concerning the true passion of Michael Jackson in which the world should embrace, the importance of diversity. Bishop Trotter will speak candidly from Michael’s hit song, "Man in the Mirror."

The service will conclude with a corporate prayer for Michael Jackson’s children and extended family.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

R.I.P. Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson wasn't a gospel singer, but TBGB wouldn't feel right without paying tribute to the King of Pop. Rest in Peace, Michael, from one Hoosier to another.

Bishop Larry D. Trotter & Sweet Holy Spirit Combined Choirs: I Still Believe (DVD)

Bishop Larry D. Trotter & the Sweet Holy Spirit Combined Choirs
I Still Believe
Utopia Music Group/Tyscot Records 2009
www.tyscot.com

Bishop Larry D. Trotter’s Sweet Holy Spirit Church on Chicago’s southeast side has a warehouse-sized sanctuary, ideal for big gospel programs and recordings, such as the Bishop’s cathartic recent release, I Still Believe, produced by the effervescent VaShawn Mitchell and Rick Robinson.

The dozens who form the intergenerational combined choir look splendid in their dapper dark suits and boutonnières as they bounce with the music and sing full-throated Chicago-style. The audience is intergenerational as well, with young children and seniors enjoying the taping equally.

The contrast between the spacious worship room and the thin, diminutive Bishop Trotter is striking on video, but the angel of the house is as energetic as he is fragile, especially during the extended “Praise Break,” when he holy dances with the same intensity as the choir and congregation. Incidentally, the cameras focus on the feet of some praise breakers whose movements are nearly as complex as those of the Nicholas Brothers.

Most, but not all, of the songs from the companion CD are featured on the DVD. Big numbers, such as “When You Praise,” “Oh Taste and See” and the title track are included, as is Bishop Trotter’s angst-filled personal testimony. He chronicles foreclosures, separation and divorce, and illness as among the travails he has endured recently. Comparisons to the Biblical figure of Job are appropriate.

Bonus features include a sermon by Bishop Trotter and an interview conducted by Stellar Award-winning artist Donald Lawrence, though the interview suffers from hollow-sounding audio; the listener has to strain to hear the conversation, a dramatic difference from the DVD's otherwise crystal-clear production.

What also would have made the DVD even better was if it included all of the songs from the CD and posted song titles during the introduction to each vignette. Identification of the soloists who played a significant role in the performance would have been equally helpful. Still, the videography and audio are high-quality and make for an enjoyable experience.

Three of Five Stars

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Phillip Carter & SOV - Songs from the Storm

Phillip Carter & SOV
Songs from the Storm
Available July 2009
www.sovministries.com

TBGB selected Phillip Carter & SOV’s latest single, “He’s God,” as its Pick of the Week for June 15 because it’s a moving, reverent performance, a “lushly orchestrated ode to the staying power of God.” It’s tagged on near the tail end of an otherwise buoyant, energetic project called Songs from the Storm by the Upper Marlboro, Maryland-based ensemble.

Songs from the Storm is Carter and Sounds of Victory’s fifth CD. The project is principally praise and worship-oriented, but the group delivers everything from P&W to traditional to contemporary in its collectively huge, robust voice. A fascinating milepost along the journey is Carter’s reworking of Chris Cross’ 1980 smash hit “Sailing” into “Praising.” “Praising” is a two-parter that will capture the attention of listeners because of its clever and liberal use of Cross’ ubiquitous melody.

Besides “He’s God” and “Praising,” Carter and SOV’s traditional performances are the highlights on Songs from the Storm. The up-tempo and sanctified “Eternal Life” is a church wrecker, complete with a Ricky Dillard-esque special section. “Ride Out Your Storm” is a bluesy testimonial to faith and persistence with harmonies straight from the O’Neal Twins’ charts. “Put Your Trust” is a traditional shouter, showcasing one of many lead vocalists who make the project all the more interesting.

The ensemble wraps up the project with an exciting handclapper called “I Love the Lord." It's a medley of classic hymns, including a couple from Doc Watts, sung in congregational style and backed by a quartet kick beat.

Songs from the Storm is an appealing listen that will resonate with P&W fans with enough trad energy to attract enthusiasts of old-school (e.g., 1980s) choir singing.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Rev. Joe Williams stops by Gospel Memories

This morning (June 20), Rev. Joe Williams, former member of the Sons of the Birds (Song Bird Records) and the Dixie Hummingbirds, chatted on air with Bob Marovich, host of WLUW's "Gospel Memories."

In between classic quartet tracks, including those of the Sons of the Birds, Rev. Williams stressed the importance of preserving the legacy of traditional gospel. He encouraged everyone to call a gospel legend just to say "thank you" for the music.

Rev. Williams presented Marovich a Certificate of Appreciation for his service of keeping vintage gospel music alive and well in the 21st century and informed the audience about the First Annual Living Legend Music Awards that he is hosting next Saturday in Philadelphia (TBGB will post more about this program in the next day or two).

Accompanying Rev. Williams to the WLUW studios was Dr. Willie A. Naylor. Dr. Naylor, who worked with soulster Tyrone Davis back in the day, is releasing his own CD. "A Change is Gonna Come," a track from the new project, was previewed on "Gospel Memories" this morning.

"Gospel Memories" is now on Saturdays from 10:00 to 11:00 a.m. on Chicago's 88.7 WLUW FM. Today's program will be rebroadcast next Saturday, June 27, and can be heard live via the Internet at www.wluw.org.

Check out www.gospelmemories.com for more information.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Brown Sisters - Live in Chicago

The Brown Sisters
Live in Chicago
Kingdom Records 2009
http://www.kingdomrecordsinc.com/

The Brown Sisters – Andrea, Lavette, Vanessa, Phyllis and Adrienne – have been Chicago’s gospel-singing sweethearts for many years, and have won over many a European crowd, as well. Yet, until this month, their catalog of recordings consisted of one limited-press CD for use during their European concert tour.

On June 30, however, the group’s first major commercial release, Live in Chicago, will be available. Finally. Hallelujah! But it was worth the wait. Not only is it on the influential, Stellar Award-winning Kingdom Records imprint (whose hitmakers include Shekinah Glory Ministry and its worship leader Phil Tarver), but the project -- recorded at Freedom Church in the Chicago suburb of Hillside -- is quite simply a quality piece of work.

The Clark Sisters’ influence (and possibly a little bit of the Pointer Sisters, too) can be heard in the Brown Sisters’ tight, rhythmic harmonies, especially on the CD’s attention-grabbing, high-energy opener, “Ain’t Nothing Like This.” Only siblings that have sung together since being knee-high to a duck can blend like the Browns do.

The group’s praise and worship side is evident on the current single, “Awesome God,” and on the equally lush and orchestral “King of Glory.” Such dramatic praise and worship songs are the sweet spot of the P&W-dedicated Kingdom Records.

Being from Chicago, the Brown Sisters had to do at least one churchy song on their album, and Andrea's composition, “Hold On," is that number. It’s a real aisle-dancer, one of the CD’s finest moments. No matter what the style, however, an A-list troupe of gospel musicians and Rueben Alvarez’ Latin-tinged percussion paint a multihued backdrop for the sisters’ vocals. All the ladies save Phyllis take turns at the lead microphone, with Vanessa and Andrea appearing to be the group’s main leads.

An exceptional moment on Live in Chicago – a song that could escape the casual listener but really shouldn’t – is the Precious Holmes composition “Perfect Will.” This lovely, slightly bluesy, slowly simmering, spiritually sensual praise song is an ideal example of the Brown Sisters’ way with an arrangement.

What more can one say? Look out Clark Sisters – the Brown Sisters are here!

Five of Five Stars

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Houston, MS Honors Hometown Heroes: The Pilgrim Jubilees

From Sarah Alfred:

The Pilgrim Jubilees were honored by their hometown, Houston, MS, on June 6, 2009 with a dedication of a street (The Pilgrim Jubilees Way).

The Jubes, as they are affectionately called, have remained steadfast, unmovable in their some 50 plus years of dedication to their music ministry.

The Jubes came up singing during a time when segregation was at the height of adversities, but was a way of life. The group founders, Mr. CB and Theophilus Graham, organized the group back in the 1940’s when the only arenas to perform were the black churches in the area.

In the 1950’s when brothers Cleve and Clay Graham took over the group with Major Roberson, segregation was still very much a way of living, but the group was determined to keep singing and traveling.

The Pilgrim Jubilees today, along with the Caravans, have the most members still living that came up during the civil rights era.

The ceremony was very touching and memorable by those who spoke and shared what it was like 65 years ago in Houston, MS.

Mayor Stacy Parker stated this was the most exciting event to take place in the city in ten years and was honored to be a part of this historical event. One of the Historical Society Board Members shared remarks that they too were pleased to be sharing in history.

Clay Graham spoke about how he knew a change would come to the city. He also remembered about how a Black person wasn’t allow to walk on the main street, and with tears in his eyes looked up to see that very same street named in his group’s honor. Brother Cleve Graham was overwhelmed and had teary eyes as he, too, remembered.

Clay’s final remarks were, "A Long Time Coming But We Are Here Today!"

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

We Are Different - Pure-N-Heart

Pure-N-Heart
We Are Different
Music2ChangeU Records 2008 (released Spring 2009)
www.purenheartkids.com

Alphaeus and Alexias Anderson know a thing or two about putting together a quality children’s choir. On the CD We Are Different, the couple’s Pure-N-Heart choir is well instructed.

To be truthful, though, Pure-N-Heart is more than a children’s choir. It is a positive youth program wrapped in a music ministry. Comprised of more than 200 elementary school-aged youth from Georgia and North and South Carolina, Pure-N-Heart is dedicated to walking on Straight Street. Choir members sing and praise instead of becoming “part of the hip hop culture,” as one young member put it.

What most impressed me about Pure-N-Heart is how well this enormous group of young people blend well together and not blow out their voices by singing too loud or too hard. True, tracks such as “Keeps Liftin’ Me Higher” resonate with earth-shattering joy usually reserved for the last day of school before summer vacation, but it’s managed volume. This is testimony to the Andersons' direction.

The songs – composed and arranged by Alphaeus – are ideally suited for a children’s chorus. Lyrics are cyclical, the music easy to learn and the songs fun to sing, as in the case of “Hallelujah, Praise His Name,” where children imitate animals praising the Lord, in the fashion of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” – but what, no cat?!

Several members of all ages take turns soloing, with Deshante and Jordan Thurman receiving the highest decibel, and well deserved, praise from the choristers on their performance.

My late wife was an elementary and high school choir director on Chicago's west side. She had mighty groups that won state music competitions. Her words resonated in my ears while I listened to this CD. Are the children enunciating? Are they singing from their diaphragm? Are they together? Disciplined? The answer to all is yes.

I should think Pure-N-Heart’s We Are Different has Stellar nomination potential.

Four of Five Stars

Monday, June 15, 2009

TBGB Pick of the Week: June 15, 2009

“He’s God”
Phillip Carter & SOV
From the forthcoming CD Songs from the Storm (available July 2009)
www.sovministries.com

“He’s God,” the second single culled from the forthcoming Songs from the Storm, Phillip Carter & Sounds of Victory’s fifth CD, is a lushly orchestrated ode to the staying power of God.

The fifteen-member SOV ensemble contributes to the track, but the performance belongs to lead vocalist Phillip Carter. Carter emotes in hushed solemnity and with a heartbreakingly smooth, rich resonance, like Phil Tarver and Micah Stampley in ballad mode.

Carter and SOV are based in Maryland, where Carter serves as minister of music at Mt. Ephraim Baptist Church in Upper Marlboro, and is on the ministerial staff at Breath of Life Ministries in Palmer Park. He is the host of “Real Talk with Phillip Carter” on Henry Harris’ Internet radio station, www.SpiritCo1.com.

“He’s God” is a praise and worship ballad wrapped in a marvelously simple and lovely mantra-like melody. It’s a musical peppermint with a message and musicality aimed at lowering the high blood pressure of life.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

"Jesus Is Lord" - Divine Voices of Praise

“Jesus Is Lord”
Divine Voices of Praise
From the CD Be Still and Know 2009
www.arkchurch.com
CD available at: www.cdbaby.com/cd/dvop

Divine Voices of Praise is a versatile choir from Baltimore, Maryland’s ARK Church, where Dr. J.L. Carter is Pastor and Marcus D. Smith is Minister of Music. The group’s debut CD Be Still and Know is given star production by Stellar Award-winning gospel artist Minister Isaiah D. Thomas.

“Jesus Is Lord” is the first single from Be Still and Know. The choir brings its celebration voice to bear on this robust contemporary piece. Brassy notes punctuate the intro and a disco-like thump propels the vocals. Although Divine Voices of Praise is comprised of men and women of all ages, the performance has an unmistakably youthful energy.

In addition to the contemporary “Jesus Is Lord,” the Divine Voices of Praise knows how to do it up traditional and bluesy, too, as demonstrated on “The Blood,” and then get into concert formals for the CD’s title track.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Golden Wings Quartet - Live from Muskegon Heights, MI (DVD)

The Golden Wings Quartet
Live from Muskegon Heights, MI
www.GoldenWingsQuartet.com

Gospel music in all its variations is a visual as well as auditory experience. With more groups offering DVDs as companions to their CD releases, members of the general public can see as well as hear many more examples of gospel music performance, complete with congregation/audience reactions and the essential interplay between artists and their fans....while sitting in a comfortable chair.

Here’s another example, this one from the quartet community. The Golden Wings Quartet of Tupelo, Mississippi took their show to the handsome, modern Muskegon Heights (MI) High School auditorium and captured the event on audio and video.

What the DVD captures that the CD cannot is the "church" atmosphere. As lead singer James Parks remarks during the program, “You know it wouldn’t be a video if we didn’t have church.” The effect of the music on the audience and artist is palpable after the quartet performs its popular “Keep Blessing Me,” and later after it completes its rousing “Keep Your Arm Around Me.” Audience members pop up out of their seats, hands waving in the air. Parks himself struggles to regain his composure. It takes a few minutes, but the group finally finishes the program with “Jesus Is On His Way.”

Another visual aspect of the Golden Wings’ performance is the difference in styles between lead singers Parks and Toby Coker. Parks is a laid-back vocalist, a teddy bear of a man like the flatfooted singer Lee Williams, although he demonstrates an old-school strut at one point, much to the delight of the crowd. Coker, on the other hand, is a thin, wiry, animated gentleman with quick reflexes. He has a signature stage walk, too, an exaggerated high step and kick that he pulls on every so often for effect. Both singers, in their own individual ways and mannerisms, connect with the audience.

The videography is excellent, and with the exception of some loss of volume between songs, the sound is mixed nicely. Guitarists Alton Hollis and Michael Penson contribute immensely to the program with their Howard Carroll-like curlicue riffs. The Golden Wings are stylish in their uniforms and it appears as if the audience is 90 percent female. The hour-long video captures the Golden Wings perfectly as they heat up a chilly Michigan evening.

Four of Five Stars

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"Resting On His Promise" - Youthful Praise

“Resting On His Promise”
Youthful Praise
From the forthcoming Evidence Records CD
Resting On His Promise (slated for release August 11, 2009)
http://www.youthfulpraise.org/

Stellar-nominated contemporary worship choir Youthful Praise and its leader James JJ Hairston are about to hit the summer highway to promote their fifth CD, Resting On His Promise, recorded live in the group’s hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut this past March. First stop is Newark on June 20. They will also be performing at GMWA, to be held in late July in Cincinnati.

Youthful Praise is known for its “phat” sound and palpable energy, and the title track and single from the forthcoming CD is a good example of their volume and vigor. Hairston and the group trade vocals in front of a charging beat and wall-of-sound musicianship. Good summer listening.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rockin' Gospel Sing-Off Seeks Contestants

From a Press Release:

Christian Action Ministries (CAM) of Branson, Missouri is seeking contemporary, traditional and southern gospel singing groups that are interested in competing for 12 finalist positions at CAM’s Rockin’ Gospel Sing-Off to be held on September 7, 2009.

A committee, headed by veteran Branson show producer Joe Sullivan, will select the 12 finalists based upon audio and video submissions. There is no entry fee required of the contestants.

The Sing-Off will be held at Branson’s new Sight & Sound Theater, home to the show “Noah-the Musical." Finalists will perform before an estimated crowd of over 2,000 people and a panel of celebrity judges. First place winner will receive $2,500, second place $1,500 and third place $1,000.

For more information and entry forms, send an e-mail to jack@soundmarketing.com or contact CAM at (417) 334-1157.

The Rockin’ Gospel Sing-Off is a major fundraiser to support the CAM Food Pantry, which provided services to 11,686 individuals in 2008, 36% of whom were children.

Ticket sales for the event will be announced in July.

Christian Action Ministries' website is: www.christianactionministries.org.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A Page from My Heart - Christopher Page & the Dream Keeper's Ensemble


Christopher Page & the Dream Keeper’s Ensemble
A Page from My Heart
Restoration Records 2008
www.myspace.com/christopherpageandthedreamkeepers

A former professor of gospel music at the University of Maryland and an ordained minister of the Church of God (Anderson, IN), DC-based Christopher Page demonstrates his knowledge and understanding of music and Scripture on A Page from My Heart.

A Page from My Heart contains a potpourri of musical styles. It takes listeners by surprise at every turn with shifts from RnB to Holy Hip Hop to praise and worship to inspirational to ambient to jazz. The RnB-flavored pieces, such as “Sanctified Slide” (reminiscent of Dana Divine’s “Gospel Slide” but without the TSOP backdrop) and “I Come” are the most compelling; the former has the greatest chance at radio play but the second is a lovelier composition. Having said that, “Even Me,” a medley of gospel hymns, stands out as an island of formal hymnody in a sea of musical experimentation.

The Dream Keeper’s Ensemble, a group Page formed in 1997 to bring arts education to underserved communities in the DC area, anchors the project. Ensemble member Jeanne Nicole Ruffin is an especially important asset. While Grammy-winning Delious Kennedy from the RnB vocal group All-4-One (“I Swear,” “So Much in Love”), Tina Meeks Parcher and Tamara Fingal also contribute quite nicely, it was Ruffin I looked forward to hearing. The group functions as a true ensemble cast, with singers talented enough to step out and lead a song and step back on the next track to support someone else.

One constant throughout the album is its interpolation of lyrics from popular hymns, spirituals and gospel songs. Like a treasure hunt, pieces such as Doris Akers’ “Lead Me, Guide Me” and the congregational song “In the Name of Jesus” lie hidden here and there, waiting for the listener to find it and smile with familiarity.

Christopher Page’s narration and reflections are resonant and genuine, though if given the choice, I would have favored less spoken word and more musical lyricism to get across the spiritual message. Regardless, A Page from My Heart is musically complex and jam-packed with material thoughtfully arrayed (as "chapters," natch).

Four of Five Stars

Monday, June 08, 2009

TBGB Pick of the Week: June 8, 2009

“The Man in Room 1009”
Jerry Lawson & James Power, feat. the Jerryettes
Self-produced 2009
www.jamespower.net

It’s been a while since someone released a tribute single upon the passing of a gospel artist.

Back in the day, superstars such as Mahalia Jackson, Brother Joe May, Archie Brownlee and James Cleveland received musical tributes upon their passing. Chicago’s Mt. Pisgah B.C. Choir celebrated their own Roberta Martin with an entire album of favorites. The Gospelaires’ 1968 “A Sad Story” gave props to a litany of stone singers gone home to the Heavenly Choir.

The drought is over.

Jerry Lawson & James Power pay loving musical homage to the quartet pioneer Rev. Claude Jeter of the Swan Silvertones with “The Man in Room 1009,” a newly-penned composition with a folk-blues flair. Named for the room at the Daughters of Jacob Hospital in the Bronx where Rev. Jeter spent his final days until passing away on January 6 of this year, “The Man in Room 1009” weaves lines from the Swans’ classic “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep” with stanzas of gratitude for the leader’s musical legacy.

This is no arms-length tribute. Jerry Lawson was lead singer of the soul group the Persuasions, a group that was no doubt influenced by the falsetto quartet singer. James Power visited Rev. Jeter twice: once in August 2008 and again on the singer's 94th birthday on October 26, 2008. Thus, when the duo sings about holding Jeter’s weary hand, it's not poetic license.

Rest in peace, Rev. Jeter, knowing that balladeers Lawson & Power have done you proud.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

I Still Believe - Bishop Larry D. Trotter & the Sweet Holy Spirit Combined Choirs

Bishop Larry D. Trotter & the
Sweet Holy Spirit Combined Choirs
I Still Believe
Utopia Music Group and Tyscot Records 2009
www.tyscot.com

It’s not surprising to hear references to Job on Bishop Trotter and the Combined Choirs of Sweet Holy Spirit’s seventh CD, I Still Believe. Battling acute health problems and other trials and tribulations, Bishop Trotter has surely felt spiritual communion with the Biblical protagonist.

And, like Job, Bishop Trotter has persisted despite everything thrown at him. I Still Believe is a tangible product of his persistence. It also further cements Sweet Holy Spirit’s role as the current epicenter for gospel music in Chicago. Featuring production and songs by the talented VaShawn Mitchell and Rick Robinson, and go-to musicians such as Daniel Weatherspoon and Joey Woolfolk, I Still Believe exemplifies the Windy City’s dominance in the gospel choir department.

The Sweet Holy Spirit Combined Choirs countenance contemporary gospel in the first half of the album and turn to their traditional side during the second half. On the first half, “Made a Way” and the title track – the two current singles – are excellent examples of the full-throated, treble-heavy, plaster-busting Chicago choir. Later, when the choir goes old-school, it features uptempo tracks and fiery solo performances. Examples are the handclapper “Breakthrough,” “A Way of Escape” and the rousing closer, “Oh Taste and See.” Even the choirs’ extended “Praise Break” was captured and added to the CD.

Rev. F.C. Barnes’ “So Many Wonderful Things,” recorded some years back by Dr. Charles G. Hayes and the Cosmopolitan Warriors, is given a slightly quicker tempo by the Sweet Holy Spirit Combined Choirs.

The liner notes do not credit the additional soloists, but my guess is the companion DVD, to be reviewed on TBGB later this month, provides praise to these individuals who contributed greatly to the quality of the project.

Four of Five Stars

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Sheri Jones-Moffett (of Ted & Sheri) Signed to EMI Gospel

From a Press Release:

Nashville, TN – Sheri Jones-Moffett is the voice you know and love. From The Tri-City Singers to her duo work in Ted & Sheri, Moffett has been known as the team player and the featured vocalist, yet this summer she breaks out on her own and hits the scene as the solo artist.

The powerful voice behind many hit songs including the GRAMMY nominated smash "Encourage Yourself", Jones-Moffett recently inked a solo recording deal with top label EMI Gospel.

“We have loved working with Sheri since Donald Lawrence first introduced her to us as part of The Tri-City Singers a number of years ago – we feel she has been part of our family," said Ken Pennell, President of EMI Gospel. "So to collaborate even more closely with her now in her first venture as a solo artist is especially fulfilling.”

The first effort from Jones-Moffett & EMI Gospel is the power-packed album Renewed. A bold and brash offering that is unapologetically diverse, this vibrant body of work is unlike anything gospel music has heard in a long while and Moffett's versatility is evident.

The lead single and title track, “Renewed,” is Moffett’s nod to one of her favorite inspirations – Motown. From the very first guitar lick the groove draws you in, while lyrically it speaks encouragement and renewal – a message that connects with just about anyone. The album features the outstanding pop track “Free Indeed,” with an undeniable energetic beat; and “Grace of God,” a gospel ballad that showcases Moffett’s soaring vocals and clear message that reminds us we never walk alone.

Sheri’s mentor, super-producer Donald Lawrence, says this of Sheri Jones-Moffett: “Not only am I excited about the anticipated solo release from Sheri Jones-Moffett, I am extremely proud of her growth as a singer, songwriter, music executive, wife and mother! She’s talented and a tremendous jewel for The Kingdom. If life has drained you … get Renewed!”

Renewed will be available August 11, 2009 at all retail outlets and iTunes.

One Million-Plus Ringtone Sales for "Never Would Have Made It"

From Verity Gospel Music Group:

MARVIN SAPP’S “NEVER WOULD HAVE MADE IT”
REACHES MORE THAN 1 MILLION IN RINGTONE SALES

SONG CLAIMS ANOTHER BREAKTHROUGH FOR SAPP, WHO BECOMES FIRST GOSPEL ARTIST
TO SELL OVER 1 MILLION RINGTONES

New York, NY – June 4, 2009 – The milestones continue to pour in for Marvin Sapp’s “Never Would Have Made It,” which has officially sold 1,254,957 ringtones. Fans just can’t get enough of the record-breaking tune that was named Top Song of 2008 by The Associated Press and remained #1 at Gospel radio for 47 weeks, making it the longest #1 radio single for all formats.

“This is so exciting! I remain humbled by the overwhelming response to this song and thank everyone who made “Never Would Have Made It” their ringtone,” says Marvin Sapp. “This is truly more than I could ask or think, and I am grateful.”

Catherine Seligman, RCA/Jive Label Group Director of Mobile Marketing says: “I’m elated that Marvin has reached this level of achievement in the mobile marketplace. The Gospel market is one of the growing segments in mobile. “Never Would Have Made It” is an inspiration to all and offers a wonderful personalization experience for fans to enjoy on their mobile devices.”

James “Jazzy” Jordan, Executive Vice President, Verity Gospel Music Group, says: “This is a tremendous achievement for Marvin Sapp and for Gospel music. With digital sales flourishing in other genres, we are thrilled to have surpassed the 1 million mark in Gospel music. For Marvin Sapp to be the first is another proud moment for a more than deserving artist.”

Marvin Sapp is currently touring around the country and is scheduled to perform July 5 at the Essence Music Festival’s tribute to Bishop T.D. Jakes.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Golden Wings Quartet of Tupelo, MS - Live from Muskegon Heights, MI

The Golden Wings Quartet of Tupelo, MS
Live from Muskegon Heights, MI
Self-produced 2008
www.GoldenWingsQuartet.com

Live recordings by gospel quartets are a treat because their audiences rival those of English football clubs for their outpouring of enthusiasm and intense loyalty. Similarly, the in-person interchange between audience/fans and quartet/team inspires the latter to take play to a new level.

One example: Live from Muskegon Heights, MI, the new release from the Golden Wings Quartet of Tupelo, MS. During this program on Lake Michigan’s eastern shoreline northwest of Grand Rapids, the Golden Wings demonstrate that Elvis and honey aren’t Tupelo’s only exports.

The group, featured on TBGB in January, is comprised of James Parks, Toby Coker, Cornelius Redman, Tyrone Parks and Michael Penson. “Time is winding up” is a suitable subtitle for this project, because several of the songs, including the up-tempo single, “Put Your Time In, Pay Day is Coming,” warn that time is “ticking away” and that everyone must get ready, either for a breakthrough or for the great reckoning.

Their “people get ready” message is completely apocryphal during the driving “Wake Up My Friend,” one of the project’s most exciting moments. The song will leave listeners wishing it had gone on longer.

The quintessentially quartet “drive” song seems to be the Golden Wings’ sweet spot. On “Keep Your Arm Around Me,” the lead singer shouts with the raw force of the Blind Boys of Alabama’s Jimmy Carter. From the response of the audience, this performance messed up the church but good.

Other highlights are the bluesy favorite “Keep Blessing Me” and the slow, emotional “Something About the Name of Jesus.”

The production is muscular but not so much that it distorts or buries the vocals. This album brings a taste of the live quartet experience – warts and all – into the woofers and tweeters of gospel quartet enthusiasts.

Four of Five Stars

Marvin Johnson, Blind Boys Guitarist, Dies

Archie Swindell and Sandy Foster informed TBGB that Marvin Johnson, former guitarist for the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, passed away Tuesday, May 26, 2009, in Bennettsville, SC. The services were held on Sunday, May 31.

Johnson can be heard on the Blind Boys’ Peacock LPs There’s A God Somewhere and My Desire, the latter of which was nominated for a 1974 Grammy for Best Soul Gospel Performance.

Swindell noted that Johnson also worked with the Swan Silvertones, Bill Moss and the Soul Stirrers (Crume). Foster is the current manager of the Mississippi Blind Boys. Thanks to both Mr. Swindell and Mr. Foster for sharing this sad but important information with us.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Chicago Gospel Music Festival -- Fine in '09!

Donnie McClurkin and Kirk Franklin headline a star-studded Chicago Gospel Music Festival. The fest will be held in Chicago's beautiful Millenium Park Saturday, June 6 and Sunday, June 7.

For more information, visit http://www.chicagogospelmusicfestival.us/.

Below is the roster of performers from the Festival website. You are in for a treat the entire weekend, but TBGB special recommendations are in bold.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Gospel Youth Stage
Saturday & Sunday 1- 4:30 pm


Walgreens Day Stage
• 12 – 12:30 pm - Alfred Wheeler & Blessed
• 12:35 – 12:55 pm - Ebone’
• 1 – 1:25 pm - Maurice Griffin (Maurice Griffin is the BET Sunday Best contestant)
• 1:30 – 2 pm - The Celestials
• 2:10 – 2:35 pm - Felica Welch & Friends
• 2:40 – 3:10 pm - New Orleans Heritage Festival Artists-The Voices of Distinction
• 3:20 – 3:45 pm - The James’
• 3:50 – 4:15 pm - Lady La Varnga Hubbard (an amazing traditional gospel singer)

Jay Pritzker Pavilion
• 4:30 – 4:55 pm - The Voices of Acme Missionary Baptist Church Choir

The Voices of Acme Missionary Baptist Church Choir is the How Sweet the Sound Winner! (Best Church Choir in U.S. for more information visit http://www.howsweetthesound.com/)

• 5 – 5:25 pm - Shekinah Glory Ministry ("Jesus," "Yes," "Praise is What I Do")

• 5:35 – 6:20 pm - Jonathan Nelson featuring Purpose (gospel hit-makers)

• 6:30 – 7:30 pm - Fred Nelson, III presents: "An Evening of Gospel Elegance" featuring Rodrick Dixon, The Divine Divas (Felicia Coleman-Evans, Connie Kinnison & Elizabeth Norman-Sojourner) and (GMAC) The Gospel Music According to Chicago Mass Choir
(If you can only see one group at Fest, make it the GMAC Mass Choir!)

• 7:40 – 8:15 pm - The Quartet Special featuring Doc McKenzie & The Hi-Lites and Lee Williams & The Spiritual Q-C’s

• 8:30 – 9:30 pm - DONNIE McCLURKIN

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Walgreens Day Stage

“SUNDAY QUARTET SPECIAL”
• 12 – 12:30 pm - Evelyn Turrentine Agee (Detroit's singing powerhouse)
• 12:35 – 1 pm - The Mighty Bells of Joy
• 1:05 – 1:30 pm - The Gospel Crusaders
• 1:35 – 2:10 pm - The Genessee Travelers (Designer and One-Way label artist)
• 2:15 – 2:45 pm - The Christland Singers (The late R.H. Harris' group)
• 2:55 – 3:30 pm - Doc McKenzie & The Hi-Lites
• 3:40 – 4:15 pm - Lee Williams & The Spiritual QC’s

Jay Pritzker Pavilion
• 4:30 – 5 pm - Dr. Charles G. Hayes & The Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer Choir
(This group epitomizes the sound of Chicago second generation gospel choruses)

• 5:05 – 5:30 pm - New Direction

• 5:40 – 6:25 pm - Rev. Dr. Lucius Hall presents: “A Touch of Chicago's Gospel Pioneers/Legends” featuring Professor Almond Dawson, Evangelist Verlene Moore, Reverend Walter Veal & Dr. Yolanda Freeman (Almond Dawson was with the Inspirationals)

• 6:35 – 7:05 pm - Evelyn Turrentine-Agee

• 7:20 – 8:20 pm - Special appearance by FANTASIA featuring Diane Barrino (mother & daughter)

• 8:30 – 9:30 pm - KIRK FRANKLIN

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Beverly Crawford - Live from Los Angeles (DVD - 2008)

Beverly Crawford
Live from Los Angeles
JDI Records 2008
www.jdirecords.com

Multiple GRAMMY-nominated Beverly Crawford has church on the video companion to her 2008 release, Live from Los Angeles. It was this project, her first for Professor James Roberson’s JDI Records, which earned her a 2009 Stellar Award for Traditional Female Vocalist of the Year.

The hour-plus video was produced by the ubiquitous Bro. Steve Harris and filmed at the beautiful and spacious Faithful Central Bible Church in Los Angeles where Rev. Kenneth C. Ulmer is Pastor. It is a straightforward program presentation featuring Beverly and her background vocalists and musicians over what appear to be two separate but equally superb performances.

Gospel lights Edwin Hawkins, the always-animated chorister Ricky Dillard and Hammond B3 master Moses Tyson (“That man is baaaad!” Beverly remarks) take turns assisting the singer on “We Need to Hear a Word,” “God Has Been Good to Me,” and “I Owe Everything to Jesus” respectively.

The video and project contain a satisfactory share of uptempo numbers, including the mood-setting “Victory Comes,” a sanctified shouter that has the audience clapping along. Similarly, “I Know Too Much” brings the audience to its feet with a quartet-style vibe.

Beverly’s recent smash hit, “He’s Done Enough,” is an old-school gospel blues with that classic gospel “waltz” tempo. The lyrics are based on the saying, “If the Lord doesn’t do anything else for me, He’s done enough.” Beverly sings it like an LA version of Albertina Walker, lifting everybody from their seats by the conclusion.

Another highlight of the program is “I’m Still Standing.” Beverly gives this paean to resilience a slow, emotional delivery, which demonstrates her ability to communicate a message directly to the hearts of her audience. There were plenty of congregants who shook their head in wizened acknowledgement of the song’s simple truths.

Beverly Crawford continues the tradition of gutsy and traditional female gospel singers who not only sing a song but deliver a message like a preacher in the pulpit. She’s one of those artists who is as much fun to watch as she is to hear.

Five of Five Stars

Monday, June 01, 2009

TBGB Pick of the Week: June 1, 2009

“What Have You Done?”
Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens
From the Daptone CD What Have You Done, My Brother (2009)
http://www.daptonerecords.com/naomishelton.html

The design of the album cover and the sound of the song shout Seventies gospel soul, but make no mistake: “What Have You Done?” is a 2009 release on Daptone Records. It’s from the debut album What Have You Done, My Brother, by the New York-based Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens.

Shelton honed her craft in an Alabama church, but became a popular soul singer in New York clubs. This, her first gospel album, was released on May 26, 2009.

A pointed finger at wrongdoers, “What Have You Done” showcases Shelton’s soul and gospel sides, with ample support by the Gospel Queens. About.com called the album one of the new/noteworthy releases for May, 2009.

Amazon.com has been giving the track away for free. Go to "What Have You Done" for yours. If you are hard-core old-school and want the full Seventies experience, not to worry: Daptone has your back. It issued a 7-inch single on the song.