It's that time again...time for me to share with you what I've been listening to! Since I began this series, I've actually had the opportunity to meet some of the artists and interact with them on social media. As with the over saturation of content online, many of the artists remained unaware of the list despite our best efforts.
Still, I've kept my ear to the ground listening for more of the REST of the best in gospel music and I've found some good stuff. I'm sure you'll love this list. In the meantime and while I have your attention, let me encourage you add SoulProsper Radio to your internet gospel music listening options.
Jekalyn Carr- "The Life Project"
Any shame I should feel for just now listening to this album is absolved with this one review. Good music will always find you at just the right time. I believe that! I have interviewed Grammy and Stellar Award nominee Jekalyn Carr a number of times and have found a deep appreciation for her ministry and voice since I first heard her in 2013. I was late then and I'm late now! It's no fluke that this project and hit single "You're Bigger" are tearing up the charts! It's a well put together album that does what many albums doesn't do...it brings you into the process of creating the album. How so? For one, the radio cut is actually on the album .You could argue that they were stretching the album but I call creative license on that one. Also, there's a track that's only praying. I mean, convocation warfare praying...that's not on everybody's album, these days. I mean, you can simply remix your last album's single and call it a new cut now so...well, in keeping true to her form this album is a clear indication of Carr's ministry direction, forward. The biggest marker for this album is the way the music stretches her, vocally.
I begged and begged to hear something beyond a ballad and this album answered. It's easy to be typecast in music as well and I really hope that radio gets an uptempo or even mid-tempo single from her, next. Did I mention that "Something Big" was my mantra in 2016? It was, indeed. We got to experience her working a non-ballad with that song but not for long when it gave way to "You're Bigger" which is her biggest hit to date. Those uptempo songs I was looking for? They're on the album and I love each of them! In fact, the album starts strong "I Belong to You" and flows into "Stay Right Here" which reminds me of the energy in Tasha Cobbs' "Break Every Chain". The adlibs behind her was just as fierce as her lead on the track. The brief psalm "Your Presence Is Here" is more of an outro of the second song but it flows into a praise break where Pastor Stephen Brown takes the reins. I haven't experienced a praise break like that in a while. I actually put it on repeat! Good stuff, for sure!
The thoroughly enjoyable "You Are Our Joy" follows the praise break and leads to "You're Bigger". Last Christmas, Carr released "You Are Our Joy Christmas" which is a remake of this song. Both versions are good and belong on the radio! Now let's talk! I LOVE "We Will Stand" and I think it's perfect for the time we're living in. It features a more than capable youth choir who back up the vocal veteran tremendously! Following all that excitement, Carr unleashes "I'm Beautiful" which features a young Nariah Smith. My first thought when I heard this was that it reminded me of Maurette Brown Clark's "I Am What God Says I Am" featuring her daughter. This is yet another good one on the album. Nine tracks in and I have yet to be disappointed.
The album's home stretch features the "You're Bigger" radio edit, the aforementioned prayer ("Curse Breaker Prayer"), Carr's current single "You Spoke Over Me" and the album closes with another good one: "You Are Good, Thou Art Good". Aside from the olde english ascription in the title, this song jams something serious! Carr and her singers let loose on the vamp and Tim Mason (Kurt Carr) and the band are exemplary accompanying them.
Would I grade this album? Not really? Just for good measure, I'd grade this A+. You like good music and you don't like wasting time looking for it, so here goes. Jekalyn Carr's "The Life Project" is what your collection needs!
Cece Winans- "Let Them Fall In Love"
Cece Winans returns to gospel music after somewhere close to 10 years with a single "Never Have to Be Alone" and corresponding album entitled: "Let Them Fall In Love". Oh boy! For the record, I'm a huge CeCe Winans fan so I was beyond curious as to what it would sound like then I had the chance to meet her at Tom Joyner's Red Velvet Cake Studio. It was so early...but oh, so worth it.
Time indeed flies when you're having fun and for Winans, fun includes ministry and simply enjoying life. She didn't even really take note of her extended absence from music as a solo artist having recorded with her brother BeBe, earning a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and starting a ministry with her husband, Pastor Alvin Love.
By now you've heard "Never Have to Be Alone" on the radio but the album is replete with gems you absolutely must hear. Though I LOVE this album, it was much better the second time around. For some reason, it all came together after hearing the single (track seven). If I had my way, I'd start the album at track seven and end it with what is currently track six. That's just me, but take my word for it.
You may or may not know that her son Alvin Love, III is the album's producer and had a major hand in the album's musical direction. Along with her son, familiar sounds and production from Tommy Sims and horn/string arrangements by Phil Lassiter fill out the albums vintage Nashville big sound. Other notable musicians on the project are Dallas natives Robert "Sput" Searight and Jason Thomas who keep the beat for Grammy award winning jazz super group Snarky Puppy. It sounds like the 60's and whether that's good or bad or not is subjective.
FPersonally, I like it because of the live instrumentation, genuine good time and that little something that reminds me so much of an Andraé Crouch recording from back in the day. You know, the kind of stuff that made you want to listen to it all the time and leave the record on the player? It feels good! This is a CeCe album so you may not have many "Sunday songs" but the vertical experience is very much present.
The album opens with a lovely waltz setting the tone with "He's Never Failed Me Yet" and flows into a Motown feel with "Run to Him" which actually reminds me more of the fictitious trio Dreamgirls than any actual group from that era. You may choose to do as I did and sing over the outro on the opening track. Before I knew it, I was all in belting out the chorus as I drove down the highway.
In a sock-hopping good time celebrating the Motown girl power, Winans teams up with Detroit's other big gospel family The Clark Sisters on "Hey Devil". This particular track caught the attention of NPR's Ann Powers and if the first two tracks don't, this one is sure to do the same for you! Each of the sisters riff on the song but Dorinda Clark-Cole gets the bulk of the sister feature, pushing the song through its vamp. This song should come with a warning: "Do Not Try This At Home"!
The album inches closer to the 21st century with "Peace From God" which to this point sounds more like the Cece you know. She follows up the flower child, easy listening selection with "Why Me", by legendary songwriter Kris Kristofferson. I really love this one, it reminds me of Pastor Shirley Caesar's "No Charge" and "Faded Rose". She returns to the groove with the soulful "Lowly" which picks up musically where "Son of a Preacher Man" left off. I should add that this was the first song on repeat as I listened to the album.
Not so fast, though! The outro on "Lowly" is not to be looked over! It's a powerful song referencing the proverbial 'young man' and admonishing him to remember "the high is for the lowly". Following that good vibe is Winans' current single "Never Have to Be Alone" which is simple purity. Winans sanitizes radio and has washed the ears of gospel supporters with this one. No drums, no percussion, just Winans and that 40 piece orchestra...doesn't get much better than that! As great as this song is, I still don't want to hear it on the radio every other hour. I wish there was a way to preserve the song's purity without subjecting it to the over saturation that comes with commercial radio .
If you're looking for a Sunday morning song from this album, without a doubt it's "Dancing in the Spirit" which features Bishop Hezekiah Walker's Love Fellowship Choir. They get down something serious on this one! It's sure to get you up moving and is singable for any choir. It's reminiscent of the gospel choir heyday and still doesn't cross the threshold of the 90's gospel music era, staying true to the album's core.
"Gotta Keep Dancing!"
What can I say about "Marvelous"...it's marvelous in our ears! This contemporary worship anthem is yet another Sunday morning favorite in the making. You've heard of people having to pull over as they drove and listened to music, well you may want to skip past this track if you're listening in the car. You definitely want to start this one with both feet on the ground. WOW! That choir is outstanding and the ministry moment that is "Marvelous" is simply superb! I just love how well CeCe Winans pairs with a choir...simply marvelous!
The album closes with the title track which is not about starcrossed lovers. Rather Winans pleads for us to fall in love with God. Just as the album reaches its zenith, it's over! After the initial listen, this album remained on repeat for days on end. It contains all the elements that drew us into the sound and ministry of Andraé Crouch.
This album deserves at least two plays to really understand and appreciate all of its nuance. Overall, this album feels as good as "Throne Room" which is a personal CeCe Winans favorite of mine. Matching its vintage vibe, you can order "Let Them Fall in Love" on vinyl for $25. You can opt for the signed sleeve as well as other merch at the digital store. My grade for this album is also an A+. I am definitely in love with "Let Them Fall in Love".
Jacquie Green- "New Beginning"
I met Jacquie Green in Shreveport and put her album in on my way back home to Texas. I love the album's fast start but had to pause at track three which was the 'best' song so far. Green is a southern girl from Arkansas transplated to the DMV area which is overflowing with gospel talent. I love the album as a whole, not too thrilled with the excessive auto tune feature on most of the lead vocals. Still, I always have a great time listening to the album, here's why:
New Beginnings leads off with "Share My Praise" and "Nobody", both great songs! Track three "Best of Me" is something special and is uniquely Jacquie Green. It's on the way to radio so make sure your favorite station has it in rotation. This was the first song on repeat for me. Green follows the ballad with "No Reason" another urban sound with some bounce to it. You'll want to roll the windows down and turn this track up for the whole block to jam to.
"Day Break" features Green doing a Kirk Franklin/James Fortune lead type of narration but is so inspiring that even my four year old son loves it as his favorite JG song! "I Can't See You" is a dance track. Get up and to the beat as Jacquie Green sings about our creator who remains unseen though he's "all around us, everywhere we go!" "I'm Blessed" is reminiscent of the days when gospel and urban music first intersected. This song has an A-1 Swift and Buster and Shavoni feel to it. Green is joined by Chelsea Cymone, Deejay Lowery & Kimberly Walls on this one. Keep those windows rolled down, gotta bless the block with this one as well!
It's a mom, it's a wife, it's a..."Superwoman"! Complete with the iconic "Superman" anthem intro, Green praises the woman who does it all "with just one flick of the wrist" in her ode to super women everywhere! The ode praises Mary the mother of Jesus who watched her son as He gave His life for all. I'm not sure why this song doesn't have a dance video, yet. I love to hear it and play it as well. It's a good exercise song, too...you can do just about anything to it, much like the super women the song celebrates! Look for this one at radio soon, as well.
No super woman is complete without God. Green follows up the ode with a ballad "God Looks On Me" and celebrates possible new beginnings with the track. Green teams up with Terrell "TC" Carter for "Won't He Do It" and the two take us straight to church! The album closes with "Ever Wondered" and "Higher" the perfect end to Green's album celebrating "New Beginnings".
The Williams Singers- "In Real Time"
The Williams Singers are revolutionizing quartet, or are they? Are they just a contemporary gospel group that loves quartet? The industry is still trying to figure that out...meanwhile, gospel listeners everywhere are falling in love with these brothers from Indianapolis, Indiana.
The brothers released "In Real Time" to capture their live energy on some of their fans' favorite songs. The album features one studio track "Make Me a Way" but all other tracks were performed live. Their first single from the album: "There Is No Way" covered the "Tommies" classic penned by Percy Bady and re-popularized in the 90's by Ricky Dillard and New G. Their range is endless and they cover contemporary gospel and R&B hey-day with "Testify" and "Cant' Leave", quartet with the spell-binding "Soul Saver" and tip their hats to the past with the aforementioned: "There Is No Way".
There's nothing they can't do nor any genre they can't sing. It's all on this album and your collection needs it. Joining the brothers on the album are the likes of Bishop Neal Roberson and Zacardi Cortez reprises his feature on "Been Good".
Thurman B. Thornton II- "911...Save Me"
I have placed the music of TB2 on this list before but now that I've heard the EP, I'm officially sold. This body of work takes you through his journey battling depression and other vices that challenge his walk with Christ. As I listened, I noticed that this EP in a way seemed cathartic for Thornton who paired the sound of the songs with the various needs for deliverance. As the album progresses, the use of reverb eases...bringing you closer to clarity! Ever been in a place where you felt like you were lost or maybe even drowning? Thornton shares his real life experiences in the EP "911...Save Me".
It's this transparency that has made Thornton's transcendent and favored him with audiences of all sizes and demographics. He is a walking billboard for what faith can do. Having lost both his parents and other family members in a short span of time, Thornton has seen the worst of times. He has survived the worst and is ready to embrace his newest season with this album. There were times while listening to the EP I said "Man this is so dark. Pull him out Jesus!" before I realized that the work is a finished product.
That's it! He's working from a finished product to tell you about his process...I know it wasn't overnight! I met Thornton at the Rhythm of Gospel Awards in 2014 and I went home with his then single: "Fresh Start". I became a fan immediately as I listened to the song. Finally, this initial body of work is complete.
"...pull him out, Jesus!"
*Spoiler Alert* He comes out alright and lives to sing about it! The album starts out dark but breaks through like sunshine through clouds to a miraculous ending with "Better" and "Fresh Start" which are two of my personal favorites from the album. The choir on "Forgive Me" is working up a sanctified sweat! It's hard to imagine hearing TB2 with a choir, but it's a well paired situation you'll enjoy!
I used my journalistic privilege and made sure to express my personal disgust with the song length of "Better". It's like a danish...once you get to the middle; you're in Heaven but it's short lived because the best part is the end, and you got there way before you planned to!
In fact, the same could be said about this amazing EP, you're definitely wanting more once you reach the end but the a repeat will suffice in the meantime. I normally fight with artists that don't release music on the industry-wide release date of Friday, but I gave him a pass to release on Wednesday March 22nd. It's his birthday and what a way to celebrate another year than by celebrating the many victories that have been a part of the previous years.
The EP is already doing well as a pre-order on iTunes, so be sure to get your copy of this amazing EP once it releases!
The city of Fort Worth is still making great music! I'm so proud of this song because I have heard it in each stage...and I LOVE this final stage! Gerald Davis has refined his sound with the help of Tatiana Mayfield. She is genius in her re-tooling of the original harmonies and melody. "Rescued Me Again" will be available on Friday March 24th.
Anya Dixon has a phenomenal album that you should hear! I love it from top to bottom and it stays on repeat in my car! I get a ton of music but only keep the best of the best in my car! Dixon is also one of the most astute indie artists out right now. She's leading by example and is positioning herself for bigger stages and opportunities with each conference and showcase performance! Get "Overcomer" by Anya Dixon, at any and all digital music outlets.
What do you think of my choices? I'm always listening to these artists and many of the artists from previous posts about what's got my ear. Indie music is just as good as major artists and speak to the listener just as powerfully. I don't just play indie music, it's my music selection of choice on many occasions. I'm still working to help build the bridge between indie and major artists and I hope that by sharing these artists, you familiarize yourself with these artists and their projects and support them as well.
Until the next post...happy listening! 'Fred
A few weeks ago, I hosted an experiment on my personal page. I simply asked: "WHo has recorded music for sale?" The response was overwhelming and some of the artists even interacted with each other on the thread. What I didn't see was a translation of that post onto their walls...why would nearly 100 artists let a radio announcer know they have music for sale and not their immediate audience, their facebook friends list...let's talk about that, today! -Fred
Before we get started I feel the need to qualify what I'm about to say. I have studied the music business for years, even before I went back to college in 2008. Many of our textbooks were already in my personal library before I began classes at Cedar Valley College. Many don't me beyond articles or a radio show/station but I'm going to be a lot more vocal in the very near future. This is the first of many pieces in this style, enjoy and please share with others!
I'm not selling you anything or starting a sign up to another conference call or mailing list. What I want to do is encourage you! Yep, that's all. The music industry has experienced a seismic shift as of late and gospel music was situated squarely on a fault line. As the industry as a whole shifted, gospel music sort of well...sunk...is sinking...something like that. But you love gospel music and so do I so what's there to do?
Many of you have recorded music because you felt as if you were called to do so. Some of you do it full time and some of you don't. Either way is cool and whatever keeps the lights on, gas in the car and food on the table, right? AMEN!!! Until then, pray for release AND provisions. I have observed many of you on Facebook and over the past six months, I've seen your posts about your music diminish. Why though? If it's old to you, surely it's old to people, right? Not necessarily.
How many new friends have you made within the past six months? How many of them know that you have a project for sale? What about your latest single? See, we've fallen for the market trap but Facebook isn't the market. It's your life, compiled on a single web space. Don't believe me, fast from Facebook for a day. Some of you didn't even think about it! The reason many of you have chosen not to make people aware of your project may be that you're living a comparative life on Facebook. Comparing yourself to everyone else and trying to make the moves their making. Any truth to that?
Artists...why have you put a shelf date on your music? Consider this: You have a product that is collecting dust and for no good reason. It's just sitting there, waiting on you to compel somebody to come buy it. How many NEW friends have you made on Facebook within the last six months? Do they know you have product and where to get it?
Change that, you may have prematurely ended your career when you shelved your viable product...
A few weeks ago, Anita Wilson (yes that Anita Wilson) put up a song from her first album and you know what? It still jams! It was a cover but it's great music. If you follow her on Facebook, you'll see posts about "Keep Doing What You're Doing" here lately. Music doesn't die! This is proven when artists literally die, there's a spike in sales the moment their death is announced.
What I'm saying to you is this...as an indie artist, you drive your music sales. It goes way beyond flooding your timeline and posting in every gospel music/artist group on the site. Honestly, don't you know how annoying that is to other people? I'm in many groups and there are some artists that do nothing but post ads (singing engagements and where to download their music). But think about it, if you have music and I have music, what makes you think I'm going to blindly support yours with no guarantee of you supporting me? It's the same with radio announcers that spam these groups with announcements of their shows...you want me to do what exactly...turn my station/show off and tune into yours?
Be very cautious with groups, you could very well be wasting time, unless you create an interest group of your own and post to your bonafide fan base. Do you have a like page? If so, how is your engagement there? Do you have promo material/giveaways? Consider that. Do a giveaway, create some fresh, new engagement! I'm on the way to my PO Box today to pick up some promo material from an artist and I can't wait to give them all away! Of course, the end game here is drive CD SALES!!! Never stop marketing yourself, EVER!
CD sales are dipping everywhere, even the Grammy's made a move to include streaming music in their consideration for awards. The industry has adjusted to consumer behavior! Do you even know what that means? YES...! Take a minute, let that sink in...the industry has adjusted to consumer behavior! Have you?
So here's the deal, you've got a song or project...what are you doing with it? If your base audience has yielded little to no results, create a new audience and drive new engagement. You've gotta do what works and not what's comfortable. READERS ARE LEADERS! Take some time and discover how to successfully market yourself and your product. There is a plethora of educational material online for the independent artist.
That includes spending some money, not always a lot but at least some! Check Vistaprint for promo materials like postcards and other paper products. You even have the option to design pens, clothing, cups and more. For what it's worth, wristbands are a great idea! Do you have business cards? What do they say? Are they two sided, is your picture on it? If you have a business card, it should literally be your calling card. People should be able to tell what you do by looking at the card. They should also be able to contact you using your card. Current numbers, address and electronic contact info should be prominently displayed on the card.
Also, freshen up your social media space. Also, print up some promo materials and send them to churches. Let the churches know you're available for bookings. Let local businesses know the same, get yourself out there but don't be drab! To get noticed, you must be noticeable! Also, you should consider a graphic designer to spruce up a new promo picture for summer. Think about it...It's summer, do you have a summer look? Nothing's wrong with changing with the seasons! It lets people know you're still around! (LOL)
What about hashtags? How are you identifying your brand online? Recording artist and musician Tony Bush uses: #BushBrand and you could do something similar. You know Everette Drake, his catch phrase is: "Amen Goes Right There" and he's known as "Mr. Amen Goes Right There" which is his debut single. His album contains numerous gospel gems, but it's the #AGRT branding that has traveled with him to bookings all over the country.
DO THE MATH
Alright, got it? Some of you had NO sales this week and some of you no sales all month! Do you want to change that? You should want to change it, even if you're currently in studio working on new music! The grind never stops and neither should the marketing of your music. What if you decided to personally sell 5 cd's a day? That's 150 units from you. Of those 150, how many people would tell somebody about the cd they got from you and get them to buy their own copy? At least check you out online?
I know you want to sell more than 150 units each month, but what have you sold so far? If you're doing better than that, great-this is exactly what we want! Get great music in the hands of listeners!
The top CCM album last week sold somewhere around 6,359 copies. The top gospel album sold somewhere around 2,291 copies. Hmm...that already seems dismal and these are major, national artists. Can you imagine selling a copy of your cd to at least half of the people on your friends list? Maybe not everyone is a gospel music lover so, let's be realistic and say maybe 30%. What's that number looking like? Some of you reading this are already at 5K friends and some of them have NO interest in buying your product.
NETWORKING YOUR NET WORTH
Earlier this year, I posted the inaugural blog: "Here's What's Got My Ear". Of all the artists, there were only about five of the artists named in the blog that engaged or responded. I know we're all busy but what if that blog post came from a more well known entity and they ignored it? You can never afford to ignore free, positive publicity! Some of you reading this post will be named in my next installment or one to follow. When you see it, share it! Make people aware of what's being said about your project...your ministry! Not doing so is costing you sales, whether you believe it or not!
Make connections! I can't spend all day on my computer or phone but there are times during the day that social media interaction is my MO. The same goes for other station owners, PD, publicists, journalists, bloggers and artists. NETWORKING STILL WORKS! Bishop Hezekiah Walker said when asked about the timing of pitching a product to your contemporaries: "It's all about relationship!" He further stated that you need to get to know people before dropping the weight of product on them. This applies to industry contacts and not potential customers. Some of you are struggling with the repercussions of 'too much too soon' when dealing with industry people. "Hi, I'm Fred. Please listen to SoulProsper Radio!" is NOT the way you want things to go!
You need to find out who is who and what they do inside the industry. Are they an actual outsider? Can they help you? Have they tried to help somebody else and what were the results? Are they just somebody good to know (with no expectations)? Know this when you deal with industry people on social media or meet them face to face.
There are way too many fractured relationships within the industry based on social media suppositions. Think about it, I don't actually know Don Jackson from the Stellar Awards, even though he's my friend on social media or personally approves my post in the Stellar Gospel Music Group on Facebook. When I see Mr. Jackson at the Stellar Awards, I greet him and introduce myself, even if I have to do it each time.
Furthermore, I don't actually know Phil Thornton, even if I regularly comment on his success at eOne on Facebook or LinkedIn and even write articles about him. Not until I have personally exchanged information with an understanding can I count someone an actual associate or even friend. I did see him at the Virtue listening party at the Stellars but he left before I could speak to him, still doesn't count!
I have met some Facebook friends and artists who I didn't recognize in person! LOL It happens but be gracious either way! I love meeting people so yes, I'm actually looking forward to meeting ALL OF YOU VERY SOON!
This is why you must take great care and concern of those you're connected to on social media. There is a fine line between social media contact and professional contact. Many of us do our business on Facebook but it is merely an extension of our business dealings. Handle real business outside of Facebook (what's your email address, where can I send you a copy, may I call you to discuss...?)
Your friends list is exclusive to you. Your taste in music, fashion, comedy, religion, regional interests and much more. You have an opportunity to introduce your music to those different markets within your friends list. Some have bought it already (YAY). But, some haven't because they haven't been compelled to. You have good music, don't you? Well stop depriving your most remote audience of it! You wouldn't imagine outselling a top national artist, now would you? It's quite possible, when you take care of business!
To reach beyond Facebook, Mr. Henry Harris posted this just this morning and I had to add it, you can read it below.
Read MAry Meeker's annual Report on Internet Trends
In this blog, you will hear from Fred directly about a broad variety of subjects. Though Fred normally expresses his thoughts in his columns, he has created this space to share his most intimate thoughts concerning everyday life!