I had such a great time sharing some of my favorite picks with you earlier this year. I've since decided to make this an ongoing series. With that being said, here's what's got my ear:
Michael Portley, Jr. & Students of DAvid
More goodness from my Stellar Awards goodie bag...looking at the cd cover, I was very unsure if I'd like the project. It didn't take me 30 seconds to dive headlong into this album. I was dancing in the drivers seat around town as the album opened up with "Blessed Be" following an opening interlude. From there, the album thrusts forward with some stellar choir music that most choirs can actually sing at church! The album comes complete with a track dedicated to a shout and you know every good album needs a dance! I was enjoying the album and ready to pop in the next cd when my listening experience ground to a halt...I heard a dramatic introduction reminiscent of "The Passion of the Christ" coupled with Pastor Portley's exhortation. Then it happened..."Thank you for the blood...thank you for the blood..." A new favorite song gripped my musical palate.
I was done! I stopped just short of pulling over, but I did sing as loud as I could with the choir: "Calvary, Calvary! Calvary, without it where would we be?" This song right here has changed me. I wish I'd discovered it sooner, I would've taught it to my church choir as we celebrated Resurrection Sunday. Don't worry about that...this song works ANY GIVEN SUNDAY! Calvary comes with a reprise and is followed up with a declaration that says all the doors of negativity "Have Been Closed".
The album has some seriously creative songs like the title track: "Roof is on Fi'Yah" and "3-D Praise" which sings the message of due season and it's varying homonyms (Due/Do.)
All in all, it's a great album and you should definitely add it to your music collection!
Vincent Tharpe & Kenosis
I heard VTK sing "The Sound" twice during Stellar weekend and not once did I fight the urge to MOVE!!! This song is a number of things: 1) Crazy GREAT and 2) My workout soundtrack. At one showcase, the group was nearly run off stage when their rounds and rounds of key changes bled into the next artist's time. As if that wasn't enough, watching them close Wanda Bell's event on Sunday night sealed it for me and I begged Vincent and Zantino Kimmons to please hurry up and release this to the masses!
I'm not sure when it was released, but I GOT IT! I didn't hesitate and got it that weekend. I have been Tae-Bo'ing my way all the way through the house, since! "Halle-lujah, Thank You Jesus...Lord I...Love You...creaaaaaatttteeee" (in falsetto soprano, nonetheless). You have to hear the song to understand. I love the song and I'm sure you will, too. For me, I fast forward to the vamp, it's all about the vamp! Trust me on that. Since, you can't slice a song in half, I will tell you that the song is constructed in such a way that the entire song is palatable, but the vamp, the vamp is gonna make you dance!
While I'm on the vamp, it's worth noting the different genres they take you through with each key change. It's a wild ride, and I'm thrilled for the release of "The Sound". Go get it, and dance!!!
Thurman B. Thornton II (TBII)
Even though he's totally gonna hate me for this, I love TBII's music because I feel like I'm listening to New Edition or Troop singing gospel music! No, really...when he sent me this song, I wanted to go grab a velvet track suit and shoot the concept video that day! All MTV Jamz references aside, his music is honest and that's what's refreshing about TBII. For the longest, I heard all this chatter about "TB2" and had no idea who he was until the 2014 Rhythm of Gospel Awards in Birmingham. After hearing " Fresh Start" I'd found my newest favorite indie artist.
We talked about his follow up single: "Save Me" and the deep, personal story it told and then his EP which he released after that which features a heart wrenching arrangement of Fantasia's Bittersweet dedicated to his late mother (seriously, you really gotta hear that.)
Back to "Fall Into You"...dude brought it on this song! You'll definitely get with the vibe on this one and do as the song says and "fall into" the Lord.
Ronnie Rucker & La Praise
It was 2013 when I met Ron Rucker playing a Hammond B-3 in a music store in Shibuya, Tokyo. We talked briefly and exchanged pleasantries and compliments before discussing what he does in Japan. In a way, Ron Rucker is a gospel music ambassador for the Tokyo area and beyond. Yeah, really. GMWA in Japan...a soulful gospel choir in Japan actually connected to a church...yep, Ron Rucker's responsible for it.
I have a few of Mr. Rucker's tunes with the Bright Lights Choir in the SoulProsper Radio rotation already, but when I heard his latest release "Lift Him Up" I was blown away. Those folks are singin' yall! This was some really good singing, too. Most often, we're plagued with finding songs any choir can sing and all five of the songs on this EP are singable on Sunday. Since I've traveled quite a bit, I've always tried to discover the gospel scene where I am and I must say Mr. Rucker and his choir are the bees knees! They have a genuine connection to not only the music, but God Himself, which is lacking internationally at times.
He has brought gospel music to Japan and Japanese gospel music to America, namely the GMWA. He's got a GMWA chapter there now and had one years ago as well. He's the real deal and the way he's gotten this choir to not only sing, but minister is beyond incredible! "Lift Him Up" is a high energy hand clapping foot stomping choir favorite that will get Sunday morning off to a running start whether you have a mass choir or only a few.
"Until We Meet Again" is reminiscent of gospel music glory days and you're halfway through the song before you remember this choir is from Japan. Another good service closer. The EP features one song completely in Japanese and if you're clueless as to what they're saying, let the music speak to you. It's the universal language, right? Well, of the five, three are on repeat and that's good enough for me to recommend to you!
Tony Bush & The Deacs ft. Lisa Knowles-Smith
I'm fresh out of descriptive words for this song. To sum it up easily, it's a powder keg of praise! I was just recovering from "Wonderful Feeling" when this one reached me at SoulProsper Radio. From the first down beat, this song takes you by your ears and drags you to the front of the church to dance!!! This is quartet gold and has everything going for it you love in quartet gospel. Speaking of quartet gospel, the 'drive' will send you into overdrive!
By the time Bush adlibs "just in cae you don't see me no mo...'!" it's over but the song keeps driving! For Bush this is a bit of a testimony, considering his medical struggles earlier this year. So do like Tony Bush if you're glad to 'see another day'. Maybe even, you're glad about another opportunity...whatever the case may be, join Tony Bush, the Deacs and Lisa Knowles-Smith who can literally sing anything and SHOUT FOR JESUS!
The Rance Allen Group
Bishop Rance Allen and his brothers are often thrust into the world of quartet but I think it's time we re-consider that. Not because they're a trio but because their innovation far exceeds one sub-genre of gospel music. That's been the case since their days on Stax records and their first gospel release "He'll Make It Alright".
With their new release: "Live From San Francisco" they're back with new music and another go round of classic covers. "All Day Long" was the first single from the album and it is good! It's smooth, it's fresh and it's the Rance Allen group like you like it! He says it in the song and it's a good song to take to your church, considering their footloose like that! It's a good number for your male chorus, praise team or even choir of any size.
You'll want to add this one to your collection as well and as the song says, you very well may be singing the Lord's praise in this song 'all day long'.
Monica Lisa Stevenson
Two words...New & Fresh! I could end it right there...but you're like: "Gimme the deets!" Aren't you?!? I know, so here goes. It's MLS like you've NEVER heard her before! If you think she's bad singing traditional gospel...you ain't heard nothing yet and I mean it! At radio currently, you can request "Speechless" featuring Lisa Knowles-Smith and "He's the One" featuring Pastor Walter Ellis.
These two singles are good enough BUT...this EP features 7 songs and you definitely want to hear all of them! This music is smooth and Stevenson and Knowles-Smith are quite the tandem. The song will leave you speechless, it's so fresh! Teaming up with Pastor Ellis, Stevenson revisits a gospel classic and it's safe enough for gospel fans who are cautious about 'this new stuff'. It's still good and still smooth...give KAINOS a spin!!!!
While you're at it, go grab the MLS single "Testimony" featuring Doobie Powell and The Williams Singers.
*Melvin Williams* (bonus)
Where I Started From
This album will be released soon and I love it but I won't spoil it for you! I will give it high praise not only for the content but the spirit behind the album. Melvin Williams keeps root music alive in this great album and pays homage to those that paved the way for gospel music. He covers songs like: "How I Got Over", and the late great Willie Banks': "Lord You Been Good". The most impressive track for me was a track produced by Harvey Watkins, Jr., another quartet gem: "Don't Let Jesus Down". The shuffle on the drive is out of this world! It's got a mean bass drop and the drummer let loose something serious on this cut.
Check it out when it drops. In the meantime, you can go to radio to request his perfect remake of The Williams Brothers classic "So Good" and the smooth ballad "Claim It Now."
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!