Motown Gospel Presents 1 Mic 1 Take
Motown Gospel (release date: June 3, 2016)
By Bob Marovich
Imagine having one shot at getting it right in front of The Microphone in one of the most iconic recording studios in America: Capitol Studios in Hollywood, California.
It is not unlike having one turn at bat at Yankee Stadium and the fans are expecting an out-of-the-park home run.
Members of Motown Gospel’s current artist roster took their chances and came up with a solid third base hit on 1 Mic 1 Take. Although this album of stripped down gospel and worship songs lacks the ebullient improvisational moments that mark today’s gospel recordings, especially live ones, it more than makes up for it by endowing the songs with a dignity that reveals the nuances often lost in the sound and fury of congregations and artists in the grip of the spirit.
Gospel singers Smokie Norful, Brian Courtney Wilson, and Myron Butler swing the Capitol studio with ease as if they were wearing Sinatra’s fedora but sans Sinatra’s burning cigarette. With only piano, small jazz combo, and background vocalists for accompaniment, you can actually focus on the lyrics. And that’s the point. Norful’s “Imperfect Me” not only takes on added vulnerability when heard in this rendition, but Norful even sounds a little like Stevie Wonder. Wilson almost gets to preaching during his unplugged litany of all the things “Worth Fighting For.”
Capitol Records has a storied, if brief, history with black sacred music. When Capitol released the first singles by the St. Paul Baptist Church “Echoes of Eden” Choir in 1947, it became the first commercial label to capture a bonafide gospel chorus on disc. Sallie and Cora Martin hit their stride on Capitol, backed by jazz musicians such as drummer Zutty Singleton. Goldia Haynes, the Art Reynolds Singers, and the Ever Ready Gospel Singers also waxed sides for Capitol. If the label’s pairing of Nat Cole with the First Church of Deliverance Choir did not meet musical expectations (the choir’s thunderous singing left Cole in the dust), its brilliant albums of Thurston Frazier’s Voices of Hope Choir more than made up for it.
Newcomer Royce Lovett is the most out-of-the-box of the artists presented on this Motown Gospel CD. His acoustic guitar-fired “Write It on the Wall” is nothing less than a protest song: to a world that is “spinning out of control,” Lovett sings a “song of freedom,” a “song of peace” with the declaration that a “message of hate never made the change.” And the church said Amen.
When the 1 Mic 1 Take experiment, initially conceived by Blue Note Records president and longtime producer Don Was, is given the Motown Gospel touch, what results is part gospel, part jazz, part American songbook, part soul-baring testimony, and—needless to say—all impeccably produced music, as if God Himself built the studio for the perfection of music of all genres.
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “Imperfect Me,” “Worth Fighting For.”