eOne Music / FIYA World Music
(release date: August 23, 2019)
By Bob Marovich
I admit to having had significant misgivings when I was approached to review James Fortune’s new album, Dream Again.
The gospel artist’s guilty pleadings to assaulting his wife Cheryl Fortune and earlier, to felony injury to his stepson, left me profoundly disappointed and angry. Why condone such behavior by acting as if it didn’t happen? My inkling was to never review his music again.
Later, I read an article in which Fortune expressed remorse for what he had done and indicated what appeared to be a genuine desire to be a better person. So I thought if members of Mother Emmanuel could forgive the racist who shot up its Bible study, I could forgive Fortune, or at least give him another chance.
So here goes.
Dream Again finds Fortune bringing back as many of the old band as possible. AyRon Lewis once again helms as producer and a number of FIYA members—notably Isaac Carree, Zacardi Cortez, D’shondra Perry, Minon Sarten, and Anaysha Figueroa—are background vocalists. The BGVs are so much a part of the project that I’m surprised Dream Again wasn’t credited to James Fortune & FIYA, although there may be issues involved in using FIYA of which I am unaware.
Fortune’s claim to fame is delivering simple songs of encouragement, hope, and faith—healing music for broken people. Given his circumstances, it’s hard not to think that many of the songs on this album, almost all of which he co-wrote, are as much self-medicine as they are messages to the listener.
“Prayer Saved My Life,” featuring lead vocals by Perry and Cortez, is definitely autobiographical (Fortune even opens it by declaring “This one is personal”). With lines like “Best days have all slipped away” and “I thought I would lose my mind,” the title track, with Todd Galberth on lead, also has the feeling of a memoir. So does “It Will All Work Out,” with its Kirk Franklin-like buoyancy (the happy eighth-note piano intro for “It’s Gonna Happen” also echoes Franklin).
The current single and an album highlight is “I Am.” It has one foot in Praise & Worship and, thanks to the simmering lead work of Deborah Carolina, the other in contemporary gospel.
Anyone familiar with James Fortune knows that his role is not that of a singer but of a preacher / emcee. He interjects declamations based on the song’s theme as the background vocalists and lead singers play choir and congregation. The array of features are solid, especially Lisa Knowles Smith, who does what she does best on the traditional-flavored “Nobody Like Jesus,” the album’s other highlight. Keith Wonderboy Johnson gives a similarly fiery reading to the reprise of “It Will All Work Out.”
Dream Again is part mea culpa, part recovery affirmation draped in more generally reassuring messages of hope. May its insistent instruction to stand the storm by facing forward, trusting in God, and not wavering be absorbed by everyone.
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “I Am,” “Nobody Like Jesus”