Jason Clayborn & the Atmosphere Changers
God Made It Beautiful
Tyscot / JayClay Music (release date: April 16, 2021)
By Robert M. Marovich
It is a pleasant surprise to hear a gospel album open not with the usual jarring sonic blast but with the gentle notes of a piano supporting a sensitive soprano voice.
Such is the introduction to Jason Clayborn and the Atmosphere Changers’ God Made it Beautiful. The soprano happens to be Najiya Clayborn, the daughter of Jason Clayborn, the GRAMMY-nominated songwriter and native of Kentucky perhaps best known for writing Hezekiah Walker’s “Better” and Ricky Dillard & New G’s “I Survived It.”
Bishop Hez returns the favor by making a cameo appearance on the new album’s remix of his 2008 “You’re All I Need.” Hez is among a passel of featured soloists who, with Jason, take turns fronting the huge-voiced Atmosphere Changers—two dozen singers who sound, collectively, like two hundred. The songs are written and arranged by Clayborn alone or in partnership with Brian Bausley. Gabriel Hatcher II is the album’s producer.
Among the disc’s standouts are “Almost There,” previewed in the aforementioned introduction. It’s a slowly rocking song that encourages listeners to keep going even when the road is long. It features a fine duet between Cyntahva Archie and Jason but overstays its welcome by thirty seconds, as the singers wander aimlessly in search of a coda.
The balladic title track and single is another lesson on not giving up. It possesses a lovely melody and features a dramatic vocal interplay between Daria Raymore, Clayborn, and the choir—an ideal setting for the sentiment. Another of the album’s singles, 2019’s “Praise Belongs to You,” featuring Matthew Austin and Isaiah Freeman, sets a simple message to an eminently singable melody.
“Bless That Wonderful Name” is the album’s church rocker. It interprets the familiar congregational song in the extroverted New York choir style while retaining the traditional handclapping rhythm. At points, the musicians incorporate elements of ragtime, though I suspect it’s a subconscious act.
The doxology-like “Peace, Grace, and Mercy” is a deft choral piece that, more than any other track on the album, showcases the harmonic gifts of the Atmosphere Changers. It evokes the work of Richard Smallwood and Donald Lawrence and incorporates a snippet of W. D. Cornell’s hymn “Far Away in the Depths of My Spirit Tonight” (aka “Wonderful Peace”), sung with verve by Carol Kirby Green.
“Peace, Grace, and Mercy” could easily have been the album’s final track. Instead, Jason Clayborn and the Atmosphere Changers close with “Walk With Me.” The song was written in the 1990s by Jason’s mother, singer and music minister Jocelyn Clayborn, for her group, Christ Connection. There’s even a segment of his mother’s troupe singing the song back in the day, complex jazz harmonies and all. Like mother, like son, making it beautiful.
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “Praise Belongs to You,” “Bless That Wonderful Name,” “Peace, Grace, and Mercy”