Melvin Crispell III
I’ve Got a Testimony
RCA Inspiration (release date: September 4, 2020)
By Bob Marovich
Having lost both his parents before his eighteenth birthday, Melvin Crispell III might be expected to render introspective songs about loss and recovery on his first full-length solo album.
Au contraire. On I’ve Got a Testimony, the follow up to the BET Sunday Best champ’s EP, Prologue III, there is no trace of sadness in his voice, only joy bursting with hope for an even better tomorrow.
Not that his parents, both talented recording artists, don’t inhabit the album. They are there in every churchy vocal run, every chirpy organ motive, and every aggressive New York choir harmony. Crispell just doesn’t want you to feel sympathy for him.
For example, the autobiographical and all-too-brief “Not the End of Your Story,” one of the four songs carried over from the earlier EP, has the characteristic of the penultimate ballad in a Broadway musical, when the main character, having experienced the lowest of the lows, sees the light ahead. It seems to sum up Crispell’s state of being.
Sunday Best alumnae Amber Bullock and Y’Anna Crawley, and that force of nature Maranda Curtis, are supporting vocalists on the double-time “My Dance is Victory.” The ladies press Crispell to ever-higher levels of vocal intensity as he expresses gratitude to God for bringing him out of gloom and into glory. It’s designed to get congregants out of the benches and into the aisles, throwing sacred shapes.
“Victory” offers up the album’s more frequent theme: God giving salvation and mercy despite our imperfections. “My Favorite Gift,” a duet with Sunday Best finalist Joshua Copeland, also contains gratitude for blessings we don’t deserve.
The most gospel-sounding selection, at least in melody and lyric, is the anthemic “He Can.” At the vamp, Crispell drops in some gospel runs, falsetto flights, and throaty shouts while the organ warbles. The feel-good praiser “Wonderful is Your Name” also contains elements of traditional church.
The album’s sleeper is “The Blessing,” an exquisite duet between Crispell and Maranda Curtis, a longtime family friend. Not surprisingly, given its CCM bona fides, “The Blessing” has a Hillsong vibe (the album contains several examples of CCM-gospel blends) but the singers inject it with gospel vocal techniques. Like “The Blessing,” “God of Miracles” (Bullock and Crawley return) is orchestral in sweep. Its call for covering over all children “standing in the need,” is cloaked commentary on today’s social issues.
Since the cover art evokes the front of a vinyl LP, it would be interesting to see I’ve Got a Testimony released on vinyl, five songs on each side.
A couple more new songs would have given purchasers of the EP even more incentive to dive into the full album. Nevertheless, I’ve Got a Testimony is an excellent example of Melvin Crispell III’s vocal proclivities. And as for the testimony: it’s him having made it over the rough side of the mountain.
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “The Blessing,” “My Dance is Victory,” “He Can”