Encouraging God’s Nation (Isaiah 61:1)
BJ Muzic (release date: September 6, 2016)
By Bob Marovich
Taking Isaiah 61:1 for his thematic anchor, award-winning solo artist and choir director Bernard “BJ” McKenzie Jr. of Chicago offers a healthy dose of optimism on his debut solo album, Encouraging God’s Nation.
But the lyrics do not stop at simply getting through life’s trials. Getting to one’s favor, or blessings (breakthrough), is just as significant. McKenzie offers these linked messages of hope and expectation time and again, most particularly on the single, “Born 2 Win.” It is a contemporary gospel song about looking past one’s “bad report” and maintaining the knowledge that you are “born 2 win” this race. Like Job, you’ll be relieved of suffering AND get your feast at the end.
Trouble don’t last always, McKenzie declares on “Keep Smiling,” and on “I’m Prepared,” he exhorts listeners to expect all that God has in store for them. It might be a new car or a new house, he sings, though for me, good health and happiness would be plenty (my 19-year-old car still runs fine and sometimes renting is cheaper than owning). But as has been the case in gospel music for a long time, tangible examples of God’s favor are as important as the intangible ones.
Bringing the message full circle, “I Worship You” recommends that we praise God even when things don’t turn out the way we had hoped.
The album’s standout selection is the blistering “Drive Ole Satan Away,” a pewburner on which McKenzie shouts with the fervor of a quartet lead. But with a smooth jazz vibe as thoroughly consistent as the thematic material, the other songs on the album don’t stand out from the pack in the same way that “Drive” does.
McKenzie honed his high tenor as part of Chicago’s popular youth choir, Joshua’s Troop. In 2013, McKenzie’s own group, Bernard Jr. and Anchored, was among the Chicago Regional Finalists for Verizon’s “How Sweet the Sound” competition for the best church choir in America.
An ordained minister, BJ McKenzie is following in the footsteps of his father, Bishop Dr. Bernard McKenzie Sr. of McKenzie Mission Church, who joins his son on the reprise to “Drive Ole Satan Away.”
Three of Five Stars
Picks: “Born 2 Win,” “Drive Ole Satan Away”