By Bob Marovich
Zaviel Janae Slack (Zaviel Janae) of Atlanta opens her live album, Here I Am, with a blunt and tearful testimony. Her story of how a pregnancy out of wedlock went from bad to worse but ended positively is the kind of mea culpa that leads one to devote her life to God and sacred music.
That’s what she’s done. Praise leader, member of neo-soul group Lyrikal, and frequent vocalist with Darwin Hobbs, Zaviel Janae has an expressive, church-filling voice that, like Casey J, Tasha Cobbs, or Kierra Sheard, can deliver a ballad as well as a bracing P&W anthem. We heard her most recently on JGM as a supporting vocalist with Devon Baker on “Worthy Are You Lord.”
Here I Am was recorded in Decatur, Georgia’s Covenant Cathedral in January of 2013. Lyrically, the album focuses partially on surrendering one’s being to serving God. She expresses this most explicitly on the title track and “Surrender,” with its high octane propulsion and Middle Eastern flavors. Other songs are fundamentally vertical praise songs, such as “Jesus,” the hypnotic “Hallelujah” (the chorus evokes the motif of “Falling Slowly” from Once) and the musically and rhythmically complex “Adore,” on which Zaviel exhibits some of her most inspired singing. Although not radio-friendly, “Adore” is worth listening to frequently to tease out its nuances.
But for all the sweeping and energetic P&W on the album, Zaviel’s sweet spot is delivering the album’s two Rod Lumpkin II songs. The title track, a lovely ballad about accepting discipleship, is the album’s high point, though she embraces the equally lovely “Lord You Are” with a soothing, cooing resonance.
Another highlight of the album is the team of guest vocalists, notably Darlene McCoy (“You Are”), Lowell Pye (“You Amaze Me”), and Aaron Marcellus (“Adore”).
For its indie vibe, Here I Am demonstrates a great deal of major label swagger.
Four of Five Stars
Pick: “Here I Am.”