JJ Hairston & Youthful Praise
I See Victory
Light Records (October 28, 2014)
By Bob Marovich
Recorded at the First Cathedral in Bloomfield, Connecticut, I See Victory is the seventh live CD for JJ Hairston & Youthful Praise and, with seventeen tracks, the group’s most ambitious release to date.
The choir, perhaps best known for the gospel hit, “Incredible God, Incredible Praise,” can claim musical roots in the ministry of Bishop J. C. White and the Institutional Church of God in Christ Choir. Institutional’s “Stretch Out (When Jesus Comes)” was a major gospel hit in 1967 (read more about the influence of Bishop White on JJ Hairston in this JGM interview).
On I See Victory, Hairston & YP maintain their energetic, East Coast-style of choral singing, a style that strikes a balance between churchy and contemporary. This mix is sustained throughout the album, even as the styles shift, over nearly two hours of music, from Praise & Worship to contemporary to traditional and back to contemporary.
“It Pushed Me” and “Bless Me,” the latter featuring a cameo by Donnie McClurkin, are conventional praise songs, the lead singles, and appear early in the project. Nevertheless, the listener is advised to dig deeper into the album to find songs with far more character. One is “I Feel You Moving,” a lovely ballad featuring an equally compelling lead by Jason Nelson. Another fine track, “You Are Great,” finds vocalist Deon Kipping interpolating strains of “How Great Thou Art.” The always-powerful Karen Clark Sheard tears into “All of You.”
If “All Things Well” is quintessential YP in its relentless propulsion, keep going to hear Tiffany Andrews-Woodside nearly send the congregation into praise break with “Good To Me.” “The Blood Still Works” is also a church wrecker; here, Pastor Fondrea Lewis turns the recording session into a revival. Yet another amazing singer, Maranda Willis, lets loose her evangelistic fervor on “Everything I Need.”
Other top-shelf artists who appear on the album include VaShawn Mitchell, who cannot help but interpolate a few bars of his own hit, “Nobody Greater,” while crooning the similarly-themed “Nothing Compares.” Zebulon Ellis leads the single, “It Pushed Me.”
If I See Victory lacks a song with the memorable quality and staying power of “Incredible God, Incredible Praise,” it more than makes up for it with quality soloists and arrangements.
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “I Feel You Moving,” “Awe of You,” “The Blood Still Works.”