Karen Clark Sheard
Destined to Win
Karew Records (2015)
By Bob Marovich
“Can I take some time to talk to you? / To share a message to encourage you?” Karen Clark Sheard asks in “The Who Doesn’t Matter,” the opening of her new CD, Destined to Win, and a selection featuring fellow songstress Faith Evans.
Sheard’s simple request sets the thematic tone for a live album that is chock-a-block with airs of encouragement and reassurance that no matter what happens in life, God will be there to make things right. Just believe and don’t give up.
Bolstered by the deft direction of co-producer Donald Lawrence, whose group harmonizes with the studied precision of a well-trained collegiate ensemble; and talented keyboardist and co-producer Daniel Weatherspoon, Sheard croons, declares, screams, shouts, and colors her lines with characteristic melisma, the flowers and trills that come straight outta Detroit, even launching coloratura notes that almost enter the air space of dog whistle frequency.
“The Resurrection,” Richard Smallwood’s reflection on Jesus’s Passion and rising on Easter Sunday, is haunting and appropriately grave, proving that Lawrence’s ensemble is the best interpreter of Smallwood material outside of Vision itself. On the other side of the groove spectrum is the current single, “My Words Have Power.” The ensemble goes full throttle to a rollicking praise break beat, Sheard waxing like an evangelist, speaking blessings on the live audience’s family and finances, and even on her company, Karew Records, which released the new project.
“Sunday AM,” the Grammy-nominated single, speaks to the restorative power of a Sunday morning church service. The African American church’s ability to be a salve for troubled souls, recharging and reminding members of their humanity in an inhuman world, has been its bedrock since its beginnings in the New World.
The album’s sleeper is “The Worst is Over.” Oscar Williams’s composition is an inspirational gospel set to a lovely melody and rendered with such prayerful finality by Sheard that it could easily have served as Doxology and the album’s final answer. It well might have, too, since the actual concluding track, “We Acknowledge You,” which welcomes the Holy Spirit into the room, might have been better placed near the beginning of the release (the Walmart exclusive version of Destined to Win concludes with the “Where Jesus Is” medley, featuring cameos by Sheard’s daughter Kierra, Kim McFarland, and a Clark Sisters reunion.
Like “Sunday AM,” Destined to Win reminds listeners of the church’s—and gospel music’s—mandate to encourage the discouraged and give heart to the disheartened. Or as the company sings on “The Who Doesn’t Matter:” “Let the weak say ‘I am strong.’”
For more information, read JGM’s interview with Karen Clark Sheard here: Interview
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “Sunday AM,” “My Words Have Power.”