A Different Place
Shanachie / New Brand Records LLC
(release date: September 4, 2015)
By Bob Marovich
Ask any female R&B, pop, and gospel singer below retirement age about her music influences. One in three will include Kim Burrell in her litany of vocal idols.
Indeed, the church-raised singer who never took formal voice lessons was a favorite of the late Whitney Houston, who called Burrell’s voice one of the greatest.
Burrell’s vocalizing exists at the six-corner crossroads of gospel, R&B, and jazz, and it’s this amalgam that she displays on her latest album, A Different Place, released today by Shanachie in collaboration with New Brand Records, LLC.
Asaph Ward, who produced Burrell’s Grammy-nominated The Love Album (2011), is once again in the producer seat for A Different Place. He also wrote or co-wrote half of the selections and sings on the album’s high point, “It Is Done.” A big production number with altar call drama, “It Is Done” features a choir of background vocalists, strings, and organ in addition to the usual accompaniment. God said it is done, Burrell and Ward declare, and it is our job to believe it. Burrell even gets downright evangelical in her recitative to support the message.
A few songs, including the opening “Praise Groove” and the current single, “Thank You Jesus (That’s What He’s Done),” are straight-up spiritual entertainment with funk overtones. But the album really opens up toward the end with cuts like “It Is Done” and “Have Faith In Me (Mark 11:23).” The latter is a live audience favorite on the power of belief. It deserves a radio edit and single rotation as much for Burrell’s delivery as for the background vocalists’ catchy staccato chorus.
“Father I Stretch” is a modern but churchy take on the classic hymn. “I’m Free Indeed” finds a passionate and sassy Burrell stomping on the devil. “Never Let Go” has a Broadway stage quality to it in its quiescent survey of a society on the brink of desperation. It concludes with an encouragement that God will make all things right.
The album ends with a brief Easy Listening Mix of “Never Let Go.” This snippet would have been more effective as a reprise immediately following “Never Let Go,” as “It Is Done” is a fitting conclusion in and of itself.
Not surprisingly, Burrell’s athletic voice is the glue that holds the album together. She dashes up and down staves, changes pitch and direction in mid-melisma, worries notes into exhaustion, and conjures rough-throated Pentecostal turns when the spirit gets high.
Examined as part of Burrell’s catalog of albums, there’s nothing different or novel about A Different Place. It is, nevertheless, a solid example of the singing that has made Kim Burrell a favorite, especially among young female vocalists honing their craft.
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “It Is Done,” “Have Faith in Me (Mark 11:23).”