Myron Butler & Levi
Motown Gospel (release date: June 10, 2016)
By Bob Marovich
Like Kurt Carr, Myron Butler has carved out a niche for himself in the popular Praise & Worship category of black sacred music. His albums offer praise teams a bounty of songs to digest just as the Thompson Community Singers, a group whose work Butler absorbed as intently as that of Thomas Whitfield, offered directors new gems to teach their church choirs.
It’s no surprise, then, that energetic P&W cuts predominate on Butler’s new album, On Purpose, which debuted atop the Billboard gospel album chart last month. Most notable among the high-octane tracks are the single, “Best Praise,” featuring cameos by Candy West and Amber Bullock; “Heaven’s Rain” with Jonathan Nelson, and “Nobody Like Our God.” Tamela Mann and Bishop T. D. Jakes lend their resonant vocals to the title track.
As is common in P&W, the more energetic the songs, the more the emphasis on vigor over melody and texture. On the other hand, the album’s final three selections—“You Call Me,” “Living Water,” and the title track—are balladic and beautiful. They demonstrate how nobly melody and lyric can be wedded to summon the worship sentiment without resorting to aerobic fanfare. “You Call Me” is the strongest of the final three in melody and arrangement, and it is the contribution likely to last the longest in the P&W lexicon. At the same time, the title track (we are formed on purpose for a purpose) contains the most cerebral lyrics on the album.
Butler’s Levi ensemble deserves, and receives, equal billing. The singers respond with polished passion to Butler’s calls and easily transition from over-the-top enthusiasm to more delicate hypnotic harmonies, such as on the hand waver, “Let Praises Rise.”
But what of the modernistic move toward a more multicultural sound in black sacred music? Clearly it sells better than traditional gospel, but does the music forsake its rich heritage in the process? Butler doesn’t think so. In a 2012 interview with JGM, he reasoned: “Music is evolutionary. It’s not necessarily that praise and worship is an attempt to forget the roots of gospel. If people will listen intently enough, they will hear a distinct difference between the praise and worship sound of Myron Butler and Kurt Carr, and the praise and worship sound of a Michael W. Smith or Matt Redman. It’s not Thomas Dorsey or Clara Ward, but we are not forgetting our forefathers.”
To that point, On Purpose exemplifies the black church’s celebratory mix of praise, worship, love, joy, and gratitude, with Myron Butler’s voice energetic and omnipresent and Levi’s responses tight and professional.
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “You Call Me,” “Living Water,” “On Purpose”