The Zion Messengers
1500 Or Nothin Gospel (release date: 2013)
By Bob Marovich
Thanks to Snoop Dogg and his best-selling Bible of Love, gospel music enthusiasts outside of Los Angeles are now familiar with Charles “Uncle Chucc” Hamilton and the Zion Messengers. The quartet is featured prominently on that collection’s “Going Home.”
You can hear echoes of the Zion Messengers, circa 2018, on their self-titled and self-produced debut CD released five years earlier. Their vocal strength is especially evident on the album’s drive-tempo numbers such as “After While” and “I’m Depending on You.” As the musicians play out the latter track, I could envision the group leaving the stage, their “B” selection having sufficiently wrecked the audience. Another traditional-leaning selection is “He Loves Me,” a slow-burner that moves to a loping boogie-woogie beat.
The lyric content is quintessentially quartet in its focus on preaching and teaching versus the praise lifting characteristic of today’s gospel groups. The Zion Messengers, like many quartets, are just as interested, if not more so, in how to get through the day than on saying “Hallelujah anyhow.” But on the other hand, as they report on “He Died,” it doesn’t matter what your daily issues are, don’t worry: Jesus paid the price for your life. In other words, certain things take precedence over others in the long run.
Like Keith “Wonderboy” Johnson, Uncle Chucc shouts and squalls like an old-school quartet lead singer even though the musical foundation supporting him is essentially contemporary. Like the Violinaires, the Messengers favor high treble harmonies. Chris Payton’s guitar work is singled out for its clever curlicue riffs.
The Zion Messengers treat the album as if it was recorded live, and on occasion they appear to speak to an audience, although it wasn’t until the end of the project that I could actually make out some voices speaking back to the quartet. The instrumental “ZM Intro” was probably unnecessary. Nevertheless, this album, and especially “I’m Depending on You,” depicts young artists growing into their own. By their 2015 album, I’m Ready, they had nailed it.
Three of Five Stars
Picks: “I’m Depending on You,” “After While.”