Reviews

“You Were There” – Henry Hall and New Dimension Worshippers

“You Were There” Henry Hall and New Dimension Worshippers Rebel Hill Music “You Were There,” a graceful ode of gratitude to God for His constancy, is a slow burning single by Henry Hall and New Dimension Worshippers.  The choral harmonies are reminiscent of the Hawkins Family, Thomas Whitfield, John P. Kee, and other 1970s/1980s gospel ensembles. Hall’s high tenor expresses both humble gratefulness and vulnerability as he sings about how the Savior “Dried my tear-stained eyes / Held me when I cried.” Henry Hall scored a Newsome Award and a Stellar Award nomination nearly a decade ago for his vocal ...

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JGM Pick of the week: December 6, 2016

“Operator 911” Chris Byrd & the Heavenaires From the album Diversified (released August 2016) Available from digital music outlets Chris Byrd and the Heavenaires dust off and update “Operator,” the Cleveland-based Friendly Brothers’ 1959 classic covered in the 1970s by a cappella vocal group the Manhattan Transfer.  In their hands, it is now known as “Operator 911.” It doesn’t matter that the telephone operator has gone the way of the telephone booth and directory assistance. With a funky, bass-driven beat and a call-and-response vamp (“It’s a matter of urgency / I’m calling 911”), the quartet makes it its own and ...

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VaShawn Mitchell: Secret Place – Live in South Africa

VaShawn Mitchell Secret Place – Live in South Africa V Man Entertainment / Motown Gospel Release date: November 4, 2016 www.motowngospel.com By Bob Marovich While European and Scandinavian countries prefer American gospel artists to sing traditional fare when touring, South Africa appears to have wholly embraced the P&W offerings of artists such as Israel Houghton and also VaShawn Mitchell, whose February 2016 appearance in Johannesburg was released last month by Motown Gospel as Secret Place – Live in South Africa. From the sound of the applause, Mitchell’s praise team-ready songs, with their billowy arrangements, lilting melodies, and hypnotic rhythms, cast ...

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Summer – Love Letters

Summer Love Letters Rich Life Records (2016) www.summerofficialpage.com By Bob Marovich “I’m in love with Jesus / The greatest love I’ve known; For even when I’ve left you / You claimed me as your own.” Thus sings Summer Pearson, aka Summer, on “Key To My Heart,” one of eight selections on her debut solo release, Love Letters. True to its title, the album features worship songs disguised as love letters to the Lord. The letters vary from gushing and wide-eyed infatuation, as on the breezy and acoustic “The Real Thing” and “Love You Like Crazy,” to the more dramatic and ...

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“Because of Who You Are” – Sounds of Imani

“Because of Who You Are” Sounds of Imani Heaven-Wings Records (release date: October 21, 2016) www.soundsofimani.com Recording as the Sounds of Imani, Gerald and Carol Ervin have released their debut single, “Because of Who You Are,” a tuneful praiser that features the husband-wife team’s fine solo and duet vocalizing. Carol’s soprano is so reminiscent of Stylistics lead singer Russell Thompkins Jr. that this song sounds decidedly Philly, although the Ervins are from Detroit. The single also has an early Hawkins Family feel in its soft R&B tones, light tempo, and breezy ensemble harmonies. This all makes sense when one considers that ...

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JGM Pick of the Week: November 23, 2016

“Excuse Me” Chrystal Rucker HBK Media (2016) Chrystal Rucker is one of the most gifted vocalists in gospel music today. Although some of her best work thus far has been on passionately rendered slow songs, “Excuse Me” gives her a chance to front a shoulder-shaking praiser. On “Excuse Me,” Rucker only hints at the reasons she shouts and lifts her hands in praise. She sings: “Wish I had the time to tell you, but you would not believe / All of the things God has done for me.” Just thinking about God’s goodness gets her all verklempt, which means more ...

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Dee Dee Sharp – Songs of Faith (reissue)

Dee Dee Sharp Songs of Faith Cameo Records / ABKCO Music and Records (originally released in 1962; reissued October 21, 2016) www.abkco.com By Bob Marovich Just before the Beatles all but changed the face of popular music, Cameo/Parkway Records was finding new ways to keep kids dancing. From Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” and the Orlons’ “The Wah Watusi” to the Dovells “Bristol Stomp” and Dee Dee Sharp’s “Mashed Potato Time,” the Philadephia label was doing what Motown was about to do: recalibrate R&B music by African American artists for a multicultural audience. Cameo producers Kal Mann and Dave Appell knew ...

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The Rance Allen Group – Live from San Francisco

The Rance Allen Group Live from San Francisco Tyscot Records (release date: October 28, 2016) www.tyscot.com By Bob Marovich “I’m loving me some of y’all,” gushed an obviously pleased Bishop Rance Allen to the audience gathered to hear the Rance Allen Group at the Second Annual Charles Reid Gospel Festival in Richmond, California, north of San Francisco. From the response of the audience, the love was mutual. The Bay Area program was recorded live by Tyscot Records and released as Live from San Francisco, the Rance Allen Group’s 25th album and third live project. They return for this live album ...

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Half Mile Home – Don’t Judge Me

Half Mile Home Don’t Judge Me Church Boy Musik / Blacksmoke Music Worldwide (release date: July 8, 2016) www.halfmilehome.com By Bob Marovich Oh, the irony in reviewing a CD called Don’t Judge Me. That’s the name of Half Mile Home’s fourth and latest full-length project, which repackages some of the Ohio trio’s earlier cuts, a couple of live performances, and six new songs that bear the group’s soul-funky “rhythm and light” brand of Christian pop music. The new songs are sandwiched in between mixes of former releases, presumably to give newly acquired fans an updated sample of retro HMH. The ...

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Living the Life I Sing: Gospel Music from the Dorsey Era to the Millennium

Living the Life I Sing: Gospel Music from the Dorsey Era to the Millennium (First Edition) Alphonso Simpson Jr. and Thomas A. Dorsey, III, eds. Paperback; 180 pages, with illustrations (Cognella Academic Publishing) https://titles.cognella.com/living-the-life-i-sing-9781634875493.html By Bob Marovich Living the Life I Sing is a fascinating collection of essays from prominent scholars on the creation, development, and impact of African American gospel music. Although gospel’s acknowledged father, Thomas A. Dorsey, is the central figure of the book, he is not its sole concern.  The book covers a variety of facets of gospel music from its West African roots to today. A ...

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