Fair Trade / Columbia (release date: August 9, 2019)
By Bob Marovich
More than other styles of sacred music, Praise and Worship tends to focus on the elements. For example, the music creates an “atmosphere” for worship, while song lyrics use wind, water, and fire as metaphors for the presence, or anticipated presence, of the Holy Ghost and the “showering” of blessings.
Nowhere is this more evident than on worship leader VaShawn Mitchell’s new album, Elements. The title of his first album in three years telegraphs the use of the earth’s substances to describe the descent of the spirit into the presence of worshipers and the coming of abundant blessings. It also refers, I argue, to attitudinal elements of a fervent prayer life, such as patience, devotion, gratitude, and faith.
Selections such as the prayer interlude “Fire” and “Set a Fire” are quintessential Mitchell P&W. They are hypnotic and meditative with simple, repetitive melody lines and lyrics. Mitchell evokes John Legend’s “All of Me” when he and his background vocalists sing, “All of me wants all of you,” replacing the word “loves” with “wants.”
“We Receive” is the rain song, with the line “Don’t hold back the rain” sung to a riff seemingly culled from William McDowell’s “I Give Myself Away.” In a technique that occurs several times throughout the album, female soloists appear towards the end of songs to turn up the temperature. This time, it’s Monet Shelton and Samantha Howard. Taelia Robinson is the live wire vocalist on “Wind of God” and Lisa Brooks on “’Til You Bless Me.”
Given the Grammy-nominated Mitchell’s penchant for introducing songs into the P&W canon, the listener can be excused for expecting Elements to contain the next “Nobody Greater.” While the jury is still out, to my ears, two songs are contenders. The first and current single, “God Can Do Anything,” takes its text from 1 Corinthians 2:9 (“Eye hath not seen”) to encourage the listener that great things are coming. The BGVs give this message a modern twist when they sing, “Blow my mind, God.”
The second, “May Have to Wait,” suggests that if great things are coming, they come to those who wait. Patience is the virtue in this melodically distinctive ballad.
Patience is also a virtue on Elements, because the most interesting songs and melodies are found on the last half of the album. In addition to “God Can Do Anything” and “May Have to Wait,” there’s “‘Til You Bless Me,” with its intriguing Middle Eastern vibe, and “Oh My God,” a relaxed-tempo selection about God’s on-time blessings. It features acoustic guitar and pedal steel. “In Control” is another fine ballad that makes its appearance toward the end of the CD.
While Elements doesn’t break any new ground, and only the concluding track, “Stood For Me,” gives any indication of VaShawn Mitchell’s potential future direction, fans of his distinctive brand of P&W, and P&W fans in general, will welcome this collection of worship atmosphere-setting songs.
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “God Can Do Anything,” “May Have to Wait”