Elder Arlester Washington &
The Anointed Central Kentucky Mass Choir
Time Now Records (2020)
By Bob Marovich
On the morning of April 9, 2019, Elder Arlester Washington was involved in a two-car accident that claimed his life.
The tragedy devastated Lexington, Kentucky’s Now Faith Worship Center, where Washington was pastor. It also stunned the gospel music community. In addition to being a church leader, Washington had had a career in professional gospel music as a member of the Gospel Crystals and the Chicago Gospel Cavaliers. He had traveled with the Caravans and Jessy Dixon, and in 1990 founded the Anointed Central Kentucky Mass Choir.
Part of the healing process is to press on through, and that is what the Anointed Central Kentucky Mass Choir has done. Its new full-length project, Thank You, a tribute to Washington, follows a 2014 EP of the same name and incorporates two songs featuring lead vocals by their beloved leader.
They might live and work in Kentucky, but CKMC—likely due to Washington’s tutelage—sounds like a Chicago gospel choir in its delivery of dense harmonies, churchy arrangements, lyrical attacks, and chirpy organ lurking in the background.
Two songs in particular speak to this similarity. “Hallelujah,” written by Chicago Mass Choir’s Percy Gray, has that Chicago Mass ebullience. The late Pastor Washington takes the lead here, singing, shouting, and exhorting the choir to ever higher praise (they answer in higher volume and key change). “I AM” is a churchy hand clapper led by choir president LaQueeta Allen, who drops Dianne Williams-like rhymes during the song’s vamp. The ensemble could have kept on going but they were stopped abruptly. Washington’s voice closes the CD on the rafter-raising “Living Sacrifice,” which takes its text from Romans 12:1.
Although most of the songs on Thank You are contemporary pieces with traditional messages, the choir still echoes the performance techniques of a Chicago gospel choir. For example, “Keep on Moving,” which declares holy war on despair, sounds like a latter-day Tommies track. “I’ve been down before,” the choir sings, “I’m not going down no more.” Similarly, “Let It Go” encourages listeners to hold on to the belief that the Lord will work it out for them. Moving to an island rhythm and led with fiery force by Tracie Hibbler, “Standing on the Promises” reinforces that whatever God promised will come to pass. They are part exhortation, part catharsis.
The choir tries special techniques from time to time, such as cascading harmonies and contrapuntal part singing. The group is well supported by talented musicians, and most of the songs are new, written by keyboardist Shawn Hibbler and bassist William Russell. If anything, the choir can include more traditional-flavored numbers in future projects, as they have a knack for putting them over.
For an independently-produced project, Thank You is remarkably well done and the choir brings the goods to every track. Somewhere over the rainbow, Pastor Washington is beaming with pride and whispering “thank you.”
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “I AM,” “Hallelujah”