New Day Entertainment (release date: October 20, 2023)
By Robert M. Marovich
Jekalyn Carr, gospel music’s queen of encouragement, returns with a self-titled album that captures her unconquerable energy even as the lyrics focus less on the power of positive thinking and action, and more on the power of praise, worship, and prayer.
There’s no doubt—there never was any doubt—that Carr can sing. Really sing. Though born in West Memphis, Arkansas, Carr’s got Detroit melisma and gospel shout in her voice, equal parts Vanessa Bell Armstrong and Karen Clark Sheard. There’s even a hint of country warble in her vocals, a testimony to her growing up hearing her mother, Jennifer Selvy Carr, singing with the Selvy Singers of Earle, Arkansas. Altogether, she can move even the most hard-hearted churchgoer–if not at first, certainly by the end of the song.
While Jekalyn has its share of fun and energetic tracks, such as “Yahweh Has Been Good” and “Celebration,” Carr shines brightest on the gospel ballads, as she always has. On “Mercy,” she shows her evangelistic side, scattering blue notes like pixie dust around the melody and preaching the message of God’s compassion as well as singing it. The lyrics to the single “I Believe God” have a lovely cadence, almost chant-like, a string of one-line mantras or affirmations of personal faith. Add the choir’s support, particularly at the end, and this is the album’s finest moment.
“Song of Thanksgiving” features vocal turns from Carr’s contemporaries Tauren Wells and Kierra Sheard, and “My Always,” with Papa San and Tim Bowman Jr., injects an Jamaican vibe into a testament to God’s presence in our lives. In a remarkable turn of good fortune, “Celebration” features Mike Teezy as well as Pastor Mike Jr. and Kirk Franklin, the latter two among the biggest names in gospel today. When these fellows are featured artists on your track, instead of the other way around, you’ve made it. On top of it all, Tasha Cobbs Leonard and CCM artist Blanca appear on the church-wrecker “You Carried Me,” though for my money, Carr’s solo version of the song, which closes the album, is the finer of the two.
Though the eleven tracks are contemporary, they have gospel shut up in their bones. The one noticeable difference on Jekalyn is that the tracks are more often personal prayers of praise and comfort than the motivational sensibility of her earliest singles. “The Living Word,” “You Carried Me,” “Yahweh Has Been Good,” and “My Always” exemplify this, though “God of War” reiterates that what God did for her, he will do for you.
For more than a decade, we’ve watched Jekalyn Carr grow up and into her ministry, and have marveled at her constant travel. That’s why the songs on the album seem to be balms for her soul as well as for the souls of her listeners. Even evangelists—especially those as busy as Carr—need healing and preaching, too. Quis curabit ipsos curatores? Or, as Carr sings in the final seconds of “You Carried Me,” “Father, when they ask me how, I just say, ‘You carried me.'”
Five of Five Stars
Picks: “I Believe God,” “You Carried Me”