Kelontae Gavin
The N.O.W. Experience
RCA Inspiration / Marquis Boone Enterprises (release date: March 5, 2021)

By Robert M. Marovich

Some gospel artists you meet outside of the church environment startle you when you witness their artistic presence in the spotlight. One is Jekalyn Carr—quiet and measured in informal conversation and a marvel of evangelistic motive force when ministering in music.

Another is Kelontae Gavin. A Marquis Boone client, Gavin is a humble and amiable soul, a young man who conquered dark moments with healthy doses of sunny optimism and faith. But when he enters the spirit realm, Gavin can transform himself from a melodic psalmist into an unconstrained folk preacher–his larynx-shredding shouts like triggered mines exploding in a flower field–and back again.

All of this and more are on display in Gavin’s follow up album to The Higher Experience (Tyscot 2018). His debut release for RCA Inspiration, also recorded live, is called The N.O.W. Experience.

Live is the ideal environment for Gavin, whose approach is extroverted, welcoming, and communal. He gets energy from the congregation / audience. Like its predecessor, The N.O.W. Experience, recorded in November 2019, is essentially a portable worship or song service. Unlike many such projects, however, N.O.W. doesn’t include borderline tiresome extended moments of quiet rapture but instead offers a selection of radio-sized songs, reprises, and ministerial moments blended together. The whole experience, for that is what it is, chugs along as a unified whole rather than as a string of individual parts.

An example of the album’s fluidity is the seamless transition between the megachurch-sized anthem, “Going Up,” to “Never Be the Same” to “Thank You Jesus.” The latter hints musically at Edwin Hawkins’ “Thank You Lord,” with Gavin’s unfettered shouts of gratitude overlaying the background vocalists’ hypnotic repetitive singing of the title.

Afterward, the temperature lowers and the informality of the service continues with the beautiful and reflective “I Shall Live,” which Gavin renders in his upper register. During the reprise, he begins a call-and-response / parenthetical-question-and-answer session with the BGVs. What shall we say to poverty or illness? Gavin inquires, and the singers respond with biblical affirmations of God’s fidelity.

The chorus of the joyous “Victory” is inspired by the Emotions’ “Best of My Love” (like Gavin, the Emotions / Hutchinson sisters were gospel singers as youth).

Gavin renders the album’s single, “Hold Me Close,” like a pilgrim in rapturous prayer, ornamenting the melody in the rococo style of Smokie Norful but ultimately exploding into passionate shouting during the reprise. Just as “No Ordinary Worship” is the keeper from The Higher Experience, “Hold Me Close” is the keeper from The N.O.W. Experience.

Though short on songs destined to make their way into music ministries, “Hold Me Close” being the exception (“I Shall Live” a possible second), The N.O.W. Experience is an excellent representation of Kelontae Gavin’s intimate P&W style. The project will appeal especially to young worshippers.

Four of Five Stars

Pick: “Hold Me Close,” “I Shall Live”

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Written by : Bob Marovich

Bob Marovich is a gospel music historian, author, and radio host. Founder of Journal of Gospel Music blog (formally The Black Gospel Blog) and producer of the Gospel Memories Radio Show.