Belfast Community Gospel Choir
By Robert M. Marovich
Gospel music is truly an international phenomenon. Anyone who follows the genre knows that there are talented gospel choirs everywhere. Like the Gospel itself, it spread from the work of a few dedicated people to all corners of the earth.
Strictly Gospel by Northern Ireland’s Belfast Community Gospel Choir is a collection of contemporary gospel, CCM, and classic inspirational songs. The group is directed by Marie Lacey, the daughter of gospel singer Margaret Leebody and a soloist herself.
That the choir sings selections like “Every Praise” and Kirk Franklin’s “My Life, My Love, My All” shows that today’s European audiences are not only embracing the traditional canon but are also exploring the latest gospel songs. The album also includes the Mississippi Mass Choir’s tender ode of encouragement, “God’s On Your Side,” and the choir’s version of “My Life, My Love, My All” is just as affecting as the original.
Inspirational songs include Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready” and Norwegian composer Rolf Lovland’s gorgeous anthem, “You Raise Me Up,” popularized by Josh Groban but originally recorded by Lovland and Fionnuala Sherry as Secret Garden, with vocalist Brian Kennedy. Like “People Get Ready,” “I Know Where I’ve Been,” from the musical Hairspray, is a civil rights anthem cloaked in pop ballad clothing. The choir presents this song with fidelity, though Joyce McCullough offers a creamier lead vocal than Latifah’s pain-soaked version. Laura Dowey’s fervent lead on Nicole C. Mullen’s “Redeemer” would garner praise from NCM herself.
A male quartet that appears during “How Great Thou Art” evokes Gaither-style southern gospel singing, while the choir navigates more complex harmonies on the hymn. Highland pipes at the end place the choir’s Celtic culture in context.
Every selection is sung with full-throated verve and unfettered joy. The harmonies sparkle and the dynamic range and articulation of the choir denote countless hours of rehearsal. The Belfast Community Gospel Choir has much of which to be proud.
Five of Five Stars
Picks: “My Life, My Love, My All,” “Redeemer”