Vanessa Bell Armstrong
Shanachie Entertainment (release date: June 21, 2024)

By Robert M. Marovich

Those wondering whether Vanessa Bell Armstrong will ever record another album will be pleased to know that Today will be available tomorrow, June 21.

Though Vanessa became a national gospel star in the early 1980s, she recorded as a teenager with the Southwest Michigan State Choir of the Church of God in Christ, directed by Dr. Mattie Moss Clark (hard to get better training than that). On Today, Vanessa’s first album in more than a decade, the gospel songbird of Detroit continues her trademark ornamentation of melodies with intricate vocal flowers and frills, but with a voice seasoned by the vicissitudes of life.

Whether the song is traditional-flavored or contemporary worship, Vanessa’s voice remains firmly on the church pulpit. She does her best singing when she doesn’t push her voice overmuch, as on “Never Ending Grace,” and particularly a testimonial called “Rely on Me.” These two selections most evoke the VBA of her “Peace Be Still” and “Shine on Me” years (she even Easter eggs the phrase “peace be still” in “Rely on Me.”). On “I Trust in You,” Vanessa interpolates the spiritual “I Will Trust in the Lord.” It’s clear that churchy gospel remains her sweet spot.

Nevertheless, with production by the likes of John P. Kee, Donald Lawrence, and Walter Millsap III, Today aims to please all audiences. Vanessa offers such selections as the rhythmically-captivating “Lift Him Up,” a gush of personal gratitude to God for blessings received. The background vocalists and rhythm section support Vanessa amply, and the jazz piano solo that guides the song to its conclusion is outstanding. Vanessa flexes her soul swagger on “Forever Yours,” a love song to God. On the title track, which evokes in its lyrics and music Kirk Franklin’s sunshiny “I Smile” (2011), she plays the role of wizened elder, with plenty of advice for staying happy and optimistic. Still, for my money, “Never Ending Grace” and “Rely on Me” will be the fan pleasers.

Four of Five Stars

Picks: “Never Ending Grace,” “Rely On Me”

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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.