Malaco Music Group (release date: July 30, 2021)
By Robert M. Marovich
There’s no place like home.
So that’s just where Christina Bell went, to her hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, to record a live worship service and package it as Still Faithful.
Bell’s star has risen from her days in the youth choir at Shreveport’s Bright Star Baptist Church, to membership in the popular female gospel group Zie’l, to solo artist, and then actress, playing Twinkie Clark in Lifetime’s Clark Sisters biopic. Although Bell demonstrates dramatic flair on Still Faithful, it’s all about the singing.
The album/service opens conventionally with “Let the Glory,” a simple P&W piece designed to stimulate the spiritual aerobics needed to prepare congregants for worship. Another early track, “Bow Down,” is a melodic call-and-response that all but encourages the crowd to join in the singing.
Bell’s muscular voice is an endless well of ornamentation and, during the spoken sections, an endless well of evangelistic furor. On the other hand, she enters an almost trancelike mode during a medley of hymns before concluding with a fireworks display of melisma.
“That Place,” not about a physical building but about a state of oneness with God, is a beautiful ballad sung in the warm tonality of a CeCe Winans. The current single, “Still Faithful,” featuring Fred Hammond (and not live), ruminates on the day’s troubles and the faith needed to put one step in front of the other. “You Are Lord” is a lovely and uncomplicated worship song with a melody seemingly inspired by English hymnody.
The interpolation of the congregational favorite “In the Name of Jesus” during “We Win” drives the song right into praise break mode. “Thank You,” the most exciting track on the album, follows “We Win.” It feels like the kind of up-tempo piece often left off a live CD because it is not pre-planned but inspired by a praise break, which appears to be the case here. Glad it was kept.
Still Faithful could have concluded after these two songs, as the actual closer, “Holy One,” felt anticlimactic. Nevertheless, Christina Bell is certainly in her sweet spot–P&W with flashes of Bapticostal excitement–on Still Faithful.
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “Still Faithful,” “Thank You”