Just the Beginning Gospel music has its fair share of mainstays and superstars, but only a fraction has been gifted with the higher calling of leading the saints in song. Even fewer have been commissioned with the task of breaking through denominational and ethnic backgrounds, while still maintaining an in-demand career that includes performing, composing, arranging, and producing for the biggest acts in the genre and beyond. Kurt Carr is one such minister.
JUST THE BEGINNING, his latest release on his newly minted Kurt Carr Gospel imprint in association with Zomba Gospel, is a testament to this industrious spirit. The album is a capstone that is bound to extend the reach of Carr’s growing legacy in contemporary gospel—a celebrated repertoire that, in less than a decade’s time, has left an indelible imprint in the sacred-music canon. “God has called me to preserve the music of the church,” Carr says, matter-of-factly. “There are people, there are ministers, who are called to go into the world and evangelize it. I feel that I am called to perpetuate the music of the church so that there’s substance to feed seasoned saints, and new converts once we catch them. That summarizes my calling.”
In light of Carr’s already extensive résumé in gospel music, JUST THE BEGINNING may sound like a non sequitur, but the artist truly believes he’s turning a page. “I feel it’s the beginning of many new horizons,” says the psalmist, who recently moved his quarters to Houston, Texas, after a 20-year tenure in Los Angeles. “God wants us to know that there’s so much more in store for us. People have seen great things, but they haven’t seen the greatest yet.” For those keeping tabs on Carr, it’s been almost four years since he turned heads with his chart-topping One Church project, but this time around the multiple Stellar recipient says he’s not looking to replicate the genre-bending eclecticism of that recording. In many ways, JUST THE BEGINNING is about him stripping things down and going back to the basics.
“The last album was a thematic album; it was a stretch. We had bagpipes, accordion—sounds that have never been associated with gospel music,” Carr says. “These songs are very singer-friendly, very congregational. This time, I’m going back to my roots—church music.” (more) Kurt Carr/Just The Beginning/2 That’s good news for the church. A protégé of not one, but two gospel legends—he was mentored by both Richard Smallwood and James Cleveland—Carr has carved a niche of his own in Sunday-morning liturgies, blessing worshippers with his unmistakable knack for choir-friendly melodies and a cross-cultural appeal second to none. For proof, one needs not look further than Carr’s signature song, “In the Sanctuary”—also the centerpiece of his breakthrough, gold-selling recording Awesome Wonder—to realize his keen ear for the corporate.
To this day, millions continue to sing the song across the globe every week, in no less than nine different languages. “After the success of that song, I knew that God had called my music ministry to reach people of all races and all people who have an open ear for God’s message,” says Carr. Through the years, this calling to reach anyone with ears to hear has led Carr to write an armload of instant classics and standards for the modern church, including the bona fide hits “I Almost Let Go;” “For Every Mountain;” “Kumbaya;” “God Great God;” and “God Blocked It,” as well as “The Presence of the Lord,” the song that put Byron Cage on the map. Kurt Carr has ministered in over 20 countries and was recently named honorary principal of a Gospel music school in Japan that boasts a “Kurt Carr” class of gospel music production!
A renaissance man in every sense of the term, Carr has used the last few years to continue to write and produce for various heavy-hitters, develop his own music label, nurture new artists, and perform all over the world with his inimitable Kurt Carr Singers—Yvette Williams, Michelle Prather, Troy Bright, Timiney Figueroa-Caton, Nikita Clegg-Foxx, Nikki Potts, and Vonnie Lopez.
In between travels, listeners and congregants alike have continued to reap the benefits of Carr’s prolificacy, as recent songs and albums by the renowned Tramaine Hawkins (her highly applauded ‘comeback’ CD “I Never Lost My Praise”) and Bishop Paul S. Morton (his seminal “I’m Still Standing”), with whom Carr teamed up in the aftermath of Katrina, have made waves in airplay charts and houses of worship throughout the nation. In fact, Morton says all the time that Kurt Carr “is a genius and has found a way to tailor make songs that completely express my heart;” and Hawkins has said the single “I Never Lost My Praise” was a song that she’d been waiting on for over 20 years- while critics compared it to her legendary classics “Changed” and “Going Up Yonder.” JUST THE BEGINNING is all set to further this tradition.
Right out of the gate, the CD gives listeners a trip down memory lane as a high-powered medley of Carr’s greatest hits reminds us of the scope and breadth of his heritage in gospel music. Deftly sequenced and rearranged, this retrospective montage is simply a primer for what’s to come: one of the most tautly conceived gospel recordings of 2008. In grand Carr fashion, the first single “Peace and Favor Rest On Us” stands tall as one of the most energetic calls to worship in the artist’s songbook, a lively corporate number that, once again, asserts Carr as one of the most culturally relevant worshippers of this generation. One of Carr’s favorite moments on the CD is 89-year-old Narcissus Hinton-Brown – a traditional soloist from Carr’s hometown in Hartford, Connecticut and one of his mentors – singing “This Little Light Of My Mine” as a prequel to the affirming “Don’t Let Your Light Go Out.”
“I have friends from all walks of life,” says Carr, “and my whole purpose is to be a light to them…that’s how I live my life and that’s what I am encouraging and reminding others on this song.” (more) Kurt Carr/Just The Beginning/3 Nikita Clegg-Fox leads on the soaring “Spiritual Makeover Extreme,” an ultra-contemporary uptempo track with a “never ending hook” proclaiming “I’m so glad I don’t look like what I’ve been through;” while the lively “Right Time, Right Place” delivers a foot-stomping frenzy like only Kurt Carr & The Kurt Carr singers can. For those who have relied on Carr to offer songs of encouragement, Just the Beginning is brimming with a thoughtful parade of ballads, like the faith-filled “I Believe God;” the reflective “Sanctuary (God Is a Healer),” which Carr says is a song for this hour; and the empowering title track, a tender motivational piece where the singers proclaim “you haven’t seen your best days yet” and push believers to name and claim with authority the totality of God’s unfailing promises.
By the time the song reaches its praise-filled climax, it’s evident “Just the Beginning” is more than just a song - it’s a prophetic word that Christ followers are called to make their own. All of these set the stage for “My Shepard (Psalm 23)” featuring the dynamic vocals of top-selling Christian group Avalon. The track is one of Carr’s favorite songs on JUST THE BEGINNING and undoubtedly a composition that will permeate Christian circles. The song almost didn’t make the album, but, at the 11th hour, it made the cut after Carr played it for his vocal ensemble and they immediately loved it. As JUST THE BEGINNING unfolds and moments like the majestic, worship inspired “I Exist to Give You Praise;” the worshipful “Great Jesus (God Has Done Great Things);” the powerful Ten Thousand One Million led by Vonnie Lopez; and the swaying, Nikki Potts-led “I Am the One” join the processional of hits-in-the-making, the 2-disc project is already an absolute triumph—yet another milestone from the pen and the heart of this consummate champion of church music. Carr, who has a love and passion for preserving the gospel sounds of African-American heritage, could not complete the CD without delivering gems such as “I Am The One” and “Blessed Be The Rock” that, in Kurt’s own words, are “Sunday morning, choir robe, march down the aisle, sit down if you can songs!”
While each track demonstrates Carr’s penchant for sophisticated, neo-classical arrangements and the Spirit’s unbridled touch, JUST THE BEGINNING still marks the start of an exciting phase in Carr’s storied trajectory. Among various other ventures, the gospel heavyweight is in the planning stages of developing new projects from established and up-and-coming talent through his new imprint, as well as mapping out future recordings for soul divas Gladys Knight and Natalie Cole. But regardless if Carr is guiding the careers of others or carrying saints in the wings of praise, the minstrel is quick to not attribute his gifting to anything but God’s incomparable anointing. “Most times when I sit down to write I go, ‘Oh, God, I don’t have any songs. I can’t hear anything,’” Carr confesses. “And then as I pray and seek God, He gives me ideas. I definitely know that it’s a gift from Him. I’m so appreciative that He’s chosen me to share it with the world.”