Another good one from a veteran artist | Posted August-19-2018 What You Need To Know:
He came into the Gospel world over twenty years ago when he sang "His Eye Is On the Sparrow" with the Mississippi Children's Mass Choir as a 12-year-old. He left many people (and kids like me) in awe that a young man's voice could be that powerful and high! He was a bonafide soprano. Fast forward to 2018 and Bryan is a licensed minister and one who has released several albums. To know that he has stuck with it as long as he has is impressive. Now he is back with a short EP titled, This Time.
What it Sounds Like:
Four quality songs make up this EP and he packs in an impressively good "bang for your buck." With Bryan well into his 30's, he has seen many changes and faced his share of challenges, so the title cut is fitting as he makes a bold declaration of how he is going to live stronger as a believer. The song is funky and upbeat and the synth bass goes well with Bryan's now baritone/tenor voice. "In Spite of Me" is a pop tune over a punchy drum beat that is both smooth and one you can nod your head to.
The songs are not heavy on mentions of Jesus, but very strong in showing Bryan’s reliance on Him. These are four tracks for the soul and will inspire during a time where Christians struggle with keeping up hope.
Best Song on the Record:
Ballads do not always have to be the “best song” on the album, but “I’ll Always Love You” pulled at me the most. I appreciate the passion of Bryan Wilson and the straight-up love song he sings to God. He definitely has something with this wonderfully arranged modern day psalm. Some could even use this song to a spouse as it is apropos to a relationship.
This Time is an appetizer that can really serve as a low calorie, but pretty filling, healthy meal. It shows Bryan in a comfortable place performing a more urbanized sound than churchy music and that is quite alright.
Something New and Fresh | Posted August-08-2018 What You Need To Know:
eOne artist, Will McMillan has been a worship leader and musician for quite some time now. He has written for and worked with, Tasha Cobbs Leonard, Travis Greene, Jonathan Nelson and William McDowell just to name a few. He, (along with Jor’Dan Armstrong) will be part of Jonathan Nelson’s Make Room tour. Tenth child, Inc. (headed by the hard-working, Faith Anderson) serves as his manager, and he is surrounded and guided by excellence. His EP, My Story, serves as his first official release.
What it Sounds Like:
Will has a voice! It is a voice that does not rely greatly on runs and tricks, but his tone is rich. The sound of the album would have to be described as an easy listening CCM mixed with Gospel and a hint of country. Writing is relatable and easy to latch onto. “You’ll Never Leave” is an honest and thankful psalm of sorts. Will (who sounds a bit like soul artist, P.J. Morton) sings, “You’re so consistent at being consistent at Your ways./And I’m so consistent at being inconsistent each day..my ways” We can all identify with this truth. He gives his own spin to the James Cleveland classic, “Best Thing.” Strings are woven throughout the song as Will soulfully sings over this easily listening ballad. It morphs into a 70’s soulful ballad during the chorus.
“Lost and Found” has Will admitting he has been somewhat of a Prodigal Son and he is coming “home” into a full relationship with Christ. He simply desires to be closer to God than he was before he left. They go into a traditional Gospel tag when singing “Welcome Home.”
Best Song on the Record:
I would have to pick “See You” as the best song. From the smooth background vocals to the strumming of the guitars to the light percussion, this is one that I just sit back and relax to. Julia McMillan’s voice meshes so well with Will's that you cannot help but want to hear more from the two of them.
For Fans Of:
P.J. Morton and Jonathan McReynolds
Artists like Will McMillan are those who break the mold and do music that is true to their hearts. It is easy to go with a formula for what an artist more marketed in the Gospel genre should like. However, he is his own person with hints of people who influenced his love for music. My Story is an EP sure to make waves and one that many will embrace.
Just A Great Vibe | Posted July-31-2018 What You Need To Know:
Jonathan McReynold's new album reveals a dynamic voice and refreshing songwriting. He has quickly gained the ear and admiration of several CCM and mainstream artists. Factor in awards and accolades and Jonathan could easily rest on his laurels, bask in the attention and become a lazy, one verse/one chorus, writer, but he is far from that.
What it Sounds Like:
Make Room feels incredibly cozy and personal. This intentional “living room” vibe is basically an unplugged album chalked with memorable songs (and reprises). Songs like the relatable “Cycles (featuring DOE)” and “Better” will cause an introspective time of reflection that many great sermons serve to do. The arrangements are almost uncanny, leaving me scratching my head. The energy is high on “Great Is the Lord” and he takes it to church with the tag, “He’s just too good to just be good.” Tonya Baker and Corey Barksdale each get a “piece” as they add their respective adlibs. I cannot get enough of “L.R.F.(Keep on Doin’ Better)” featuring Darrell Walls and his brother Alic along with Latice Crawford. It is just a free-for-all good time as they incorporate a few different songs into this reprise of “Better”.
There are so many nuggets and songs that take you from worship to getting your priorities to breaking hurtful cycles. Jonathan writes songs that are great for the “whole man.” He also challenges us to remember to keep Jesus as our top priority in “Make Room” while giving out total trust on the beautiful ballad “Lover Of My Soul.”
Best Song on the Record:
“Comparison Kills” is the most impactful song on the album. This ballad features only Jonathan on vocals and Andres Nordstrom on guitar. I find myself gravitating to this song because the lyrics are so identifiable and cleverly written in certain spots. Jonathan’s solid tenor nails it every time.
A Worship Experience | Posted June-15-2018 What You Need to Know
Todd Dulaney has been singing professionally for a while now, but he definitely hit his niche with praise and worship. Leading worship is a well-placed space that God has carved out for him and Todd is sharing it with others. A Worshipper's Hearttouched many hearts building momentum for current album Your Great Name. Label, eOne has been making sure that this album gets out so that songs can be sung worldwide.
What It Sounds Like
Fluid "night of worship" is what it sounds like. The syncopated rhythmic arrangements mixed with a CCM feel make "Fall In Love Again" a song that will grab listeners and make it easy to enjoy in a service. "Come Alive" is upbeat and the chorus is easy to catch on. Add this to your set list! "Pour Me Out" flows into the chorus of "We Surrender It All" (featuring songwriter Naomi Raine) which bodes well for those who want to sit and pray, soak in the Spirit or those who just want to give adoration. Todd's giddiness can be felt when introducing Nicole C. Mullen who duets with him on the ballad, "Father Be Pleased." She does not disappoint!
Many of the songs are prayers that could be prayed in one's quiet time. In addition, they are songs that are vertical in approach, therefore, the spiritual connection is strong! When you hear lyrics like "Just wanna make You happy" on "Father Be Pleased," there is a certain relatability that resounds. It is not one that is asking someone to work super hard in to please God, but rather more of an "I love God enough that I want my life to be pleasing to Him."
Best Song on the Record
"Pulling Me Through" and "Stand Forever tie for the best song on the record. However, there are so many gems to be found.
Shine on Us is one of those "gumbo" albums that incorporates a variety of styles intentionally, but not clumsily. Nashville Life Church is a diverse congregation pastored by Alvin Love Jr. and his wife CeCe Winans-Love, so they wanted to incorporate the styles that represent the people in the church with the foundation being worship to Christ. Dwan Hill serves as the music producer of the album, with Rachel Hale, Hill, Alvin Love III and CeCe serving as the worship leaders.
What it Sounds Like:
This is a stew of fun-filled music and lyrics of praise and worship. From upbeat R&B ("All Power," "My God") to the jumpy youthful ("Looking Up featuring Cece") to power ballad ("I'm Persuaded"), variety is an understatement. However, they have a signature sound that distinguishes them from others because it sounds like an actual service without doing too much "cleaning up" to the vocals.
The title track has a great line that stands out: "Thank you for the change You've started / New heart for the brokenhearted."
Best Song on the Record:
"My God" is my favorite, and featuring Byron "Mr. Talkbox" Chambers was the right addition. The song soars to the next level once he comes in!
Fresh and Retro | Posted November-29-2017
There may be a new trend starting after listening to Cheryl Fortune's debut solo album.
Cheryl Fortune has been through a whirlwind of storms and things that would have broken down even the strongest of women. Cheryl was the "sound" of James Fortune and Fiya for many years, and she also served as co-writer on several of their colossal hits. Unfortunately, her marriage to James ended in divorce. Then Cheryl and her kids were displaced during Hurricane Harvey. With all that she has been through, the release of her debut album Simply Cheryl was perfectly timed.
Producer/multi-instrumentalist Lucius Hoskins and Cheryl came together to form LuDawn music, an imprint under Tyscot Records. Hoskins intently listened to Cheryl's heart. Along with Cedric Smith, Terrance Vaughn, B. Slade and more, they were able to put together one trailblazing project. The new album has the feeling of the throwback jams of the past, coupled with the Pop and Urban stylings of today.
Cheryl loves the "vibes" for 90s music, and she definitely takes us back to the late 80s and early 90s in songs such as "Nobody." This one has Cheryl channeling her inner Bobby Brown and Karyn White with the heavy drum machine and synth that was the epitome of a dance track during that era. She expresses her joy that no one can come close to loving her like God can. "For A Night" is my jam. This high-energy dance track has a hint of Janet Jackson's "Pleasure Principle," but you will not be able to get enough of it once you listen. Anthony Williams (B.Slade) wrote this one, with Terrance Williams providing the production and instrumentation.
I am a native Houstonian, so "Don't Apologize" makes me think of my city with the trap/dirty south beat courtesy of Cedric Smith. Cheryl kills this one without a lot of tricks, carried by her sheer confidence and tone while singing how she is blessed despite what she has been through. The vibes continues with "Figure It Out," inviting us to sit back, relax and let God handle things that are beyond our control. Terrance Vaughn and B. Slade team up again to provide the music and lyrics (co-written by Cheryl). Steve Collins, Jr. throws in the icing on the cake: the talkbox. This is what it would sound like if the late Roger Troutman produced Gospel music during his heyday.
The lead single "Fighters" serves as a song of empowerment for those who need motivation to get up and push through any obstacle. Lucius Hoskins produces, bringing in a marching band to really give it an "anthem approach." One treat is the inclusion of Cheryl's and Lucius's children on the chorus. Cheryl gets real on the rock driven ballad "Lost in the Crowd," and then she tears it up on "Give It Up." On the latter, you really feel the emotions and the passion of her giving all that she has experienced to God. At her album listening party, this song brought the whole place to their feet, making it even more special.
The Bottom Line: Through her pain and struggle, Cheryl has birthed an album that is sure to start a trend of more throwback songs. This was just what the industry needed: energy, a few looks back at the joy of the past, fresh new sounds, a reminder of God's working in our lives and yes-- vibes.
For Fans Of: Janice Gaines, Keyondra Lockett, Erica Campbell, Tina Campbell
A Noteworthy Houston Release | Posted October-17-2017
Chad Brawley may not have the name of a high profile Gospel artist, but he is a well-respected classically trained pianist. Chad is also a minister of music at St. Luke Baptist Church in Humble, Texas (near Houston) along with being a great vocal director. His album The We Worship Project has been a long time coming, but sometimes a slow cooked meal can have the most texture.
Impressively, Chad wrote the majority of the songs, with help from Michael Dixon, Josiah "Jojo" Martin, Lathon Wood, Brandon Avery Smith and Lathon Wood. Terrance Vaughn shares producing duties with Chad. This is an album full of Houston singers, musicians and writers, with some help from other great people in different parts of the country. The We Worship Project is a great testament to the level of talent that comes out of Houston, Texas. It is also a testament to the respect that Chad Brawley has garnered from his peers.
Jubilation comes to mind when listening to "Grace" (co-written by Michael Dixon) and "Celebration." The latter features stirring adlibs by Mrs. Nakitta Clegg-Foxx. Anyone who is even slightly familiar with her knows how much she brings to every song. Earl Duncan leads "I Will Praise You," a song that should garner much attention. The chorus is simple to catch on to, and the background vocals are solid but not too hard for churches to learn. Duncan's baritone soars with passion.
Another impressive attribute of this album is the production. Even when there are songs that are straight church with words of declaration such as "I Shall Live," a singer like Sheri Jones Moffett knows how to drive the song without ever overdoing it. It leaves you feeling empowered, and it was a good choice to have Sheri take the song higher.
Chad leads the audience in some wonderful hymns that remind that one should never forget the importance of hymns. On the "Hymns Medley," songs like "Draw Me Nearer" and the Gaither's "There's Something About That Name" are recognized. He ends it in a mic drop moment with "I Know It Was the Blood."
Tone and Cheryl Fortune seem to go hand and hand. Her voices weaves masterfully through the beautiful "God Alone," backed by John Stoddert's string arrangement. In comes "Redeemed." Gene Moore Jr. skillfully starts it off in typical smooth Gene Moore vocal fashion, followed by the precision of vocal aggregation. As the song picks up a little, Minon Sarten comes in to add a little more finesse as everyone sings "Now we are family / Part of Your body / Saved to serve / Filled to live / I've been Redeemed." There is another part to the song where Chad invites listeners to give their life to Christ, which is a rarity on albums these days.
The Bottom Line: Chad has a hit with The We Worship Project that people need to take notice of. Patience and timing were very much needed in releasing the album, but it was so worth the wait. This is another great release by an independent artist.
Gospel's Rising Young Gun | Posted October-17-2017
Young and vibrant, but still churchy. A singer with finesse and that perfect hint of power behind her vocals. These are some ways to describe Ruth La'Ontra.
Sought after musician Justin Savage and the vocal producing savant Anthony Brown guided Ruth production-wise for her new album I Got You; Brown wrote most of the material. Group TheraPy provided some overdubs vocals.
Although some listeners grow tired of Gospel songs taking a chorus and tagging it to become the whole song, if it is done in moderation, I have no issue with it--especially if it creates a powerful moment. This is exactly what happens with "Reign." The song simply says "He shall reign forever and ever," which is taken from Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus." The ballad "Salt of the Earth" stays light and smooth as Ruth and the group proclaims what our responsibility is in this world. Call and response dominate the vocal interaction between Ruth and the singers.
The upbeat tracks show Ruth's versatility and help keep the album flowing. The title track has a slight hint of Captain and Tennille's "Love Will Keep Us Together" with the masterful vocals from Group TheraPy to compliment Ruth's soaring contralto. I am sure this song will be a favorite when she performs it live. Lead single "Kingdom" is a feel good midtempo jam that really grabbed my attention in terms of what Ruth La'Ontra brings to Gospel music.
2017 has been a tough year across the country and globe with so many affected by hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, racial tension and just the everyday grind of life itself. Although we have seen many band together in times of crisis, people have also been left battered and demoralized. The song "Come Through" has come at this pivotal time. Ruth delivers and works this song with sheer power, proving that it should be the choice for second single.
Long time Gospel music fans will be delighted to hear her remake of Milton Brunson and The Thompson Community Singers' "In My Name." Ruth put a little of her flavor into the lead, but she also stayed true to Kim McFarland's sweet original vocals. It's proof that not all millennial artists are failing to show love and respect to their predecessors.
The Bottom Line: I Got You is a strong album, and Ruth La'Ontra is one of our "young guns" who will continue to make sure that Gospel music never dies. Ruth joines rising voices like Geoffrey Golden, Bri' Babineaux, Kierra Sheard, Tasha Cobbs and The Walls Family as some of the voices who are packing a powerful punch! You'll want to pick this one up.
Substance and Symbolism | Posted September-28-2017
The tenacious Dillon Chase has been faithful in putting out music for over a decade. His new album Drifting comes with a background story about a man named Adam Sphere. Adam started off as a bright-eyed young man whose father excited him with stories of the stars and space. Adam always vowed to see the stars that his dad told him about, even meeting a shining "star" who eventually became his wife. He later became an astronaut who got so close to seeing the stars. Unfortunately, the death of his father made him detached from life itself, hurting his relationship with his wife and causing him to be utterly disappointed when he finally reached his ultimate destination. The album is a definite metaphor for the journey of life a Christian.
Chase raps in the persona of Adam. Drifting co-stars in the album include Jarry Manna, Sean Johnson, Kadence, Micah Smith and Drew Weeks, and the features are all fire! Although Chase does his thing on "Atmosphere," it is Micah Smith's haunting vocals that deserve particular praise. The same can be said for crooner Sean C. Johnson asking God to fill the void in his life on "Black Hole." Head nodder "Tone It Down" has a "Hip Hop 101" beat that allows Adam (Dillon) to spazz out.
One of the best songs on the album comes from easy listening "Star Sailor," featuring the baritone drawl of Jarry Manna. Adam (Dillon) and Jarry complement each other with their contrasting voices and tones.
Adam's story showcases an honest look at the life of a Christian, including the ugliness of letting down loved ones and turning one's back on God. On "Detaching," Chase spits in his trap cadence about "unhooking" from caring about the needs of family, moving away from God and becoming numb to it all. His narration at the beginning of the title track explains how detaching causes one to find themselves in an outlying place that they never intended to be. He says, "Drifting felt like freedom for a moment, but detachment doesn't bring freedom; only a perpetual prison."
"Transcending" has Adam finally seeing the Light and coming back from a place that at one point seemed too far out of reach for even God Himself. The setup of the song helps to paint the picture of finally realizing God is still there, leading to worshipful triumph (accented by singer Drew Weeks) that comes with coming back home. After the triumph comes the "turn up!" This comes in the firm of the "Die Daily" anthem, featuring Kadence. The beat bangs while Kadence and Chase go hard.
The Bottom Line: I loved the relatable journey Adam takes in Drifting. If an artist is going to do a concept album, this is how to do it. The ups of salvation, the joyful bliss of being a newlywed, the ills of life happening and flaking on God, and the return to Christ were the themes of this album. Dillon Chase nailed it!
Travis Greene is one of those artists that make you feel elated to see them succeed. Travis has been making music for a while, serving and plugging away until he released "Intentional" and also "Made A Way," which has made major waves in many churches. His R&B/folk style of singing is reminiscent of (but not identical to) Mali Music. He has also gained the respect of those in both Gospel and CCM. His new album Crossover: Live from Music City is a definite winner, one of those albums that does not come along often.
"Have Your Way" is a great start. Done in 3/4 time signature coupled with a pop contemporary acoustic beginning and a driving ending, "Have Your Way" sets the right tone. Lyrics like those from "Worship Rise" can be easily grabbed by those who love to worship God and those who are new to all of this: "Let my worship rise like a sweet perfume / I'll pour my love all over You... Forever, worship will rise / Forever, be glorified." I can sit with this song for a while, and if you are looking for another song to use during your prayer time, look no further.
It seems as if there are less songs by Gospel artists being put in setlists than songs by Elevation Worship and Hillsong in many churches. Travis gets it, and his creating music that can easily be plugged into praise and worship setlists. "Triumphant" describes the upbeat "With Your Love;" here's hoping worship leaders will add this to their setlist. "See The Light" is a little deceptive at first with its uptempo but light feel to it, then Isaiah Templeton takes the tag and straight "churched" it!
The title "Daddy's Home" seemed like an interesting one, and I thought it might be a song for Travis' son, but I was mistaken. Instead its premise is that one who searches for their identity will find it when they let God in. I appreciate Travis adding Hailey Kiteley to the song because she is extremely talented but not yet a household name. They blend well together, but each would have done equally well by themselves. The song seems tailor-made for both of them.
If "Love Always Win" is not played on CCM radio, I will be both disappointed and surprised. It is melodic and lyrically sound with light percussion programming and acoustic guitars. Though it sounds a little formulaic, the idea of love is one that resonates with many.
The Bottom Line: Crossover is Travis Greene's best album. He actually topped his previous project The Hill, which was a very difficult thing to do. There are no bad songs on the album, an accomplishment in this era where singles seem to be serviced sometimes to almost shield the rest of an album. This is definitely one of the best albums of the past few years.