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.
Le'Andria Johnson is known for her powerhouse voice and overcoming some crazy odds to get to where she is now. If someone is needed to "bring down the house" and really work a song, she's the one to call. Her new album Bigger Than Me showcases a different side of Le'Andria, taking us on a new musical journey. She worked with producers Claude Kelly and Chuck Harmony, who are known for their work in R&B and pop. Additional production comes from Stanley Brown.
There are times on the album where Le'Andria's voice channels Tina Turner. This is pretty evident on the 80s pop tinged "Love Anymore." This song basically calls on simply love, especially in a time where people are unfortunately expecting Christians to be unloving. She has (in sometimes very unconventional and controversial ways) reached out to those who seem unlovable to the masses. So "Love Anymore" is a challenge that the singer clearly takes to heart.
Although some may want to pigeonhole Le'Andria to the songs where she can squall throughout, adding more to her musical repertoire makes her even more special. She owns every minute of this album. She petitions God to basically renew and change her on "Come Through," a feel good R&B song that you could play at a get together. Sit back, relax and totally relate to "Wait on You," which is followed by the encouraging church solo "Change is Now" (co-written by Le'Andria). I have to admit, "Change is Now" ends too early, and I cannot wait to hear her sing this live.
"Holy Ghost" nicely marries some retro 60s soul with some signature Le'Andria Johnson adlibs. Stanley Brown makes sure that she does not stray too far from the Gospel sound as Le'Andria sings that she has been "Gone Too Long" from the presence of God.
The Bottom Line: Bigger Than Me is a very well put together album that shows the amazing chemistry that Le'Andria has with producers Claude Kelly, Church Harmony and Stanley Brown. It also proves that she can sing a variety of styles, and she will not be boxed up. Not that awards are the ultimate goal for a Gospel artist, but I can definitely see this album being nominated for some Stellar and Dove Awards.
After years of singing background vocals, Gene Moore has released his highly anticipated EP The Future on Motown Gospel. His moment is here, and he packed a lot into an 8 song EP. Producers who worked to highlight and accent Gene's sound included Aaron Lindsey, Terrance Vaughn, Cleo "Pookie" Sample, Ced Smith and Dana Sorey. Jariuce Banks handles vocal arrangements on a few songs.
"Lord if you gotta break me down to make me what You want me to be, it's alright / I don't need it if it's not from You / In my decision, it is You." These are just a few of the lyrics to "Not There Yet," a track very characteristic of Moore. He smoothly weaves his voice over the strumming of the acoustic guitars, accented by the bass guitar. Gene shows a strong sense of gratitude and praise on "All for Me." His vocals soar throughout this one while the background vocalists stay locked in, and his range sneaks up on you. It's when he goes into falsetto at the end of the song proclaiming "I'm grateful" that carries the most power.
Anthony "B Slade" Williams wrote "Move Over," a song with a urban, R&B and quarter vibe. Already garnering some great responses, Gene sings of letting the "Chief Navigator" take control of his life instead of trying (and failing) to do things himself. "Coming Home" was one of the first singles from the album, and it defines Gene Moore well. He describes himself as a soul singer who sings about Jesus. There is a velvet texture to this whole song, from Gene's voice to the background vocals of Gene and Chelsea Warren, to horn arrangements courtesy of Phil Lasseter.
Gene was signed in 2014 and waited patiently as he and Motown tried to find his niche and place in Gospel music. Although his faith was tried and there were times where the label really could not pinpoint how to market him, things finally fell into place. So when he sings a song like "Future," you know he really means his future looks bright. It was great to hear Gene's vocals blended with Cheryl Fortune. Both singers have a tone in their voice that is unmatched. Aaron Lindsey (with help from Cleo "Pookie" Sample) provides production while sharing co-writing credits with Gene and Shameka Dwight.
Gene has been singing the power ballad "Recover" around the country, and he is getting great responses. It is the honesty and tenacity in the lyrics that are relatable for anyone who has seen struggle but decided to keep going. Gene tackles Stevie Wonder's "Summer Soft." His love for Stevie is evident while the track showcases his chemistry with musicians Terrance Vaughn, Nick McNack and Ced Smith.
The Bottom Line: This moment finally came, and Gene Moore seized it like a champ. If you are not familiar with him, pick up The Future. You will not be disappointed, and after listening, you will be encouraged in your faith. In addition, you will understand why people like Lalah Hathaway, John P. Kee, India Arie and more are all buzzing about Gene Moore.
Gospel For Young and Old | Posted August-05-2017
Deitrick "D Haddy" Haddon is a workhorse in terms of putting out music and engaging in ministry around the globe. Having followed his career since 1997, I've been able to observe his crazy work ethic. He has been able to deliver quality music whether it is his studio albums or live projects. Haddon's latest album, Deitrick Haddon & Hill City Worship Camp, features the group of the same name. Although it is a live recording, it's chock-full of grooves and a gumbo of styles.
Lead single "A Billion People" is a powerhouse number that also goes with his campaign of the same name. Deitrick is serious about not stopping until a billion people proclaim the name of Jesus. Great moments come when they repeatedly simply say "Jesus," along with the ending vamp of "You are Lord." Listen to "A Billion People" and "Holy" back to back and you will be compelled to worship. Michael Spann adlibs while the singers proclaim that God is holy. There's something about those songs that have very little words. This one simply says "Holy, holy / the God we serve is Holy."
"Favor" is a fast tempo song that channels 80s soul, including a hint of a Prince influence. The bass guitar and drums help drive the groove, while the synths and the rhythm guitar provide the flavor. They take it to an all-out jam session. Praise anthem "Parade" serves as a journey of sorts that takes people into heaven through multi-layered components. It starts off with a drum cadence, and the singers sing in a syncopated manner. Compare it to a dramatic number by the ensemble cast of a Broadway show, flowing into a song of adoration from a church choir. That is "Parade."
"All Day Long" is another one of those "throw the BBQ on the pit, invite some friends and family over" jams that will be on the playlist right in the middle of a good hang out. The party continues on "Glory" with a beat reminiscent of "Juicy Fruit" by Mtume. It is a family affair as brother and sister-in-law Gerald and Tammi Haddon join in on the fun for the island jam "Feel Like." Listen closely as the song briefly morphs into an interpretation of the old classic "I Feel Like Going On."
The Bottom Line: This is a fun offering for D Haddy while still containing powerful moments. This project has multigenerational appeal. Youth and young adults will be drawn to it, but older generations will love the old school feel in several songs. That is Deitrick Haddon for you: he gives you a five course meal, and you are bound to enjoy some, if not all, of those courses.
The God Over Money roster is continuing to grow and blossom into a full-on movement. Selah the Corner dropped two mixtapes in the last few years and finally whet everyone's appetite for his new album when he released the single "Highpotenoose." Now Memoirs of a Perfect Life is finally here.
The producers who helped create the 18 track album are Wit, KP, 42 North, Tone Jonez and Soundnami. Selah created a documentary to highlight the process of making the album and to give insight into his name and mission. In saying "I am the Corner," he emphasized that he would be "that thing that redirects you assertively towards God." That statement is for anyone regardless of his or her profession.
Selah's mom is featured, talking about how even from birth how he physically stood out as a child, and that was a foreshadowing of the fact that he would always be different. This serves as an intro to "Intro Vert." One thing that Selah has established is his ability to incorporate clever punchlines over a variety of beats while staying true to that NYC hip-hop that influenced him. "Masquerade" has Selah explaining why he can only be "100" in a world that needs hope and nothing fake.
On "Sticc and Moov," Eshon Burgundy features and spazzes over the subtle snare and toms with a heavy kick. So many differences are addressed with Jered Sanders on "Same Bird." The issue of church unity (or the lack thereof) among predominately black and predominantly white churches is addressed while both rappers smoothly flow over the Wit and 42 North backpacking beat. Brotherhood and fighting together is the theme, and it continues on "Cliché." Selah and Bizzle address the critics and the themes saturating mainstream rap. They pull no punches, even critiquing artists that rap about acts that they clearly do not commit.
I almost spazzed on "Anthemic," which is obviously the goal. Wit provides the soundtrack to the head-nodding while Selah creates an anthem to speak to societal ills.
The Bottom Line: Memoirs of a Perfect Life is a winner, another album for GOM to use to impact a culture that needs hope. We waited for a long time for a full length album by Selah the Corner, and thankfully, he delivered!
Dedication to Family and Fatherhood | Posted June-07-2017
Beleaf is back with his latest and final album. His Beleaf in Fatherhood videos on YouTube have taken off, and he has gained quite a following. The constant touring to support his albums has weighed on him, and he desires to be the best husband and father that he can be by stepping back to focus on his family. The album In Fatherhood showcases a different Beleaf than the one we saw on the darker (but amazing) album Black Sugar, Red Pills.
This body of work was not an easy feat; it took patience and care. Beleaf worked with producers (and frequent collaborators) Anthony Cruz, Erik Kingsley, DSTL and JRuckers. The result was songs like "Activate," which includes the dreamy chords and syncopated drum patterns courtesy of Erik Kingsley and Santhosh. The song shows that it's the progression of pain and trials that allowed Beleaf's faith and strength to be jumpstarted.
Kingsley's chords stay chill and subtle against the banging beat on "Lightweight." His flow comes with rapid fire as he presents this autobiographical look at a day at his house with his kids. Andy Mineo's feature on the album is not highly marketed or mentioned on promos, but he jumped on "Ain't This Life is Perfect" and killed it. Before Mineo spits his 16, Beleaf spits about feeling content with where God has him and the joy of being with his wife.
This family theme is not some contrived way to get a pat on the back from the Christian community. The album is something that is overflowing naturally out of Beleaf's life. Songs like "We Gon' Make It Out (feat. Gracy)" and "You're Okay (feat. ABIV)" show his need to provide for his family while appreciating and assuring his wife that he will not leave her. His wife Yvette leaves an encouraging voicemail on the track, praising Beleaf for his love and attention to their kids. The way they cut up the sound bites of Beleaf's children is so ill on "Tribe," surely making this a family affair. There is a definite ode to Tribe Called Quest on this one.
The musical journey continues on "Plate" with Beleaf killing it over his own beatboxing. "Baby Daddy" is an uptempo jam that also serves as the album outro. Vocals from Kyra De'Nae helps to give that funk edge that we would hear on Outcast or Kendrick Lamar records.
The Bottom Line: Beleaf presents an album that will make us want more from him, but it's very commendable that he is taking a step back to focus on fatherhood. If In Fatherhood is the last we hear from Beleaf, I am content.
Song to Download Now:
"Ain't This Life Perfect" (Get it on iTunes here.)
Chris Cobbins is Back | Posted June-06-2017
Chris Cobbins has been in the game for a long time. Some of us first heard from him when he was singing hooks on songs by artists on Reach Records. Then he partnered with the producer Cheese Beats (aka the Kraken) to release a few projects. Now he's back with The Beauty in the Beast, a five song EP.
Chris takes an aggressive approach to facing hindrances and no longer losing time on "Face My Enemy." From losing his brother to losing faith in having a child, challenges were taking the "breath" out of him. Thankfully his wife kept believing, and he now has his child, but Chris is saying "enough is enough" with this track. His baritone gets some distortion to coincide with his message to give it a bigger effect. "Good God" is a heater thanks to the drum patterns on the chorus mimicking the tom toms on the drums and his sped up vocal revamping of the old school call and response "God is a good God / Yes He is."
Crooning to hard-hitting beats has always been a signature for Chris Cobbins. Thankfully, he sticks to what works. A dope rapper could spit a mean 16 over the "O.O.M.E (Out of My Element)" track, however, Chris serves this track well enough on his own. Many should be able to identify with trying to fit in with the rest of world while straying away from God. The song is poetically different from other songs centered on this topic: "Lost in this noise and I can't afford it / My reality, my reality is distorted / If You're telling me this is a test, I'm failing it / I'm out of my element / It just don't seem right, I don't fit here / Would You restore my heart?"
Other strong tracks to check out are "Good," which has a small taste of the classic song "Tainted Love," and "Solo."
The Bottom Line: Chris Cobbins is far from being done, and The Beauty in the Beast was a good way to show he still has skills. As he stated in "Face My Enemy," he has the "Gospel with him."
Song to Download Now:
"O.O.M.E. (Out of My Element)" (Get it on iTunes here.)