Bob Marovich’s Gospel Picks

Lizz Wright: Singing the glory down since birth.

Lizz Wright
Verve Music Group

Born in Georgia, jazz singer Lizz Wright (Salt, Dreaming Wide Awake) grew up the daughter of a minister and sang gospel.

No surprise, then, that on her exquisite new gospel-centric CD, Fellowship, Wright sounds like she's been singing the glory down since birth. She has.

Wright gathers a deliciously fascinating mix of songs and songwriters/arrangers—from Shirley Caesar to Jimi Hendrix to Eric Clapton and Angelique Kidjo—and bathes the mix in a folk-soul mystique that conjures fragrant notes of Tracy Chapman and Odetta. The result is an effective and seamless blend of hipster cool and rootsy gospel.

The "Gospel Medley" is especially worth the listen. Wright doesn't just take listeners to church: she takes them to a Holy Ghost church, where there is plenty of handclapping and soul-stirring singing, anchored by Kenny Banks on piano. One especially fitting song in the medley is "Up Above My Head," because it pays tribute to another genre-blurring female musician, one of its pioneers, in fact: Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

Wright gives "God Specializes" the Baptist treatment, just like Gloria Griffin did decades ago. The backing vocal ensemble on this track sounds strikingly—even eerily—like the Roberta Martin Singers summoned back to life to reprise their hit one final time. "Amazing Grace" shows Wright at the apex of her vocal power.

Woven among these traditional gospels and hymns are African chants, a heartwarming rendition of Clapton's "Presence of the Lord," a Hendrix cover, and a particularly moving version of Bernice Johnson Reagon's ode to faith, "I Remember, I Believe." Reagon's daughter Toshi, incidentally, produces some of the tracks with the main producer, Brian Bacchus.

Fellowship is magically inventive and spiritually grounded, a masterwork for Lizz Wright. It is, in its own way, an ode to human oneness under God and an important reminder of something Elder Utah Smith once said: "All music is God's music."

Four of five stars.

gPod Picks: "I Remember, I Believe," "Gospel Medley," "Presence of the Lord."

Lizz Wright’s Fellowship is available at


Kim Person, ‘Speak Life,’ from the like-titled live CD and DVD release produced by multiple Grammy winner Cedric Thompson.

Kim Person
KLP Enterprises, LLC

A gospel singer from North Carolina, Kim Person possesses that distinctive amalgam of singer, performer, evangelist, witness, prophet, encourager and comforter common to talented female gospel singers. All of these traits, of course, are best exercised—and best witnessed—in live performance.  Person's new live project, Speak Life, demonstrates that ably.

The first half of the program is high energy, high volume and fourth-gear rhythmic power as Person gives full voice to praise and worship anthems such as "Forever" and the riveting current single, "More than Enough," one motif of which sounds like quintessentially cool theme music for a news program. Person receives continuously solid backing—more like a musical partnership—from a vocally intense group of background vocalists, which include Colandra McDowell, Dennis Reed and G.A.P.

The mood turns more intimate during the second half. The title track is a lovely ballad about speaking your hopes and dreams into the atmosphere so they can ultimately become your destiny. On "Just That Good," a gospel waltz, Person and Company size up God's goodness by suggesting that "if you had been through what I've been through this year, you'd be shouting." The song's simple and well-articulated message, slow-building dynamics, and explosion of vocal sound at the end, including Person's Lucinda Moore-like soaring high notes, are all components of a decent radio single.

The album's magnum opus, however, is "Sincerely Yours." It is a beautiful contemporary gospel song written by Frank Morrison-Henderson. Person recorded it originally in 2006, and bestows upon it here in live performance all of the fullness and emotional intensity the composition deserves.

Speak Life is produced by Grammy Award-winning and Stellar and Dove-nominated Cedric Thompson. His adroit hand is evident throughout the crystal-clear recording, too, which is also available on DVD.

Four of Five Stars

gPod Picks: "Just That Good," "Sincerely Yours."

Kim Person’s Speak Life is available is available as a CD only and as a CD/DVD combo at


Evelyn Turrentine-Agee: Rocking a bluesy beat and sounding for all the world like a protégé of Mavis Staples.

Evelyn Turrentine-Agee

"Give me that old key," a female voice drawls.

In the fashion of the Golden Age quartets, an open arpeggiated chord is the cue for that female voice, belonging to Stellar Award-winner Evelyn Turrentine-Agee, to launch into "He's Using Me," which she does, rocking a bluesy beat and sounding for all the world like a protégé of Mavis Staples.

Turrentine-Agee, whose gospel smash "God Did It" has wrecked churches and auditoriums since the 1980s, is now releasing her seventh solo CD, There's Gonna Be a Meeting.  It contains the alternately hand-clapping and bluesy church rousers, such as "He's Using Me," for which the Queen of Quartet is known.

The debut single, "Work It Out," sets the tone with its classic quartet stomp beat.  It subconsciously riffs off of the Cosmopolitan Warriors' "He Can Work It Out," now part of the church lexicon. Turrentine-Agee throws up her hands in distress over the daily indignities that, she acknowledges, require Heavenly intervention.

Turrentine-Agee is joined by former Christianaires singer (and godson) Paul Porter on the bright and soulful "So Good."  On the uptempo "Fresh Anointing," she trades lyrics with Patrick Wayne Hollis, drummer for Lee Williams and the Spiritual QCs and brother of the album's producer, Alton Hollis.  Al, also a member of the Spiritual QCs, contributes songs to the project, including the sprightly mid-tempo "New Life," which is reminiscent of the Gospel Four's "New Walk."  Top-shelf producer Sanchez Harley lends his studio skills to "God Will Come."

In addition to brand new songs, the CD contains gospel chestnuts near and dear to Turrentine-Agee's heart.  She is completely at ease on this handful of old-school gospel blues, including Detroiter Tessie Hill's "Yes He Can," a simmering version of the Davis Sisters' two-parter "Bye and Bye" (an early composition by Rev. Clay Evans), Mildred Clark's "My Job is Working for Jesus," and "Traveling Shoes."

But it's her cover of the James Cleveland composition, "He's Using Me," that really heats up There's Gonna Be a Meeting.  "In the quartet world, you call them your sticks," Turrentine-Agee remarked.  "They are songs that when all else fails, you grab your sticks and they put you over the top....'He's Using Me' has been my #2 stage stick since the 1980s."

Given her performance of the song on this new CD, it's likely to become stick #1.

Four of Five Stars

gPod Picks: "He's Using Me," "Work It Out."

Evelyn Turrentine-Agee’s There's Gonna Be a Meeting is available at


Shekinah Glory Ministry, ‘Yes’: Multitudinous worship warriors in full flower in a powerhouse 2009 performance.

Shekinah Glory Ministry
Kingdom Records

Apostle H.D. Wilson, co-producers and writers Phil Tarver and Michael Weatherspoon, and the multitudinous worship warriors of Shekinah Glory Ministry are back with Refreshed By Fire, their new two-CD experience.

I don't use the word "experience" lightly, because that is what it is. From the opening to closing notes, Refreshed By Fire is the dramatic, theatrical, colorful, eclectic and soul-renewing project that gospel music has come to expect from the music ministry of suburban Chicago's Kingdom Valley Ministries.

Indeed, like past SGM albums, Refreshed By Fire has a distinct pacing. Like James Cleveland's vintage choir projects, it demands to be heard in its entirety. And if Mattie Moss Clark's musical accompaniment to sanctification roared with the fury of Mozart, SGM's accompaniment is the delicate and peaceful Faure. Vigorous opening singing segues into gently whispered conversations with God and continues with the process of spirit renewal. It concludes with songs that release the saved back to the surface. At once hypnotic and soothing, the album is a baptism where the water is not raging but is calm, comforting and welcoming.

Despite the water analogy above, the key transformational element on this project is fire, which burns off the physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological shackles so worshippers can reclaim, literally unfettered, what is rightfully theirs. The eleven-plus minute "Dance" argues this most succinctly, and could be radio-edited as the group's latest single with a one-word title. As of today, "Just For Me" is the reigning single. On the full project, "Just For Me" weighs in at fourteen minutes and is an effective concluding piece, a musical expression of a people baptized and ready to conquer and reclaim.

Pastor Dan Willis and Lighthouse Church cameo on the rocking "Giant Slayer," a metaphorical selection on which the "giant" can either be a personal or a societal issue. Like SGM's "Stomp," the devil can be in one's personal details or dabbling in more global concerns.

Most fascinating about Refreshed By Fire is how it blends many different sounds into one seamless performance structure. While ostensibly a praise and worship project, and certainly the lyrics and the service's pacing bear that out, the album also incorporates elements of classical music and rock, the electric guitarist on "The Minstrel Release" playing with the searing abandon of the Scorpions' Michael Schenker.

Like the pit orchestra for an opera, the musicians—under Tarver's and Weatherspoon's leadership—deserve tremendous credit for supporting the extended opus.

The liner notes identify vocal and musical soloists but not always who sings or plays on what song.  So, for example, we don't know who the lovely female voice is on "Ascending Higher" or the aforementioned Schenker-like guitarist. These mysteries will most assuredly be solved on the DVD, however, which adds SGM's striking visual dimension of flag and banner bearers, dancers, and the altar filling company.

Refreshed By Fire will appeal to SGM fans and serve as an ideal introduction to the group's music ministry for the uninitiated.

Four of Five Stars

gPod Picks: "Just for Me," "Dance," "Giant Slayer."

Shekina Glory Ministry’s Refreshed By Fire is available at

Bob Marovich has more gospel picks, news and interviews at The Black Gospel Blog




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