Bob Marovich's Gospel Picks
‘…a marvelously pleasing listen’
On her eponymously-titled third CD, Madelyn Berry continues to demonstrate that she can hold her own vocally against better-known urban gospel female singers such as Damita Haddon and Kiki Sheard.
I first became aware of the stylish songstress from Apopka, Florida last year when she released her live CD, You Deserve All Praise. Berry’s new album bristles with the same bright energy as her sophomore project. The pop-infused songs here are inspirational, their titles as straightforward and uncomplicated as their messages. They explore human resilience, the need for encouragement, belief in one’s own abilities, appreciation for inner beauty, and maintaining strength in adversity. Woven throughout all is the importance of leaning on the Lord.
Madelyn’s dozen tuneful tracks are given Berry’s effervescent vocal treatment and are adroitly produced by Berry’s husband and songwriting partner, Taron. The songs buzz with electronic support when they are not breezy and acoustic, such as on the ballads “Never Alone” and “Lord You’re Always There.” A remix of the already-lively “Why I Love Him” bumps the track up a few revolutions, and “Every Lil Thing,” the album’s first single, begs for listener participation.
Madelyn is a marvelously pleasing listen, and Madelyn Berry could well become the year’s latest prime candidate for major label attention.
Picks: “You Can Make It,” “Every Little Thing.”
Available as an MP3 download at www.amazon.com
‘Unpacking an arsenal of anti-devil weaponry’
FIVE STAR GENERALS
Hostyle Gospel Ministries
There are worship warriors who stomp on the devil’s head, and then there’s Hostyle Gospel.
This holy hip hop group from Champaign, Illinois does more than stomp. On their mixtape, Five Star Generals, the trio unpacks an entire arsenal of anti-devil weaponry. They break demons’ necks, drive stakes into them and even toss their ol' sorry evil selves into trash cans and roll them.
Hostyle Gospel also stomps, though, because they spit that they have stepped on so many demons they have “holes in their shoes.”
Of course the language on Five Star Generals is metaphorical, but there’s no denying the group’s tough-talking, no-holds-barred stance. These guys aren’t playing around. They have fashioned themselves into spiritual superheroes declaring all-out street war on the demons who have encircled and imprisoned Christians. These guys have God’s back, and visa versa.
The mixtape starts strong, with Hostyle Gospel articulating its mission, though I would have preferred the introduction play longer, because just as it grabs your attention, the audio fades. On the other hand, it fades into “The Boss,” an audio kaleidoscope of samples, sounds and rapid-fire rhyming. Had the entire mixtape maintained the energy and creativity of the first two tracks, it would have been a gospel rap masterpiece.
Five Star Generals eventually transitions into a more conventional vibe, though not necessarily a plain vanilla sound. “The Slave and the Master” is a bold portrayal of redemption, and “Dream On” samples Aerosmith’s 1973 classic for a rap about the group’s evangelistic “dream team”: “like Michael, Magic and Larry on the same team.”
Five Star Generals is well produced and engineered. Listen to or download the mixtape at: www.datpiff.com/Hostyle-Gospel-Five-Star-Generals-mixtape.138859.html.
Picks: “The Boss,” “Dream On.”
‘…cries out to be played over and over again’
THE MISSION FIELD
Blessid Union of Souls
Salvation Road Records (2011)
Like the sonically similar Goo Goo Dolls, Matchbox 20 and Foo Fighters, Blessid Union of Souls was a top 40 radio staple during the 1990s. The buoyant, feel-good sound of Eliot Sloan fueled such hits as “I Believe” and “Hey Leonardo (She Likes Me for Me).”
On The Mission Field, Sloan combines his trademark adult contemporary/alternative rock sensibility with lyrics that articulate his lifelong Christian spirituality. Blessid Union of Souls’ seventh album, but first for Salvation Road Records, contains smart, socially aware lyrics with bright and accessible melodies. Not just tangentially inspirational, the songs on The Mission Field give honor to God and Jesus. Not only is Sloan unafraid to proclaim his faith, but he uses it as a lens with which to view the world and its complexities.
“I’ve always sung about wanting to live right, and with The Mission Field, it’s just a matter of taking things one step further and doing in my heart what I’m called to do,” Sloan explains. "You can never get too close to God, and throughout all of these songs, I'm always going in that direction."
On “Healing,” Sloan sings that he once prayed for personal things and needs, but now his prayers are aimed at universal healing and peace. “Sweet Providence” is about God’s repeated forgiveness, while the bouncy “Miracles” reminds us to remain aware of the simple miracles that surround us daily.
One of the most interesting songs on the album is the title track, whose lyrics and melody sound culled from an old shape-note hymnal. The song also carries the album's theme: the whole world is our mission field.
“I Still Believe in Love” is the album’s finest moment. It's a big, bold and brilliantly sung testament to hope despite the hopelessness surrounding us. While The Mission Field is not gospel in the traditional "come-on-everybody-and-clap-your-hands" sense, it is a CD that cries out to be played over and over again.
Picks: “I Still Believe in Love, “The Mission Field.”
‘Blending synthetically smooth harmonies with traditional-flavored fare’
Unity Music Group
Available at www.myspace.com/connectionusa
Houston’s contemporary quartet Connection! blends synthetically smooth harmonies with traditional-flavored fare. Although organized in 2000, the quartet was formed before the new millennium, when the men were still teenagers and part of a group called “The Youth Musicians.”
Apostle Kareem Jackson, who is an associate minister at Deliverance Rock Ministries in Houston, serves as lead vocalist on the quartet’s third CD, Unleashed. Lyrically and musically, Jackson and Connection! ladle out the comfortable and familiar old-time religion for which gospel quartets are renowned and revered.
The quartet's blend of traditional and contemporary is especially evident on selections such as “Won’t It Be Grand,” which Jackson introduces as something “granddaddy used to sing.” The song’s vamp portrays Heaven as a place where there is, among other things, no high blood pressure, diabetes or back-stabbers (sounds good to me). “I’m Nothing” finds the singer unable to eat, sleep or even breathe without the Lord.
Many of the songs on Unleashed focus on the healing power of God as the balm in times of trouble. For example, one of the album’s radio singles, “Good to Me,” references the album’s title in depicting God as the “only friend” and a door opener when one is “shackled and bound.” The concluding “I Surrender All” confirms this premise, complete with a rocking CCM arrangement.
The album’s drive tempo song, “I’ve Been Delivered,” is the best track on the CD. It has been in the group's repertory for some time, as it was nominated for Gulf Coast Gospel Song of the Year in 2007-2008.
Picks: “I’ve Been Delivered.”
Bob Marovich is a gospel music historian, radio announcer, and author. In its seventh season, Bob's "Gospel Memories" program of vintage black gospel music and artist interviews airs live first Sundays from 3:00 to 7:30 a.m. on Chicago's WLUW 88.7 FM, and streams live at http://www.wluw.org/. Snippets of recent broadcasts can be heard at http://www.gospelmemories.com/. Bob is also editor of The Black Gospel Blog: http://blackgospel.blogspot.com.