september 2011

Bob Marovich's Gospel Picks


robinson'...after all these years, he still has the touch...'
Eddie Robinson
The Sirens Records
Available at

Eddie Robinson isn't a household name in gospel music, but he should be.

For decades, his keyboard work has supported a chapel full of Chicago gospel singers, most notably the first Queen of Gospel, Mahalia Jackson. He traveled the world with Jackson as her accompanist and member of the singer's trusted inner circle.

But Robinson never commandeered his own project until now. Thanks to Steven Dolins and The Sirens Records, This is My Story, This is My Song gives Eddie Robinson his propers and a chance for him to demonstrate to fans old and new that after all these years, he still has the touch.

That touch is the finesse an accompanist must have to support a gospel singer, whose timing and tempo are more often governed by the spirit than the metronome. But that's the way it is: gospel, after all, is an improvisational style. Since rarely are two performances alike, an unwitting accompanist can end up with fits of musical clumsiness trying to follow the chart. To support a gospel singer with effortless grace and musicality is both gift and craft. Eddie Robinson has a lifetime's worth of both.

Robinson chose his own group of singers and musicians to assist him on his album. Like a sacred Count Basie, he is content to play piano with verve while others sing. One of his vocalists, Ms. Uletta Jackson, has old-school provenance, having worked with Isabel Joseph Johnson during the days of her television program, Rock of Ages. Especially impressive are the vocal talents of Milas Armour III and Phinus Alexander, Jr. Both men possess expressive and robust voices, giving forth the kind of power that Jimmy Rushing brought to jazz. Alexander takes the simple hymn, "Jesus Loves Me," and rounds it out with a Pentecostal "Yes Lord" chant. Armour renders "His Eye is on the Sparrow" with a voice that reaches the back row. Robinson is the constant, the musical resin that blends the pieces into a song performance.

This is My Story, This is My Song is also billed as a tribute to Mahalia Jackson on her forthcoming Centennial and to the Gay Family, for whom both Robinson and Dolins have special affection. Songs such as "Elijah Rock" and "When the Saints Go Marching In" pay tribute, respectively. The production quality of The Sirens releases is always top-notch and this release is no different: the players sound like they are in your living room.

Eddie Robinson and his combo on This is My Story, This is My Song take us back to church for real, with toe-tapping Zion songs that evoke church mothers in their finery, hats perched high on their 'dos, fans waving in time to the music, shouting their troubles over on a Sunday morning.

Picks:  "Down by the Riverside," "Jesus Loves Me," "I Won't Complain."

NOTE:  Eddie Robinson's CD Release Party and tribute to Mahalia Jackson will take place at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 North Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, on Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 7 p.m. Robinson will perform and participate in a Q&A session with Pastor Donald Gay.


next-dimension'...easily accessible melodies and lyrics...'
BGA Records (2011)
available at

The youthful harmonies of GI (God's Image) call to mind the early work of Boyz II Men and a techno-fueled version of New Edition.

This Virginia-based group has been singing together for more than a decade, and although it was once a quartet (in number, not in style), it is now a trio, comprised of Branden Anderson, Lamonte Harris and Curtis Langley.

GI's new CD, The Next Dimension, contains a baker's dozen of songs with spit-polished harmonies and passionate vocals atop friendly pop melodies and hard-hitting electronic arrangements. The music and lyrics are aimed primarily, but not exclusively, at a young church-going demographic. For example, "He Go So Hard," featuring The Official Artist, declares God to be harder (e.g, more powerful) than any street tough. Later, on "Lead Us to Truth," the group shouts "Jesus is a keeper!"

The selections on The Next Dimension are predominantly praise and worship-oriented, though "Come Back to Me" and "Only You" focus on the importance of discipleship. "I Choose You" is a squeeky-clean love song, the latest in a line of love songs showing up on gospel and inspirational projects these days.

The two standout tracks are "All I Need," with its litany of similes for how badly one needs the Lord; and "Forever we will Worship," the current single that gives a conventional praise and worship melody a dose of the group's signature electronic treatment. "For Tha' King," "You Should Already Know" and "Daydreamin'" are excellent examples of the group's radio-friendly pop sensibility.

GI fans will appreciate this new project and those unfamiliar with the group will enjoy the easily accessible melodies and lyrics.

Picks: "All I Need," "Forever We Will Worship."


haddon'...showcasing an envelope-pushing sound...'
Deitrick Haddon
Tyscot Records
available at

Deitrick Haddon is among a legion of fellow Detroit artists--starting with the Rance Allen Group in 1970 and including the Winans and Moss-Clark Families and wife Damita Haddon--who have ensured that gospel music remains in synch with the popular sounds of the day.

Showcasing his envelope-pushing sound, Anthology: The Writer and His Music is a hand-picked collection of Haddon's work for the Indianapolis-based Tyscot Records, a partnership that began in the mid-'90s. It's a two-disc deluxe edition (CD and DVD) that includes the stadium-sized antiphonal praise anthem, "I Gotta Praise (Holy One)" and the southern soul-tinged "Chain Breaker (Jiffy Cornbread Mix)." The latter includes cameos by Haddon's parents, Prophetess Joyce and Bishop Clarence Haddon.  "The Potter" is a duet with Damita.

Deitrick Haddon's urgent rhythms and R&B fusion produce praise and worship with attitude. For example, on "Anybody Here (Remix)," Haddon calls for the saints to get on the floor and dance--meaning a Holy Ghost party, not a club rave. "I Can't Praise You Enough" is just as explicit in demonstrating the importance and perhaps the imperative of praising with dance.

The artist's playful infusion of pop music can be heard on "The Walking Dead," which in its use of a ghoulish narrator, rapid-fire lyrics and a dance beat bears close kinship with Michael Jackson's "Thriller." "I Gotta Praise (Holy One)" features music from the singalong "na na na na na" hook from "Land of 1,000 Dances." "One Nation" pines for the old days, when the U.S. was "one nation under God," but uses a modern beat to express its message.

To further accentuate "the writer" component of the CD, it would have been interesting had the CD or DVD included a handful of songs written by Haddon but interpreted by other artists.

Nevertheless, for a concentrated package of Haddon classics, Anthology: The Artist and His Music satiates. The DVD features music videos from the Blessed & Cursed film soundtrack.

Speaking of films, Haddon and Tyscot are at work on a new picture, A Beautiful Soul, scheduled for theatrical release next year.


jfraze‘…publicly uttered prayers and effusive worship…’
J. Fraze
Beech Street Records (2010)
available at

On his CD Brighter Days, Johnathan Frazier (aka J. Fraze--the Minister of Praise) provides the first gospel house version of "Amazing Grace" that TBGB has ever heard. But it's an appropriate selection, since the grace of God turning bad days into brighter days is a running theme on the album.

Born in West Virginia, J. Fraze brings a crisp urban R&B sound to his music. His lyrics are a combination of publicly uttered prayers and effusive worship. And testimony. But before we get to the testimony, the Minister of Praise primes the listener with "Dance in the Spirit." It channels an old-fashioned Holy Ghost praise party through what J. Fraze calls "church crunk." Lifting praises to a steady humming beat is J. Fraze's sweet spot.

J. Fraze turns to autobiography as a warning and teaching moment. On "I Will Serve the Lord," he relates how he was once an R&B singer, living the R&B lifestyle--drugs, sex--but God's grace changed the "B" to a "P" and now he sings "rhythm and praise." Phill Good Thoughts assents with a rap testimony. "If He Left It Up to Me" is a litany of circumstances J. Fraze would have found himself in had it not been for the Lord. Where he might be, he sings, is "on the block, not in school or in the penitentiary," with no wife, no job, no song, no church home, "wasting my anointing."

Other highlights of Brighter Days include the popish "I Am Not Ashamed" and "Jehovah Jireh," the latter backed by the Generation Yes Choir. A nice production quality throughout the album, courtesy of a roster of producers, including DJ Marley Marl on "Amazin' Grace," gives the album added heft.

Picks: "Dance in the Spirit," "I Am Not Ashamed."


thomas'...combining jazzy instrumentals with electronically fueled jams'
Norman Thomas

From Hamden, Connecticut, Norman Thomas is in the category of earnest young male gospel singers (Jack Yates and Todd Dulaney also come to mind) whose genuine feelings for God are audible in the authenticity of their crystal-clear voices and lyric delivery.

On his EP Overture, released mid-June, Thomas teamed with co-producers Tye Brown and Cameron Fletcher to combine jazzy instrumentals with electronically-fueled jams.

For example, "I Surrender" is a hypnotic praise and worship selection with numbing supporting beats. "Blow Through Me" riffs on the same theme--surrendering one's spirit--and "My Heart" benefits from old-school fusion work by the musicians. "My Heart" is the most musically interesting project on the EP.

Thomas is a six-time recipient of the Connecticut Gospel Music Award for Best Male Vocalist and has served as a featured soloist for the First Church of God National Convention. He is also a radio announcer, hosting Platinum Praise Radio Show every Sunday on

marovichBob 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 Snippets of recent broadcasts can be heard at Bob is also editor of The Black Gospel Blog:


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