december 2011

Bob Marovich's Gospel Picks


‘It’s their time…’
The Nevels Sisters
Squeekey Entertainment/MoLife Entertainment (2011)
Available at

The Nevels Sisters--April, Debra, Gail and Veneice--have what it takes to be the new Clark Sisters. Individually and collectively talented and adorned with style, the sisters sparkle on their major label debut, It's My Time.

They announce at the outset of the album that their particular brand of gospel music "is old school but new school," and that the "new traditional thump" is, among other things, a rhythmic "kick." Before the listener can become quizzical about what they mean exactly, here comes the kick: an electrified, sanctified backbeat that the Nevels introduce on the opening and title track. Crackling with Trin-i-tee 5:7 pulse-pounding energy and yet grounded in gospel-fied tight harmonies, "It's My Time" is one of the album's best selections.

What's especially gratifying about the album is that the Nevels Sisters aren't kidding. They skillfully blend the traditional and the contemporary to gratify both camps. For example, "God Please Do It Again" benefits not only from a traditional vibe but also thought-provoking lyrics about how blessings previously bestowed are needed once again to help a new generation of young women suffering from the same malady: low self-esteem. "Beautiful," a Nevels Sisters single released a couple of years ago, traverses the same thematic territory. It's an updated, hipper version of God made me; God doesn't make junk.

Another fine selection is "Power in the Blood," with J Moss as narrator James Cleveland to the Nevels' antiphonal Caravans. It is a very lovely and lovingly arranged gospel hymn that demonstrates the Nevels Sisters and J Moss' capacity to shift back and forth between contemporary and traditional without appearing as if they are doing so. Such flexibility bodes well for career longevity.

Of course, it doesn't hurt to have Vicki Mack Lataillade as executive producer. She was the one who introduced the world to Kirk Franklin and she is now introducing the world to the Nevels Sisters. It's their time.

Picks: "It's My Time," "Power in the Blood."



'…keeping the churchy sound in gospel'
Shree Newman-Isabell
Kamasia Music (2011)
Available for download at iTunes

Recorded live at the Gallatin Campus of Long Hollow Baptist Church, Life of a Worshipper is the debut CD for singer-songwriter Shree Newman-Isabell, the Tennessee native known as Nashville's "best kept secret."

The first few songs on the album are decent and well rendered but ultimately undistinguished. The album springs to life when Shree starts "I'll Always Worship," a contemporary gospel ballad with a lovely melody that becomes increasingly intense and emotional. Shree musters every ounce of her chesty alto to sing, "When your world is crumbling from the storm" and as she does, the floodgates open and her personal testimony pours out.

The singer's trials, including divorce and home foreclosure, and her decision to look "past my pain," raise the temperature of the recording and bleed into "Show Me Your Glory," thus setting the tone for the remainder of the CD. It is now somewhat of a traditional revival as Shree assumes her pastoral role as Evangelist Isabell and delivers the messages behind the music. It's also the first time the listener can hear the appreciative response from the live audience.

Shree moves on to sing "The Sweetest Sound" in that flatfooted gospel recitative style that has survived the decades, accompanied by the ornamentation of the B3, played with effervescence by Josh Thompson. The high spirit keeps on keeping on through "City Called Heaven," an old-school bouncer and the album's current single.

Shree Newman-Isabell's mission to keep the churchy sound in gospel is successfully accomplished in the second half of Life of a Worshipper.

Picks: "I'll Always Worship," "City Called Heaven."


tallie'....churchy gospel singers are still out there...'
Tallie Rogers
Overboard Records (2011)

Tallie Rogers, sister of quartet singer Pastor Tim Rogers (of Tim Rogers and the Fellas), was recently introduced to a wider gospel audience on the power of her indie single, "Try Jesus."

Try Jesus is the album from whence the single came and, like the namesake single, it packs a great deal of punch into a short period of time.

Try Jesus showcases Rogers' raw-edged, no-holds-barred gospel singing and shouting. Her songs contain the simple messages, the balm for life's scuffs and scrapes, that separate gospel from anthems and high-minded hymns. And as if Rogers needed any additional trad cred, the drummer on her album is Cleophus Robinson III.

Rogers and a few guest soloists hungrily tear the lids off most of the songs on the CD. "I'm Healed" is an emotion-drenched ballad that builds to such intensity that it nearly dissolves into a praise break at the end. A selection known simply as "Old School" is a medley of traditional gospel songs, namely "He's Sweet I Know" and "Oh How I Love Jesus." Appropriately, Rogers goes flatfoot on the medley, worrying the notes with plenty of melismatic drama to the accompaniment of music director Jesse Prather's gospel blues piano. "I Gotta Praise" is an uptempo church-wrecker in the same mode as "Try Jesus."

A soft spot on the CD is "Thank You for Your Love." It features a trio of leads, Rogers included, but despite all the vocal power, the selection lacks the propulsive thrust of the album's other selections. Also, Try Jesus would have been even stronger had it offered more than eight selections (one is an instrumental track).

Nevertheless, Try Jesus reminds us that churchy gospel singers are still out there, raising rafters. I hope Tallie Rogers does a live album. With her energy and voice behind it, the album would be a tent revival in a jewel case.

Picks: "Try Jesus," "I Gotta Praise."


hart ramsey

'....laid-back groove, tight musicianship...
Hart Ramsey
N-Coded Music (2011)
Available at

The popularity of jazz keyboardist Hart Ramsey's debut CD, Charge It to My Heart, surprised even the artist himself, and undoubtedly played no small role in encouraging him to release another album, the appropriately titled My Next Heartbeat.

Pastor Ramsey's sophomore project finds him exploring similar smooth jazz territory in company with vigorous and highly-polished, studio-quality musicians. Vocalist Robert Moe's easy Jeffrey Osborne tenor brightens the songs he leads on the album.

The inside jacket of the CD provides "motivational notes" to describe the songs, which is especially helpful for the all-instrumental pieces. A review of these notes suggests that Pastor Ramsey and his band are out to inspire listeners to take control of their lives with God's help.

High points on the album are the vocal selections, notably "Cover Me," a prayer for shelter from the storm (led by the talented Daniel Johnson with assists from Ramsey); and "The Commitment," which leaves the listener to decide whether the protagonist is a person or the Lord.

Enthusiasts of gospel jazz or smooth jazz will enjoy My Next Heartbeat for its laid-back groove and tight musicianship. Traditional gospel enthusiasts, on the other hand, will be perplexed if they have never heard gospel jazz before because, except in spirit, the music bears no resemblance whatsoever to what is generally considered gospel.

Still, Pastor Hart Ramsey's musical ruminations make for pleasant listening, a cool soundtrack when it's time to take your ease.

Picks: "Cover Me," "The Commitment."


puchi colon'the Miami Sound Machine of Praise & Worship'
Puchi Colon
Jovi Music (2011)
Available for download at

Gospel and praise and worship music are being embraced by more and more Latino churchgoers. Proof positive is the rising popularity of Latino artists such as Joann Rosario Condrey, Michelle Bonilla, Paulis Sanchez, Linda Agosto, and Puchi Colon.

Puchi Colon and his ensemble are the Miami Sound Machine of P&W. On their latest release, Vertical Praise Live, they demonstrate why. An aggressive brass section and a veritable orchestra of percussion instruments underlay Colon's handsome baritone that, in its understatement, is ideal for the salsa style he makes his own. The lyrics are soothing, but the musica urges listeners to get up and dance in the spirit.

Vertical Praise Live was recorded on April 2, 2011 at Living Water Fellowship in Kissimmee, Florida, near Walt Disney World.  But while people were riding the monorail in the Magic Kingdom, Colon was in the "casa del rey," singing songs in Spanish and English "con jubilo," to borrow one of the song titles.

The musicians are studio-quality instrumentalists with plenty of passion in their playing. Especially effective is "Rey De Mi Vida" ("King of My Life"), on which the band turns up the intensity such that the conclusion becomes a praise jam session. This happens again on the closing piece, "Que No Pare," which also benefits from a singable melody.

In between, Colon settles into a two-song acoustic "unplugged" section led by acoustic guitar a la Israel. Of the two unplugged songs, "All That I Need" is the finer of the two, although "We Wanna Worship" will likely be more familiar to Colon enthusiasts.

Vertical Praise Live is Puchi Colon's best work to date. Outside of being at the live performance, the best way to experience salsa P&W is a live recording. This praise music doesn't just invite you to participate, it orders you to do so.

Picks: "Rey de mi Vida," "Que no Pare."

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:


Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024