Review from (Faith Village)
Sometimes you’ve got to get outside your comfort zone. Sure, it’s become pretty well accepted that the suburban youth workers are going to listen to Lecrae, but for some reason the rest of gospel music still resides outside of the mainstream. (Now, I’m defining “mainstream” as your K-Love, KLTY, Air1 type of Christian radio.)
Sure, Kirk Franklin has had some crossover success, but there is still a wealth of other gospel artists that never get the recognition that they deserve. And I really don’t know why that is. I mean, I’ll put Kirk Franklin & The Family’s Whatcha Lookin 4 or Fred Hammond & Radical for Christ’s Pages of Life Vol. 2 up against anything that Passion has produced in the last 15 years as top-notch worship records.
This album is the latest effort by one of the godfathers of gospel music, Mr. Fred Hammond. You probably know the name. He’s been actively recording since 1985 with at least 25 albums on his resume as a solo artist, member of Commissioned, and with the choir Radical for Christ. The other members of United Tenors, you’ve probably never heard of. Eric Roberson has been recording since 2001 and has worked with the likes of Jill Scott and DJ Jazzy Jeff. Relative newcomer Brian Courtney Wilson has only one album to his credit, but it was enough to earn him a Dove nomination for New Artist of the Year (2010). Most impressive and surprising to me is Dave Hollister of Blackstreet (“No Diggity”) fame.
Gospel really is its own sound. It’s not R&B. It’s not soul. It’s not hip-hop. It’s gospel. The musicianship is amazing, especially the bass. If you’re a musician, you’ve got to at least appreciate the virtuosity of the players.
The album launches with a couple of high-impact, up-tempo numbers. You’re going to hear shades of Prince, P-Funk, Chicago, and some early 90’s hip-hop all mixed together. There’s bass, synth, and crazy drums on tracks like, “Unshakeable” and “Love You Like That.” There a number of more mellow, introspective tracks that, again, are very synth-heavy, such as “Never a Day” and “I Need You.” Occupying the middle ground are several tracks with thoroughly modern production featuring more sampled sounds that might be easier entry points for the uninitiated: “My God is Real,” and “I’m Reminded.”
You get your money’s worth here as well. The shortest song (out of 14), “Where Are You,” clocks in at 4:11. On the flipside, “Never a Day” is 8:04.
As the album title indicates, these guys are all tenors, which means that you’re not going to get the vocal range that you would with a more traditional vocal quartet. Rather, you’re going to stay in that boy band type of range. Think Boys II Men or NSYNC. What that’s going to give you is a really smooth, integrated quality. The harmonies are tight and even in the isolations it is hard to distinguish one vocalist from another.
I’ve been listening to Fred Hammond for 15+ years, so I recognize his voice and can say that he takes the lead on much of the record, but everyone has their chance to shine. The basic premise is: solo lead vocal on the verse, group vocal on the chorus, different lead on the next verse. There are some powerful moments of group vocals throughout a given song, most specifically, “Here in Our Praise.”
Maybe this is what they call “burying the lead.” I’ll call it “saving the best for last.” Here’s why this record (and in my experience, all of Gospel Music) is important. The message is clear: God is faithful. He won’t let you down. If you’re feeling good today, praise Him for what He’s done. If you’re feeling down today, remember where He’s brought you from (that’ll preach).
On Pages of Life Vol. 2, Hammond says, “We don’t praise Him because we want results. We praise Him because He’s good. And His mercy endures forever.” Boy, is this a word we need constant reminding of or what? This is the message throughout gospel music. So stretch yourself today and give this one a chance. It may be outside your comfort zone, and maybe that’s just what you need.