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WOW Gospel 2007
Artist: Various
Label: Zomba Recording  / Verity Records
Time: Disc 1- 15 tracks/72:47    Disc 2 – 16 tracks/69:13
Compilations are notorious animals. The helpless music fanatic will often buy a 30-track compilation CD to obtain that precious rare track that their inner child is kicking and screaming that they MUST have – yes, you buy the whole field just to find that musical pearl of great price. Thankfully, among this field of “30 of the year’s top Gospel artists and songs,” there are pearls to be found – enough of those pearls to recommend buying the 2-disc set, especially to those who have never ventured into this particular musical field. …not that there aren’t the occasional briar patches to avoid, but that’s to be expected in a collection of thirty tracks from any genre of music.
For the uninitiated, we’re talking about ‘black Gospel music’ here, which comes in as many styles as Heinz has varieties (take my word for it – check your ketchup label). In no particular order, you’re treated to the slick, the funky, the soulful, the disco-infected (sorry – that’s the only term I can think of), the old-school, the new school, and several other styles of contemporary black Gospel music that cross enough boundaries to defy hard labeling. With some two and a-half hours of music to choose from, you’ll eventually find yourself skipping over certain songs and coming back repeatedly to others.
The project starts off with a somewhat generic new-contemporary gospel song by the usually dependable Donald Lawrence, with the Tri City Singers, this time coming off sounding like a Kirk Franklin imitator, but lacking Franklin’s funk and charisma. For me, this is the weaker end of the Gospel spectrum – the very safe, over-produced, simplistic, disco-tinged, mostly-unison scripture anthem, accented by Lawrence’s verbal call-and-response. As if to let you know that there’ve been some changes in what we’ve come to expect in gospel music these days, Kurt Carr follows immediately with an unusual mix of urban and South American motifs with “Psalm 68 (Let Our God Arise),” which uses acoustic guitars and instrumentation not common to most music of the genre. By the time we get to track three, Hezekiah Walker and LFC give us “Faithful is our God,” which really begins to show where the synthesis of old and new school Gospel has taken us – there’s a great energy and power in this track, which starts off innocently enough and leads to an ending vamp that absolutely will take you to church! Myron Butler and Levi bring in de’ funk with “That Place” on track four – a nice, tight, funky instrumental and vocal jam. The variety of the first four tracks is just a sample of the surprises throughout the two discs.
Although the song selection is no-doubt limited due to label restrictions (you didn’t really think you’d get an objective collection of ‘thirty of the year’s top gospel artists and songs,’ did you?) there are some wonderful artists here that you’ll enjoy discovering. Here’s a partial list of artists on this CD, including some of my favorites (you didn’t think I’d be objective, did you?), such as the amazing Karen Clark Sheard, Ty Tribbett and Kim Burrell (Burrell is so good it’s frightening, but doesn’t get to showcase her talents on this disc), Keith Wonderboy Johnson (gotta’ love that name), the dynamic and powerful Donnie McClurkin, the classic Mighty Clouds of Joy, Vanessa Bell Armstrong (another stunning singer from Detroit – what’s up with Detroit?!), Mary Mary, Yolanda Adams (who sounds like a young Aretha Franklin channeling Whitney Houston on the infectious, “Victory”), Nicole C. Mullen with Bootsy Collins …yes, I said Bootsy Collins,  and there are many more! There are some disappointments (the Smokie Norful track is strictly light Gospel-pop and doesn’t display his amazing vocal phrasing) but these are balanced by some pleasant surprises, such as LaShun Pace on “All Things Working,” which is an old-school choir-and-soloist number that rocks the house, and former America Idol contestant George Huff’s sensitive, soulful, jazzy  ballad, “You Know Me.”  
It’s too bad that WOW Gospel 2007 has nothing by Shirley Ceasar, The Clark Sisters, and other Gospel music icons, but it’s still a respectable collection, and a good starter for those who might want to take a walk through this field to see if you can find some pearls …and I think you will. ….and I’m not going for the ‘before swine’ joke, either.
By Bert Saraco  5/16/2007



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