micah stamppleyMicah Stampley keeps things fresh, combining the best of all things gospel, on Love Never Fails...

Love Never Fails
Micah Stampley
Motown Gospel
11 tracks / 58 minutes

These days it takes a lot to separate yourself from the rest of the pack of generic black/urban/traditional gospel music artists. Even legends like the mighty Shirley Ceasar, who's iconic and inimitable vocals still make her a force to contend with, can get easily lost in the factory sound of contemporary gospel production techniques. Thankfully, Micah Stampley has managed to produce a contemporary gospel album that can stand on its own. Stampley co-wrote much of the material and also acted as producer - a factor that no-doubt contributes to the album avoiding the sonic trap of current gospel product .

The production is clean and punchy, with the up-beat songs featuring the energized drumming of J. Drew Sheard. "Oh How He Loves Me," is the obligatory nod to the Jamaican/Caribbean sound and is little more than an entertaining vamp. Stampley's concession to current Praise and Worship is his rendition of the popular "Our God," which he actually makes quite engaging and meaningful (he won me over on this one). "Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus)" is, in fact, very hymn-like and moving – quite a strong moment in the context of this album that certainly shows a variety of influences, from the old hymns, to the Hawkins Family and all the way up to contemporary artists like Ty Tribbett.

Stampley's vocals live somewhere between Donnie McClurkin and the aforementioned Tribbett (without the latter's more manic tendencies), pretty much having something for anyone that's interested in the current crop of male gospel vocalists. There's a good balance between up-tempo tracks and slower numbers (although I certainly could have lived without another version of "You Raise Me Up" - the unfortunate closer to an otherwise more interesting project). Still, here you have funk (smooth studio funk – but funk nonetheless), ballads and hymns side-by-side. Love Never Fails isn't hard-core, but – to paraphrase the title – the music almost never fails.

Bert Saraco