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HEZEKIAH WALKER & LFC - 20/85 THE EXPERIENCE
out of 5
Pastor Hezekiah Walker and the Love Fellowship Choir's return to the recording scene after three years is bittersweet for me. While I'm glad to have new music from Hez n crew [they sound great! Fresh and more mature], I'm quite disappointed with the final outcome of this project. I don't know if it's the material, or if its Donald Lawrence's production, but something went wrong somewhere. The studio tracks, one with one of the greatest soloists ever to come out of the LFC camp (Heather Covington), and another produced by Tonex, are weak. Other tracks don't feature Love Fellowship at all. A crew of vocalists Lawrence assembled (some heavy hitters in the industry) provide background vocals. I didn't buy the CD to hear them though. The material? After a while, 3-4 words and a few modulations get old. *sigh* I had such high hopes for this CD. Oh well, maybe next time. PICK HITS: Lift Him Up, It's More Than That, No Defeat, Faithful is Our God

BISHOP JOSEPH WALKER III - PRESENTS JUDAH GENERATION
out of 5
You would have to be under a rock to not notice Bishop Joseph Walker's influence in Christendom today. Not only is he all over TV, appearing on The Word Network and TBN, but he also serves as Bishop of Senior Pastors for the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship. As if that's not enough, the mass choir in the church he pastors (Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Nashville, TN) has been featured on several releases (Worship In His Presence, Praise In His Presence & Shout In His Presence) on the Harborwood Records label. This time on his own label (J3 Enterprises) and in conjunction with Light Records, the Youth Choir aka Judah Generation of Mt. Zion is at bat and presents a 12 music track/3 spoken word exhortation project that models other youth choir releases on the market today. What separates Judah Generation from others is their decision to cover songs made famous by some of gospel's heavy hitters and to do them justice. James Cleveland's There's A Bright Side Somewhere, Percy Bady's There Is No Way, and O'Landa Draper's His Blood Washes Me are included in the mix. Though this project is filled with guest appearances (Lisa McClendon, Benita Washington, Shamond Scales & Joey Kibble) and great music, I was hard-pressed to find a song that REALLY stood out as a lead single. The exceptions are the moving tribute dedicated to the memory of Bishop Walker's wife, Dr. Diane Greer Walker, who lost her battle with cancer in 2005 and I'm Free, both featuring Mark Kibble of Take 6. And if you're still not convinced, Bishop Walker is featured on several exhortations scattered throughout the project. Those should bring you up to speed. PICK HITS: I'm Free, We Need A Healing, There's A Bright Side Somewhere/There's No Way The, Let The Anointing, Blood Medley (Oh How Precious), Until, We Say Yes, Joy

VINCENT WALKER & TOJ- BOOK OF TESTIMONIES
The word "refreshing" comes to mind after listening to the debut project of New Jersey's own Vincent Walker & The Testimonies of Joy. In a day and time when most groups, choirs and ensembles sound the same, and they're only recording so they can say that they've done it, and when most independent projects sound thrown together, Book of Testimonies stands out in front of the crowd. Featuring well-produced, great material, varying styles (both traditional and contemporary), this is a project that both musicians and singers will enjoy. If I had to compare the group to anyone, it would most likely be Natalie Wilson's SOP Chorale, since Walker is a former member. The vibe is definitely similar. As a testimony should, Book of Testimonies inspired me and left me with a determination to praise and worship the Lord after the Vincent Walker & Testimonies of Joy experience. PICK HITS: Let's Go To The House, King of Glory, We Worship You, He Lives, You Can Make It, Lord You Are, Worship His Name, Your Grace & Mercy

BENITA WASHINGTON - RENAISSANCE
out of 5
Written By: Kenisha Ringgold - Newark, DE
Recorded live in Nashville, Benita Washington returns with her sophomore release Renaissance. Free from wearing the restrictive "Gospel Dream" mantle, Benita Washington takes control of her music. The album is released through her newly formed record label, Reddapple Seed Entertainment. Amidst these changes, I was expecting a new sound from Washington. Working closely with Washington is Virgil Staford who serves as the project's producer. Staford's shows great talent and potential throughout the record. There is a slight departure from the first record, but not so much to alienate those who loved Hold On. The better half of the record is the first. Cast your Cares begins with a nice acoustic intro that echoes softly throughout, but the song abruptly ends leaving the song feeling slightly incomplete. The next three songs are very strong lyrically and musically. Early (the perfect song to start your day). Song of the Lord, and Speak each are slow to mid-tempo cuts with melodies that are warm and comforting. They have the affect of feeling like a sigh at the end of long day. These songs seem to naturally rest against Washington's clean vocals. Benita Washington brings out her store front "chutch" praise on the Romans 8:28 reprise; we are treated to over three minutes of pew pounding "shouting music." It's refreshing to hear a seemingly unchoreographed moment during the recording. Three minutes almost wasn't enough. You may have to search a little to find the gems, but can they can be found. This record gets better upon repeated plays. PICK HITS: Early, Song of the Lord, Speak, I Choose to Rejoice

BENITA WASHINGTON - HOLD ON
The secular industry has Fantasia as their American Idol. We have Benita Washington as our Gospel Dream winner. Her debut project on the Tehillah Music Group label is definitely one to watch for. Just listening to her sing was enough for me -- with a mixture of studio and live tracks and a guest appearance from Bishop Paul Morton, this CD is another that will go down on my list as one of the best of 2004. Features covers of Hold On (originally done by Londa Larmond), Walter Hawkins' When the Battle is Over & When The Saints Go To Worship by Donald Lawrence. PICK HITS: Use The Word, Hold On, When The Saints Go To Worship, When The Battle Is Over [originally posted 11.04]

MALCOLM WILLIAMS & GREAT FAITH - WALKING IN MY DESTINY
out of 5
Malcolm Williams & Great Faith's third release Walking In My Destiny sets the bar real high for choirs to come behind in 2006. These folks are singin! Now finding a home on Univocal Records [founded by industry shaker and mover Shawn Tate], Williams put his best foot (or is it hand?) forward writing nearly (The Lord Never Failed is written by D. Corey Shipley) every cut on the CD. Dropping by to lend a hand on lead vocals are Kim McFarland (Milton Brunson & The Tommies), Paula Payden-Champion and DeAndre Patterson. Whatever success this group had with their first two releases, I expect them to surpass that with this one. I will say this though, I needed another "anthem" type piece like How Majestic from the Renew Me project. That's the only thing that was missing from this CD. Fans of Ricky Dillard & New G and Youthful Praise should definitely enjoy this one. PICK HITS: Everything That Has Breath, A Chance, Due Season, My Everything, I've Got A Right, Chicago Bump II, I Will Praise You

ZAK WILLIAMS & 1/AKORD - THINGS ARE GONNA GET BETTER (2010)
out of 5
Written By: Terrance McNeil - Philadelphia, PA
PICK HITS: Testimony, Closer, Presence, No More Sadness, He Remains The Same
Zak Williams and 1-Akord's "Things Are Gonna Get Better" is special. From top to bottom, it is strong. Production and quality of the project could be a bit stronger, but the way the songs flow into each other is seamless. The band is sick and the vocals are Army strong. The latter part of the project has a bit of a James Hall-ish feel, but the group definitely will make its own name when this project hits the masses. They have that big choir sound and they squall on this one. The album starts off with a heavy hitter, "Testimony," from the pen of writer extraordinaire Estee Bullock. This track is one that could be sung by all church choirs across the nation. The next track "Closer" is another home run. The bass player takes you all the way in on this one. For the worshippers who want to get closer to Him, it can be life-changing. Angie White (formerly of Tye Tribbett and Greater Anointing) shines in her guest spot on the song "Presence." White is reminiscent of Candy West of Myron Butler and Levi. Emmanuel Ellzy shows off his pure pipes on "Oh Lift Him Up" and though the song leaves you wanting more musically, he manages to leads us into worship. The CD ends with a bang as "He Remains The Same," penned by Melvin Crispell, is a true banger. There is praise and worship for everyone on this CD and will gain this group some fans along the way. Shout out to Project Music Director Shawn "Shiz" Amos because this project is a hit!

ZAK WILLIAMS & 1AKORD - THE DECLARATION
out of 5
The East Coast choir sound is often imitated, but seldom duplicated. New York, New Jersey and Philly have spawned several groups that have left their mark. Zak Williams & 1Akord's emergence onto the scene will be no different. Their new project The Declaration: Live From Philly features great music that will minister to the masses. If you love choir music, you're sure to find something on this project to enjoy, including guest appearances from the ever busy Nelson brothers (Jonathan & Jason), and signature hits like That City and The Declaration (No Weapon). Though he's hardly a stranger to the Gospel industry, Zak Williams and his crew are here to stay. A sophomore project with a greater concentration on the production (mixing and vocal overdubs) end of things from this group would definitely be welcomed with open arms. PICK HITS: A Place Where I Can Go, The Declaration (No Weapon), Won't Give Up, That City, A Way of Escape, He's Not Dead

WILMINGTON CHESTER MASS CHOIR - IT'S NOT OVER (2007)
Written By: Louis Williams - Washington, DC
out of 5
PICK HITS: It's Not Over, Somewhere Around The Throne, We Shall Be Made Alive
2007 saw the return of one of the finest singing aggregations in gospel music. Their 8th project and debut on the Emtro Gospel label, The Wilmington Chester Mass Choir's (WCMC) "It's Not Over" remains true to their signature style while keeping them current in this ever changing genre that is called gospel. The old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" applies when it comes to this latest release. Familiar players in the Wilmington Chester history return to help carve out a successful project for the group: Writing contributions from Becky White, Maurette Brown Clark, David Frazier, Guy Robinson and Jeffrey LaValley, the signature soprano vocals of Lecresia Campbell on that "power WCMC ballad" that each album has, and of course, the band featuring staples Willis Hickerson, Howard Kennedy and Ron Burrell. -- Newcomers to the WCMC musical journey help give this record what it needs to keep things fresh and up to date. Current musical director and producer I.P. Phillips (It's Not Over) and writer Richard Odom (Somewhere Around The Throne) toss in memorable contributions. Clocking in at just over an hour's playing time and heavily leaning towards the traditional end with a couple of contemporary twists thrown in here and there, with the right mix of upbeat and slower songs, the disc doesn't play too long or too short but just right! Though many (this reviewer included) had wondered where they had been and if their name would be one that mentioned in the great choirs of yesteryear Hall of Fame, the title of this release says it all. We're listening for what's to come... ADDITIONAL PICK HITS: He Won't Change

MARVIN WINANS - ALONE BUT NOT ALONE (2007)
out of 5
Written By: Keemon Leonard - San Marcos, TX
PICK HITS: My Story, I Still Believe, Try, Alone But Not Alone, I Shall Never
Marvin! Marvin! Marvin! The world has been patiently waiting on a solo album from this man. And now in 2007, Marvin Winans has decided to share with the world his superb vocals that have blessed us throughout the years with his brothers (The Winans) and his church choir (Perfecting Church of Detroit), where he serves as the pastor. With his debut on Pure Springs Gospel (his sister CeCe's label), Marvin delivers 11 tracks that will satisfy your musical taste buds. With the help of Tommy Simms in the production chair, Marvin takes you on a journey of evolving and powerful lyrics laced with a smooth laid back vibe that definitely make Marvin's album stand out from the rest of 2007. Opening the project is the soulful title track featuring a sample of another great Marvin (Gaye). "My Story" is a notable track that features Marvin's twin brother Carvin. It's a great piece of music that talks about their personal stories and how God is the only one can bring you out of your struggles. "My Story", "Just Don't Wanna Know" and "I Shall Never" takes you back to that favorable "Winans sound" that we have grown to and still love today. "I Still Believe" is a personal favorite, that showcase several musical elements laced into one great sound with a pure message of belief. "Try" features Marvin in a duet with the incomparable Kim Burrell on an all-out jazz piece that will make you push the repeat button. Other artists contributing on the musical experience: The late Ronald Winans (Marvin's eldest brother), D'Shondra Rideout (16 year old vocalist that you will definitely hear from again) and backing vocals from Take 6 and Darwin Hobbs. Definitely this is a great start for Marvin on his first solo album. Marvin brings to the table timeless, life-changing music that doesn't limit itself to the inner walls of the church. If you love powerful, thought provoking messages laced with the easy-listening smooth R &B vibe, this is your project. I'm expecting even greater things on his sophomore project. Hopefully it doesn't take 20 years to drop the next album.

VICKIE WINANS - WOMAN TO WOMAN: SONGS OF LIFE
out of 5
The hardest working woman in Gospel returns in an huge undertaking that she says was 10 years in the making. Combining studio and live material and featuring an all-star line-up of individuals in production, writing and background vocals --- and dabbling in just about every style of music from urban, to traditional, and even gospel go-go --- Vickie Winans' double-disc Woman To Woman: Songs of Life feels like one of those epic films that you can figure out within the first hour. It plays much longer than necessary. You can pretty much make one disc of your favorite tracks and call it day. But Winans should be applauded and definitely gets an "A for effort" in my book for the packaging, pre-promotion and business acumen employed in making this project a success. PICK HITS: Madly In Love, Try Christ, Go Go Praise, God of Comfort, Trust Him, The Rainbow, I Love You Lord, He Loves Me, I Dedicate My Life

WITNESS - SPEAK TO THE GENERATIONS
With plenty of recordings under their belt, several changes in their group membership throughout the years, a few record label deals, Witness is back again with Speak To The Generations. This is their sophomore recording for the Axiom Records label and I must say I'm lovin it! My main concern with the group's reemergence back onto the scene with their last release was that even though Michael Brooks is an awesome writer and producer, his production sounded a bit dated. Well, he's stepped up his game (with help from Charles "Ollie Harris, & son Justin Brooks) with this release and churned out quite a project. Lisa Page Brooks, Leah Page and Lou Ann Stewart have never sounded better! It's really all about No Good Thing and Restore Me! If you make it past those two tracks, you should enjoy the rest of the CD too. *smile* Parkes Stewart makes a guest appearance on Look To Jesus. PICK HITS: Restore Me, No Good Thing, Look To Jesus, It Will Be Alright, I Can Live, A Miracle Is On The Way, Clap Your Hands (remix)

DEWAYNE WOODS & WSM - INTRODUCING DEWAYNE WOODS
out of 5
Written By: Roderick A. Meadows - Atlanta, GA
"Introducing DeWayne Woods and When Singers Meet" is somewhat of a misnomer in terms of title. This is actually the charismatic aggregation's sophomore project- The first was an independent project titled "The Poets, The Psalms, and the Psalmists", released in 2003. But fast-forward to 2006, add Gospel wunderkind Donald Lawrence to the mix and you have one heckuva album on the QuietWater/Zomba label. The first radio single, "Let Go" is a stirring, inspirational ballad penned by soulster and gospel musician PJ Morton. DeWayne really flexes his seasoned chops as he pours his heart out, providing encouragement for anyone going through a difficult time in their lives. The stirring "Bid Me to Come" is a remake from the 2003 project, and Woods shares his praise report of overcoming an HIV-positive diagnosis on the self-explanatory "DeWayne's Testimony" Most of the album cuts are on the slow side-which make for a relaxing Sunday afternoon, but Praise and Worship music lovers will love the house-inflected "Strong Tower", and Lawrence's Tri-City Singers are added to the mix on the Calvin Bernard Rhone penned "God Is". PICK HITS: Let Go, Bid Me To Come, Strong Tower, God Is

DEWAYNE WOODS & WSM - POETS, PSALMS, PSALMISTS
I love being able to introduce the NuthinButGospel family to some of the country's most slamminest (aint a word -- I know LOL!) independent artist. This particular artist you've seen in the background for a while with several of the industry's top dogs, but now he's on his own with a capable group of singers behind him. Who is it? Glad you asked. Kansas City, Missouri's own, DeWayne Woods and When Singers Meet. You should remember DeWayne from his days with John P. Kee & New Life [I Shall Survive from the Show Up CD] and more recently with Donald Lawrence & Teresa Hairston's Gospel Today project. He's put together a 17 track live/studio project (well balanced may I add) filled with poetry, praise and worship. You need this in your collection! Please don't miss out. PICK HITS: Spirit, I Lift My Hands, Bid Me To Come, Refuge, Never Alone, Could've Said No [originally posted 03.04/edited 08.05]

CHARLES WOOLFORK - THE PROCESS
The "Prince of the Praise Party" (and one of my favorite vocalists -- I'm still rockin the 2nd Coming CD hard doc!) is back and brought along a musical road map to help guide you through the process of life. Charles Woolfork's latest CD is his testimony put to meter and chord as to what he's been through during his 3-year absence from the recording scene. On his own label now, Woolfork with assistance from a few other producers, stays true to the formula used on previous projects, but the songs here are a bit more edgier (sometimes too busy) in terms of production. From the head-bangin We Praisin', to the churchy FIXIT, right down to the power-ballad Clearly Speaking [My favorite cut even with the unbalanced mix on the background vocals] -- there's bound to be something here for you to enjoy. Whether you're in the birthing stage (and trying to figure out what God has in mind), middle (developmental stage) and need an extra push to continue, or right at the threshold of destiny, pack your Discman and this CD to help you along the way. PICK HITS: We Praisin', FIXIT, Speechless, Clearly Speaking, Refuge

REV. TIMOTHY WRIGHT - JESUS, JESUS, JESUS
out of 5
Written By: Louis Williams, Washington, DC
Celebrating 40 years in music ministry and 23 recordings in his music arsenal, The Godfather of Gospel, Rev. Timothy Wright returns with "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus" his debut for the Jordan Entertainment Group label. Known for music that is always Sunday morning friendly, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus" features more tunes that choir directors will be ready to teach in this week's rehearsal. Featuring guest appearances from Rance Allen, Douglass Miller, Timiney Figueroa, Anaysha Figueroa and industry newcomer Deon Kipping, other highlights include Wright throwbacks "Count Your Blessing", "Be Right There (Hallelujah Anyhow)" and new songs "Enter His Gates" and the Hurricane Katrina focused title track. Say what you want, there's not too many artists that can make a 4-minute song done in unison that will wipe out the staunchest of congregations. This makes project number four Rev. Wright and his New York Fellowship Mass Choir and although their debut offering would probably still be considered their strongest, you don't want to sleep on this CD. PICK HITS: "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus", "Enter His Gates", "New Life", "Be Right There (Hallelujah Anyhow)", "Count Your Blessings", "He Deserves The Glory"

REV. TIMOTHY WRIGHT - LET'S CELEBRATE
The Godfather of Gospel returns with his third installment featuring the New York Fellowship Mass Choir. Let's Celebrate features great new music and a few old favorites. I Made It Over and I Love You Lord reappear here from classic AIR releases by Wright. The usual crew of soloists/writers from New York aren't included this time, but Lorraine Stancil and J. Michael (Natalie Wilson & SOP) make guest appearances. Let's face it, the Come Thou Almighty King release will be hard to top, but that doesn't stop Wright from trying. He continues to stay at the top of his game. I'd have to consider this release a step up from the last one, because after the first couple of tracks, I usually put that one back on the shelf. Keep pumpin out the hits Rev. Wright! PICK HITS: Let's Celebrate, He Gave It To Me, I Made It Over, Time Is Winding Up & I Love You Lord

YOUTH FOR CHRIST - THE STRUGGLE IS OVER
out of 5
The need for youth choir-friendly music is great. To that end, hundreds of young people gathered from Maryland, Washington, DC, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama gathered in Baltimore, MD in July 2005 to record this live project with Troy Sneed and Emtro Gospel at the helm. Much like projects from the GMWA Youth Division and the Mississippi Children's Choir, the material here is fairly easy to learn, while not coming across as too "kiddy," and many of the songs can be used for older choirs as well. The material and production are also great for a mass choir setting. The Struggle Is Over -- a message that will help encourage you through the rest of 2006, features appearances from Stellar Award Winner Jonathan Nelson and fellow Emtro artists L. Spenser Smith and Leofric Thomas. PICK HITS: The Struggle Is Over, I Will Bless You, Have Mercy, Oh How I Love Jesus, In Awe, Praise Him

YOUTHFUL PRAISE - EXALTED...LIVE IN BALTIMORE (2007)
out of 5
Written By: Louis Williams - Washington, DC
PICK HITS: Exalted, Everything Is Changed, Freedom, Satisfied, We Worship You
In just seven years, the music ministry of Youthful Praise has evolved from being in the choir stand of Turner's Faith Temple in Bridgeport, Connecticut to them now being one of the country's most favorite recording choirs. Along with their director James "JJ" Hairston, the choir's fourth release (fifth if you count the independently produced "Call To Worship") "Exalted...Live In Baltimore" brings yet another a shift. While they haven't lost that "East Coast squall" that fans have grown to love, and even more so than the "Live! The Praise, The Worship" project, their sound is much more refined and continues to lean heavily on the praise and worship vibe but with an "urban twist". Leon Lacy, David Caton, Claudius Craig, Hairston each makes writing contributions while Judith McAllister, Timiney Figureoa, Steve Lawrence, Tedd Winn and Jason Nelson make guest lead appearances. Even with its noticeable difference in direction from the choir's first 3 projects, a need to shave the length of some of the songs down, and questionable art direction, Exalted is a strong CD and with the right single choices at radio, this project could have lasting momentum through 2008.

YOUTHFUL PRAISE - LIVE! THE PRAISE, THE WORSHIP
out of 5
Those sangin' folks from Bridgeport, Connecticut are back and doing it way big! Their last release Thank You For The Change didn't quite do it for me, but they've made up for it and then some with Live! The Praise, The Worship. Combine that chorale sound that some would say is strictly East Coast with a praise & worship vibe and you get 18 tracks that should fit quite well into the repertoire of choirs all over the country. The material this time around is much better. Kudos to J.J. Hairston (who writes, sings, directs and does just about everything else on this project -- did you play too? lol) and all involved [props to the band!] in creating one of the hottest CD's released this year. Features guest appearances from Anaysha Figueroa, Jason Nelson, Jonathan Nelson, Bishop Eric McDaniel and Evangelist Gloria White PICK HITS: You Are So Awesome, Incredible God, Incredible Praise, The Presence, Shift This Place, Great is Our God, In Your Favor

YOUTHFUL PRAISE - THANK YOU FOR THE CHANGE
After many delays, personnel and album title changes, the sophomore release from Youthful Praise (third if you count the independently released Call To Worship) is here. There's no question that this group is extremely talented. We all fell in love with them the minute we heard the first notes of Awesome God. Take a listen at the tenors on the track Say Yes, I love their sound! The lead vocalist ain't a slouch either. For me, the production and song selections are weak this time around. Features Guest Appearances By: Coko of SWV, Kervey Brown, Timiney Figueroa-Caton, Melonie Daniels, Charisse Nelson-McIntosh, Maurice Lauchner & Tonex. PICK HITS: Up There, I Shall Praise, Deliver Remix [originally posted 11.04]

ZIE'L - GENESIS
out of 5
Girls groups have come and gone in the gospel music industry. Seeing another group and hearing their lead single didn't necessarily bring much excitement. But after experiencing Zie'l the total package (both live and from listening to the entire project), I can say that these 5 young ladies from Shreveport, Louisiana have a new supporter. Their 10 track debut Genesis on the Light Records label offers a nice urban contemporary option to take you into the Summer/Fall. Produced in its entirety by the production team known as Hitland Entertainment (Derek Clark, Anson Dawkins & Dwight Goodman), each track on Genesis is complementary to the voices of the girls, though it's difficult to distinguish who is singing what (except on Vain and Surely). Place a star next to the jazzy Can We Get A Way, That's How He Saved Me and Worship Thee, which features a mid-song tempo change that is crazy and rounds out my list of personal favorites. Depending on whom you ask, the cover of The Clark Sister's Is My Living In Vain may or may not impress, but their stab at James Cleveland's Surely He's Able delivers. Zie'l's name in German means Achieving Goals through Christ. They definitely have achieved their goal of creating a great project that will not only serve as an introduction to the Gospel music industry, but also serve as notice that if they stay focused and keep Christ first, that they are here to stay. PICK HITS: Send Me, That's How He Saved Me, Surely He's Able, Worship Thee, Yesterday, Can We Get Away, I Love You So Much