There's nothing like the classics. And in gospel music, finding classics can be a real pain. We will just leave it there. Reason why is because most of the classics haven't been repackaged, remastered, stored correctly and re-released to the immediate public - which leaves us with no other choice but to ramble through eBay to locate one man's junk. In the end, the treasure hunt usually is successful - especially with the help of other Internet stores (Amazon.com, GEMM.com) and even mega record shops (Tower, Virgin). But when you find a valuable, a collectible or a compact disc of your favorite gospel records, the world becomes a better place.
About two years ago, we introduced the PRAYZEHYMN Mastercards series on PRAYZEHYMNOnline.com; a section dedicated to essential gospel albums that many consider must-haves for gospel music lovers. The section ended up being a big hit on the site - drawing new legions of fans to the site to learn some history and background on their favorites. Since its introduction in 2006, PRAYZEHYMN Mastercards has thirty inclusions and will be growing with new entries later on this month as we celebrate fifteen more noteworthy projects.
And we can't wait.
But in the meantime, let us journey back for a second and reflect on the awesomeness of some of these timeless albums that have been previously reviewed. This time, we focus on the songs that made these albums such die-hard favorites. Just in time for GOSPEL MUSIC HERITAGE MONTH.
"For the Good of Them"
Rev. Milton Brunson & the Thompson Community Singers (Word/A&M)
from the album AVAILABLE TO YOU (1988)A timeless classic never wears thin. And "For the Good of Them" - one of the super gospel ballads from the legendary Thompson Community Singers - is a primary example. Kim McFarland's delightful, youthful vocals are charmed with a zesty Chicago fire that ignites with great flames as the song floods into its harmonic chorus. The choir begins to enunciate the words using strong diction and perfect execution and brings home the lyrics. While robust across most parts of the song, the sweet closing minutes finds the choir looping the final words in mellow form. The song leans on the scriptural text found in Romans 8:28 and is beautifully shaped into a more contemporary fashion with the help of songwriter Darius Brooks.
From the album FROM KIRK FRANKLIN'S NU NATION (B-Rite/Interscope)
Can you believe it's been over ten years ago that this album hit the shelves. From that album - even with "Stomp" controlling the R&B airwaves and songs like "More Than I Can Bear" - came a beautiful display of tender R&B and elegant contemporary gospel found in "Love." The closing minutes of the soft piano and whisper-like harmonies from God's Property are best remembered. There are definitely traces of quiet storm etched into the instrumentation, but it best resembles a 90s version of the mature lyrical content and musical nature of the Winans and Commissioned. But with an excellent choir leading the way.
The Staple Singers
from the album BE ALTITUDE: RESPECT YOURSELF (Stax)
Just the acoustic guitar on this crossover classic was enough to get down on. Decades since its release, this message song, done in the tradition of modern freedom songs of the late 60s, landed big on R&B and pop radio. It's not too preachy, but it gets the point across.
"If you’re walking round thinking that the world owes you something ‘cause you’re here/You’re going out the world backwards like you did when you first come here.”
The execution in Mavis Staples' gutsy vocals and Pop Staples' cool down-home bluesy deliveries solidified a type of greatness to this Staples' classic and endures as one of the very best, even matching up to Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" and Curtis Mayfield's "(Don't Worry) If There's A Hell Below, We're All Going to Go." All people could relate to it - it wasn't a black or white thing. It was a social thing and the Staples - with their faith in God and their unapologetic roots in gospel - made sure they ceased their opportunity to present a gospel that all can say "amen" to. "Respect Yourself" has been covered by many pop acts including Johnnie Taylor, the Temptations, Etta James, Robert Palmer, Joe Cocker and even recorded by actor Bruce Willis at the height of his Moonlighting mania. But none come close to touching the authenticity of the original.
"For God So Loved the World"
Vanessa Bell Armstrong
from the album PEACE BE STILL (Onyx/Benson)
Currently celebrating forty-two years in the music business, Vanessa Bell Armstrong has had a long road filled with ups and downs. More ups probably. She started out performing with the legendary Dr. Mattie Moss Clark on a number of projects on Savoy with the Southwest Michigan State Choir. Doors would later open for the lyric singer to gain ground within the beloved Church of God in Christ denomination. But it took Thomas Whitfield, music extraordinaire, to get a hold of the talented singer and to thrust her out into the immediate public as a professional solo act.
"For God So Loved the World," a famed Lanny Wolfe song, became one of VBA's biggest covers throughout her career with her sophisticated Anita Baker vocal swoons and the flagship pop arrangement.
In the black gospel world, the song broke ground in Houston at the Gospel Music Workshop of America convention and was best illustrated with Cynthia Felder's warm soprano and infectious classical-like arpeggios piano works from Daniel Cason. This studio version added on to that fire and may have possibly surpassed the greatness of the GMWA classic. With Thomas Whitfield's magical fingers, Earl Wright's wise choice of synths and with its dreamy background vocals, the Armstrong version became an instant winner for gospel music lovers and created high hopes for a crossover R&B/pop career. Thank God she choose to remain faithful to her roots.