THE TOP TEN GOSPEL SONGS OF 2006
Every year music critics pick their favorite CDs releases of the year but they rarely mention the best gospel recordings. As a writer of hundreds of articles over the last decade and a former stringer for mainstream publications such as People magazine, Living Blues and the Washington Post, I feel just as qualified to ruminate on what I consider the best gospel recordings of the last year. A couple were recently nominated for Grammy awards, but a Grammy is as much a political exercise as it is a sign of artistic achievement. Here are my picks for the best individual gospel recordings of 2006 (the song/ the CD it comes from, the label and the artist).
1)Victory/Victory Live! (Sony Gospel) – Tye Tribbett & GA A block party sing-a-long far more creative than the monotonous loops, yesteryear samples and rote singing (as much work went into the unique background vocals that are arranged almost as lead vocals as into Tribbett’s hyper infectious maestro-as-cheerleader narration) coming out of most platinum urban recording studios these days. This is the kind of recording – gospel or otherwise - a Sly & the Family Stone or George Clinton would make if 1968 became 2006 and they were
25 again. It’s as groundbreaking and iconoclastic for gospel as “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)” and “Testify” were for R&B in the golden age of Motown and Stax.
2) His Hands/His Hands (Astralwerks/Honest Jons) – Candi Staton Like so much of the southern songbird’s oeuvre, this track straddles the prickly fence separating secular and sacred. Taken from her much- acclaimed southern soul comeback CD “His Hands”, this Will Oldham- composed masterpiece concerns passion, domestic abuse and divine redemption. Too erotic for gospel radio airplay and too revelatory for an embrace from male radio programmers in general, Staton’s aching rasp inhibits the autobiographical dirge that is further encrypted by chilling sound effects and a taut Grecian chorus.
3) The Blessing of Abraham/Finale Act II (EMI Gospel)– Donald Lawrence Presents the Tri-City Singers As evidenced by the tune’s 18 weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Hot Gospel songs chart, this beguiling song of personal and spiritual empowerment has resonated strongly with the black church community.
The hook of “go get your inheritance” has become the spiritual catch phrase of the hour and has made the final collaboration between the Grammy-nominated choir and its muse, Lawrence, all the more special.
4) Move on Over/Live from the House of Blues (Integrity) - Lisa McClendon Not since Louis Armstrong’s definitive rendition of “When the Saints Come Marching In” was cut way back in May 1938, has there been another Dixieland gospel number as sweaty, horn-driven and bayou- based as this track which shows off McClendon’s sassy but refined vocal styling.
5) Rainbow/Woman to Woman: Songs of Life (Verity) – Vickie Winans Although, the Hardest Working Woman in Gospel has not always gotten the critical-acclaim her vocal chops merit, this tune proves why she’s a fan favorite. She always wins them over with her dexterity at scaling big, tall ballads such as this poignant ballad. In it, she equates triumph over life’s lamentations with the beauty of a rainbow following a storm. In lesser hands, this song could easily become corny, evangelistic cheerleading. However, Winans’ passionate delivery and obvious connection to the lyric takes it over the top and makes it a declarative, heart-felt testimony.
6) Heaven Knows/7 Days (Verity) – Deitrick Haddon Gospel’s kinda sorta answer to Usher teams up with his childhood buddies, Tim & Bob, whose best days as R&B producers were in the 1990s with now passé artists such as Joe, Heavy D and Deborah Cox.
Haddon’s satiny vocals take on an urgent appeal on this introspective commentary on church hypocrisy and wayward preachers. Crafted in the old school soul mode of Donny Hathaway’s “The Ghetto” and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?”, this is arguably Haddon’s finest moment.
7) By Your Side/I Can Do Anything (Bajada Records/WEA) – Antwaun Stanley Twenty-year old University of Michigan student, Antwaun Stanley, pairs up with label mate, Cherise Miles, on a spiritually nebulous soul ballad with all the aching and winsome vocalizing of the best puppy love songs. As the song climaxes, the duo shows off dynamic vocal theatrics (nuanced riffs and sustained notes) that hark back to the “Addictive Love” days of BeBe & CeCe Winans.
8) I Get Joy/Grateful (Light Records) – Coko Featuring a tweaked sample of Earth Wind & Fire’s 1976 classic “On Your Face” and Kirk Franklin’s gruff, street corner asides, SWV’s lead vocalist lays down one of the most infectious and danceable gospel tracks of the year.
9) Let Go/Dewayne Woods and When Singers Meet (Quietwater/Verity) - Dewayne Woods Former front man for a latter day incarnation of soul band, Atlantic Starr, Woods makes his solo gospel debut on this stellar dark horse single. In his concerts, he often testifies of a completely divine healing from HIV prior to delving into the song. It’s a simple message of surrendering oneself to that higher power. It’s something he has lived so when Woods’ smooth vocals rise, they affirm rather than blast the lyrics. That voice just glides over a modulating choir as the point is made. A superb debut.
10) Mercy on Me/Back to Basics (RCA) – Christina Aguilera Who says that sexy blonde bad girls can’t love Jesus and do so with an incredible gospel wail that rivals any one who should dare to challenge her to a sing-off? This is a mid-tempo pop-rock ditty with a bluesy underbelly that allows Aguilera to cry out for mercy for her peccadilloes. She covers several denominational barriers by crying out to Jesus, God and even Mother Mary. Knowing her rocky past and the sheer joy she exhibits in singing this self-written tune, makes it all the more authentic. Don’t be shocked by this choice, just go out and get it. There is another spiritual nugget on her ambitious two-cd collection, including the funky, “Makes Me Wanna Pray.”