Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Review: Andrae Crouch's Mighty Wind

Andraé Crouch
Mighty Wind (Verity)
Released May 2006
5 of 5 stars

Reviewed by LaTonya Taylor

Sounds like … there is no "sounds like" for an innovator like Crouch, but fans of contemporary gospel artists such as Israel and New Breed, Fred Hammond, Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, and Donald Lawrence will enjoy this album.

At a glance …Mighty Wind is an excellent introduction to Crouch's work—and an aural recap of the various ways he's influenced Christian music over the last 40 years.

Andraé Crouch has a lot of musical descendants. In terms of Christian music, the praise and worship movement in general—in white churches, black churches, and others—owes its genesis to Crouch. Specifically, the funkified worship of Fred Hammond and Radical for Christ, the multicultural sonic influences and Scripturally based praise choruses of Israel Houghton and New Breed, the pop gospel of Brooklyn Tabernacle, and the classically rooted gospel of Donald Lawrence draw from the breadth and depth of Crouch's work.

Mighty Wind is Crouch's 40th anniversary project and the latest of 30-plus albums in his discography. Recorded with the San Diego Mass Choir and the choir at Crouch's New Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ, it's an excellent introduction for those who are unfamiliar with Crouch and, for those who already appreciate his music, it's a reminder of why he's often called "The Godfather of Gospel Music."

As always, Crouch's songs have an elegance you don't have to be a professional musician to appreciate. To understand what I mean, choose a song—"I Was Glad," for example—and listen to the jazzy background vocals all the way through, ignoring the lead vocals (well, try—that gorgeous throatiness is Disciples veteran Táta Vega). Check out the scatting over the bridge and rhythmic interplay between vocal parts. Repeat the exercise, this time listening to the song from an instrumental perspective. Then sit back and enjoy the lead.

Crouch's complex vocal/instrumental arrangements and the multiple energetic, effortless vamps make each song more than initially meets the ear. That's why a choir or praise team will need a few rehearsals to get a Crouch song just right. But the vocals and music are coupled with compelling Scriptural lyrics that are easy to identify with and sing. That's why, whether or not said choir or praise team nails every chord or has the musical personnel to totally replicate the sound, the congregation will respond, singing along the first time.

That elegance, juxtaposed with the apparent (and only apparent) simplicity of the music, is the genius of Crouch's gift. And it's why songs like "Soon and Very Soon," "Through It All," "My Tribute," and others are classics. Other artists have built well on this tradition (see above), but Crouch is the originator.

If you take the approach I suggest, it will take some time to get past the first song. But eventually you'll make it to the masterful "All Because of Jesus," a midtempo song of gratitude propelled by crisp percussion and sleek, clean background vocals behind Marvin Winans's lead. It includes Winans's wistful acknowledgment of the hard times he and Crouch have overcome during their journeys.

Karen Clark-Sheard leads "Jesus Is Lord," a danceable Latin-funk testimonial that morphs by way of breakdown vamp into one of Crouch's classic, multilayered endings. "Bless the Lord" is the kind of light choral gospel that Brooklyn Tabernacle is known for. "Oh Give Thanks," featuring Fred Hammond, is a timeless-feeling chorus that combines the guitar/organ/horn-driven urban praise and worship Hammond's known for with Crouch's signature husky lead interludes. Crystal Lewis leads the dramatic, orchestral "We Give You Glory," which has a sensibility similar to "Holy."

"Come Home" is a muted chorus perfect for the post-sermonic invitational moment, and "Thank You for Everything" has a 'round the piano feel and includes choruses sung in Spanish. "Yes Lord" is a surprising but not ineffective side trip into R&B, and the title track, an eight-minute plea for God's presence to overflow, is a triumph.

Not a moment is wasted here. I generally find reprises to be rather tedious rehashings of a song: the leftovers an artist or producer just couldn't bear to cut, but should have. But here they function as related outros. For example, the reprise for "I Was Glad" lets the funk rise to the top for a quick and welcome moment. The "All Because of Jesus" reprise allows Marvin Winans to speak briefly and to wander his weathered, leathery lead over the track. And the reiteration of "Bless the Lord" is breathtaking, a devastating a capella choral arrangement that transitions rapidly into an organic praise chorus—the kind that is raised rather than started.

A spiritually and aurally rich experience, Mighty Wind is destined to become a classic, like so much of Crouch's work. It's a fitting testament to the spiritual power of his God-given gift.

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