Timeless Gospel Messages Delivered in New Ways

Michelle David: subtle, soulful, sacred sounds and nuanced artistry…
Michelle David: subtle, soulful, sacred sounds and nuanced artistry…




Michelle David

Excelsior Recordings



Ironically, Michelle David’s The Gospel Sessions Volume 2 has such deep roots in Americana music that it probably would never be released by a U.S.-based gospel label.

The current clamor for big and bold gospel singing and stadium-sized musicianship has eclipsed the more subtle, but no less soulful, sacred sounds and nuanced artistry of singers like Liz Vice and, as she demonstrates on this album, Michelle David.

David, born and educated in New York and living in Holland since 1994, reunites with multi-instrumentalists Onno Smit, Toon Oomen, and Paul Willemsen to offer a follow-up to her well-received first volume of The Gospel Sessions. This second iteration feels like an informal jam session among friends experimenting with new ways to deliver timeless messages.

‘Carry On,’ Michelle David, from The Gospel Sessions Vol. 2

Both David and the trio showcase artistic extremes. David is two-voiced; she possesses a high soprano in which she can, and does, shout; and a deep, resonant alto that she flexes liberally and paradoxically on “Higher Ground.” Meanwhile, the trio can rock like a garage band on “My Praise” and then offer country blues picking a la Charley Patton on “You’re Rocking My Soul” and on “Psalms.”  On the latter, Bible experts will grin when they recognize the stringed instruments reference by completing David’s quote of Psalm 144 (“I will sing a new song to you”).

‘I Know the Lord,’ Michelle David, from The Gospel Sessions Vol. 2

Album highlights are David’s bluesy “I Know the Lord,” on which she riffs and shouts, but only to establish traditional credibility. Otherwise, it’s a different song. Sobering in lyric and arrangement, “Tradewinds” explores today’s unhappy society that is “living in sin and shame” and “children both rich and poor. . . searching for the truth/And if they don’t find it, God help tomorrow’s youth.”  Dripping with melancholy, “Tradewinds” is reminiscent of another damning ballad, Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth.”

Michelle David on ‘You’re Rocking My Soul,’ from The Gospel Sessions Vol. 2

‘You’re Rocking My Soul,’ Michelle David, from The Gospel Sessions Vol. 2

The album’s sole live track, “Baptized,” finds David singing about the immersion experience in true wooden-church manner, with thumping feet being her sole accompaniment (no pun intended). “Carry On,” a prodigal son (daughter) story that focuses not on reaching the destination but on the persistence needed to journey back home, is the one selection on the album that could have used an even more dramatic arrangement than the stripped-down style that propels it here. The addition of strings to the track shows that the trio was well aware of that. No matter: The Gospel Sessions Vol. 2 is a worthy successor to Vol. 1, and moreover, one of the best albums of 2017. Vol. 3 can’t come down the pike too soon.



Bob Marovich is a gospel music historian, radio announcer and author. His “Gospel Memories” radio program of vintage black gospel music and artist interviews airs live first Sundays from 3 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. on Chicago’s WLUW 88.7 FM, and streams live at the station’s website. Snippets of recent broadcasts can be heard online at the Gospel Memories Radio Show. Bob is also the founder and editor of The Black Gospel Blog, now the Journal of Gospel Music, the source for the reviews published here. Bob launched JGM on the tenth anniversary of The Black Gospel Blog, which he founded July 28, 2004, as the first blog to cover African American gospel music. His first book, Shout Troubles Over: The Birth of Gospel Music in Chicago, is scheduled for publication in March 2015 by the University of Illinois Press as part of its Music in American Life Series. Bob lives in Chicago with his wife, author Laurel Delaney, and their two cats.



‘So Keith Richards Says to Me…’

Former Rolling Stones bouncer turned superstar vet turned standup comic Kevin Fitzgerald eyes his new patients: 'I think I've been lucky--I'm kind of like Forest Gump with my life, you know?'
Former Rolling Stones bouncer turned superstar vet turned standup comic Kevin Fitzgerald eyes his new patients: ‘I think I’ve been lucky–I’m kind of like Forest Gump with my life, you know?’


When you visit your veterinarian, the expectation is that the doctor will listen intently as you describe the symptoms of your sick pet.

But if your veterinarian happens to be Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, you might prefer him to do the talking.

Not that Fitzgerald isn’t a caring, conscientious vet. Heck, he’s highly esteemed, and enormously experienced–he’s been practicing for 35 years.

But even if you were holding your ailing puppy in your lap, and wanted to get the dog treated as soon as possible, it’s still possible you’d ask Fitzgerald to regale you with another story from his colorful life.

Like the time the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards gave him career advice–which he followed, by going to veterinary school.

Wait. What?

Sure, it sounds like a fanciful, improbable tale. But it’s absolutely true.

A fascinating interview with Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald aired on Dialogue: Denver DA, with the city’s real District Attorney, Mitch Morrissey (who is Dr. Fitzgerald’s cousin) and host Tamara Banks

It’s probably important to hear the backstory to Keef offering Fitzgerald this earnest and influential career counseling.

Kevin Fitzgerald grew up in Denver, where, as kids, he and his brothers were big guys–and boxers. One day, in 1969, legendary concert promoters Bill Graham and Barry Fey saw them fight, and hired them to do security for touring bands.

“As a little boy from Denver, it was a nice way to see the world,” Fitzgerald recalled in a May Talking Animals interview.

“The first tour I was on was The Flying Burrito Brothers, a country rock act with the great Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons. From there, I did Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass. And from there, I did The Rolling Stones.”

Boy, did he. He worked security for The Stones on the 1969, 1972, 1978, 1981, 1989, and 1995 tours-employed by them for 25 years. He loved the experience, and loved the band. Still does. “They’re great guys,” he said, all but gushing, “and nothing happens that’s not scheduled. Working for them was kind of like working for the Army. There was a big difference working for other bands, then going to work with them, because it was so orchestrated and so organized.”

Fitzgerald explained that each band member takes on a key responsibility during a tour, and Keith Richards’ bailiwick is overseeing security and bouncers. “He pays you himself at the end of the tour,” Fitzgerald said.

“And at the end of the ’78 tour, he says ‘you’ve been with us since ’69, ’72, ’75, now ’78. This isn’t going to last forever, you know. The public’s fickle.  We could be like flavor of the month. You need to do something with your life. I’ll help you, I’ll write letters, do whatever. You need to go to school, do something else. You can’t be a bouncer when you’re 50. ”

‘Stay hungry for knowledge. Stay flexible. And be cool.’ Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald delivers the commencement address to Western University of Health Science’s 2010 graduating class

When he got back to Denver, he thought seriously about Keith’s guidance, pondered his passions–“I always liked science and medicine and animals and people”–and applied to veterinary school.  “I got in,” he said. “Keith’s letter [of recommendation] is probably on a wall somewhere.”

Richards clearly saw something in Fitzgerald, even if the guitarist would, at first blush, seem a most unlikely mentor–especially if that mentoring involved an entreaty to get out of rock ‘n’ roll.

“I think I’ve been lucky–I’m kind of like Forest Gump with my life, you know?” he said, laughing heartily.  “Sometimes an older person will take an interest in a younger person, and shepherd them. I think that’s what happened to me.”

Clearly, Richards recognized significant potential that Fitzgerald wasn’t tapping while working on these Stones tours.  “Yeah, he’s the hippest cat in the world,” he agreed. “When he says something, you listen.”

Similarly, if you were in Dr. Fitzgerald’s exam room, you’d likely be inclined to listen to his stories accumulated over a quarter century on the road with The Rolling Stones. It’s very possible these could include some sordid tales–after all, this is The Stones we’re talking about, but Fitzgerald doesn’t appear to be someone inclined to bounce-and-tell.

Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald recounts his career path on NPR’s Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me

He does share a story that played out played out nightly during those ’70s stadium shows–and presents a rarely-seen side of Mick Jagger. In those days, Fitzgerald explained, concert-goers in wheelchairs were all grouped together in an elevated section: “When the lights go off, the kids jump down and all run down on to the floor, to get closer to the stage. And you really can’t have the wheelchair people down low, because they’d get bumped out of their chairs, you’re behind a barricade and you can’t protect them.”

Still, while this arrangement was required by venues and concert promoters to ensure safety, The Stones’ camp didn’t like the way it isolated this group of fans.

“So every show, all the years I worked,” Fitzgerald remembered, “Jagger would always say ‘Where are they?’ I’d say, section 323.’ He’d say ‘How many chairs?’ I’d say ’23 chairs.’ And so I’d run him through the guts of the place, put a hood on him or a towel, and sneak him up to the place to where the kids were. He wouldn’t be able to stay and talk to them; well sometimes he would, but I would get 23 cassette tapes and 23 t-shirts if there were 23 chairs.

“And he’d run down and put a t-shirt and a cassette tape on everybody’s lap, and say ‘Thanks for coming.’ He didn’t do it as a photo op. He didn’t do it and tell anybody. He just did it. When we were walking back he’d say, ‘Did you ever think of it? How come? You have this big body, you get to bounce for us, I get to sing and dance. Why aren’t we in chairs?’

“He said “We must never forget how lucky we are.’  Here’s this guy who had such a gifted and charmed life, but he didn’t forget.”

‘I’m fifty-five but I read at a fifty-seven-year-old level’: Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald in his other life as a standup comedian

You could argue that Fitzgerald’s lived a gifted and charmed life, too.

Because if you were a patient of his–well, technically, if your pet was a patient of his–even if you’d heard all the Stones stories, or imposed an embargo on those, Fitzgerald would still have plenty of distinctive yarns he could spin, especially compared with most veterinarians. For starters, if you were in his office at Alameda East Veterinary Hospital, it’s possible you’d know that he starred in Emergency Vets, the long-running reality series that aired on Animal Planet, and was filmed at Alameda East. The hospital was also the site of a follow-up Animal Planet series featuring Fitzgerald, E-Vet Interns.

He’s spent his entire career at Alameda, and in emergency medicine. What drew him to that specialty, and kept him there?

“Emergency room doctors are kind of like adrenaline junkies,” he said. “You don’t know what’s going to come in, and you have to wear a lot of different hats. You need to keep sharp. It’s challenging…You can do the most good when you can help people. And a lot of the time, they’re not real emergencies: The dog drank the blue toiler water, and he’s going to be fine. An 80-pound Lab that ate one Hershey’s Kiss doesn’t need his stomach pumped.”

So, you might think that after the Rolling Stones stories and the reality TV star stories, Fitzgerald would be out of tales that distinguish him from other veterinarians.

You’d be wrong: he’s also a professional comedian. While in college, through the father of a roommate, he submitted jokes for Johnny Carson to use in his monologue on The Tonight Show.

Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald was one of the vets who advised the Smithsonian on its traveling exhibit Animal Connections. Here Kevin sees the exhibit for the first time, all 18 wheels of it: Animal Connections is housed on an 18-wheeler tractor-trailer that expands into a 1,000-square-foot high-tech exhibit at each stop across the U.S. The exhibit explores the connections between humans and animals (pets, farm animals, animals around our neighborhoods and communities, etc.) and introduces visitors to the job of veterinarian. It was created to mark the 150th anniversary of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

In 1986, he launched his stand-up career, and has since appeared on numerous television shows, worked with such comics as Joan Rivers, Kevin Nealon and Norm MacDonald, opened for an array of bands.

And amidst the demands of his busy day job, he manages to perform upwards of 100 corporate stand-up dates each year.  (“Veterinary medicine lends itself well to humor. One woman asked me ‘What do I give a Great Dane with diarrhea?’ I said ‘Plenty of room.'”)

And, if that weren’t colorful and distinctive enough, Fitzgerald, under the auspices of The Denver Zoo, engages in significant conservation efforts that have taken him to Mongolia, Vietnam, Botswana, Peru–endeavors that have helped protect some species against predators, have restored the population of additional species, have trained a slew of wildlife biologists and wildlife veterinarians in those locations, among other virtues.

The conservation work underscores that, when all is said and done, Fitzgerald is fundamentally an animal guy. And if you took your ailing pet to see him, you’d be in exceptionally good hands.

Still, during that appointment, there might well be some surprising, scintillating conversations along the way to sorting out what’s troubling your animal.

Click here for the unexpurgated audio interview with Kevin Fitzgerald featured on Talking Animals, May 24, 2017



About the Author: Combining his passions for animals, radio, journalism, music and comedy, Duncan Strauss launched Talking Animals at KUCI in California in 2003. Since late 2005 the show has aired on Tampa’s WMNF. Producer-host Strauss lives in Jupiter Farms, FL, with his family, including four cats, two horses and one dog. He spends each day talking to those animals, and maintains they talk right back to him, a claim as yet unverified by credible sources.

In Trim: Bruce Brown’s Endless Epic


Made for around $50,000 and single-handedly produced, directed, filmed, edited and narrated by BRUCE BROWN, THE ENDLESS SUMMER is far and away the most successful surf movie of al time, and still the standard bearer for all surfing documentaries, the alpha and omega by which all others are measured. Its creator, Brown, was little known outside the limited confines of the surfing subculture, which in 1966, the year of the film’s release, was familiar to most Americans through the distorted lens of Beach Party movies and a surf music craze that had been on the wane since the British Invasion of 1964. As PAUL HOLMES writes: “Wholesome, charming, corny at times, but with what film critic Leonard Maltin describes as a ‘diverting, tongue-in-cheek narration,’ the film’s premise–a quest for the holy grail of a perfect wave–gave surfers some noble dignity at a time when they were often stereotyped as derelicts, ne’er do wells or delinquents. But the stars of The Endless Summer, Robert August and Mike Hynson, came across as clean-cut, fun-loving athletes and surfing itself as a grand, healthy, respectable sport with unexpected global appeal.” Brown and his crew literally followed Hynson and August around the world, chasing the sun and the summer as it crossed the planet, as the pair tested out some spots–such as Hawaii–famous for big waves, and others–such as Acra, Ghana–where surfing was completely unknown to the natives. With an evocative soundtrack by The Sandals, the feel of The Endless Summer is as idyllic as its protagonists’ journey is romantic–a near-perfect mating of existential ambition depicted on screen and spiritual/metaphysical striving expressed in music. PAUL HOLMES captured the whole epic saga in this definitive piece first published in the now-defunct Longboard surfing magazine in 2005. CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE FULL STORY IN PDF FORM.

The Sandals, ‘Theme from The Endless Summer,’ a bonafide summer classic

Bob Marovich’s Gospel Picks


‘…complicates the traditional notion of sacred music…’


Royce Lovett

Motown Gospel



Royce Lovett is one of the most distinctive voices on the Motown Gospel roster. Not surprisingly, his new album, Love & Other Dreams, is as artistically unpredictable as its creator.

The guitar-playing Tallahassee, Florida, singer-songwriter splashes a palette of neo-soul on coded messages about survival in modern society. The album feels like a somnambulant journey of a soul gasping, as if drowning, for the oxygen of freedom.

Where can lung-expanding oxygen be found? Lovett answers on the album’s hypnotic current single, “Up for Love:” it’s in the clouds, where there are “no distractions” and a person can live at one with love. I do not believe he means Heaven but rather sees clouds as a metaphor of liberation.

Towards that liberation Lovett wings his way; he is a weightless bird flying above the heaviness of life, where “it’s too crowded.” In fact, being “fly,” according to “Ballad,” is not the physical manifestation of wealth but the capacity to overcome the aftermath of failure.

‘A Hero Song,’ Royce Lovett, from Love & Other Dreams

‘Runnin’,’ Royce Lovett, from Love & Other Dreams

Lovett’s own personal heaviness, perhaps one of the strongest anchors weighing him down, is expressed most acutely on “Sunday Morning (Thinking ‘Bout You).” Here he mourns the loss of an unidentified loved one whose asphyxiating absence is felt most strongly on God’s day. Meanwhile, on terra firma, Lovett is part of the resistance, battling sin and the magnetic pull to stray from good, all to the thudding march tempo of “Runnin’.”

The six selections (a seventh is an acoustic version of “Up for Love”) are introspective and dramatic, often unsettling in their honesty. “A Hero Song” is the album’s most explicitly “gospel” selection. Here, Lovett cries out to God for help in melody and in a brief but impressive rap interlude. From what we’ve heard thus far on the album, his struggle is overwhelming.

‘Sunday Morning (Thinkin’ ‘Bout You),’ Royce Lovett, from Love & Other Dreams

Like Lauryn Hill’s Man in the Fugees’ “Killing Me Softly,” “Mr. Radio” is an announcer who is oblivious at best, sadistic at worst. His same ol’ same ol’ playlist is a metaphor for the status quo and its endless stream of bad news. Changing the playlist by programming something “righteous,” as Lovett recommends, leads to love. And if there is one constant on the album, it’s that we need more love.

Like Andrae Crouch’s perplexing “Lullaby of the Deceived,” Love & Other Dreams complicates the traditional notion of sacred music by inferring rather than proclaiming the mental and physical agony of personal spiritual battles and the weightlessness of freedom from sin and suffering.

Pick: “A Hero Song.”



‘…an apt title, a captivating testimony, an important call to action…”


Natasha Owens

Maharlow Records



Sometimes new beginnings flower from the most terrible tragedies.

That was the case for Natasha Owens. Seven years ago, her father was cleaning a gun when it misfired, killing him at age 58.

In the midst of her grieving, Owens was invited to serve as her church’s worship minister. She wrote songs for her church to sing. Through music ministry, she found that the more she poured into the congregation, the more she got back. A trip to the recording studio to memorialize her songs produced a CD, the tellingly titled I Made It Through, that set her on a path to a solo career.

Owens’ latest full-length project, We Will Rise, is the result of her having more songs and ideas to share. The album sails along on radio-sized worship songs that outline the many ways Jesus has impacted the singer’s life and, by extension, the listener’s. Owens’ soprano runs from coquettish to bracing, but mostly bracing as she belts out earnest messages so even the back row of a megachurch can appreciate them.

‘We Will Rise,’ Natasha Owens, title track from her new album

‘I Am Loved,’ Natasha Owens, from We Will Rise

The album opens with songs that are reflections on Jesus’s faithfulness and constant care for his people. The current single, “I Am Loved,” also explains how words can be used to harm or heal. Clearly preferring healing words, Owens relates how something as simple as speaking “I am loved” can unleash one’s inner power.

On the slow, dramatic ballad “Safe,” Jesus demonstrates superhero abilities in saving his people from harm. The anthemic title track calls for everyone to remain resilient, regardless of what we face. “Move Me,” on the other hand, switches from passive expositions of grace bestowed to an active, urgent, direct call for Jesus to “carry me when I have nothing left.”

The tracks are melodically and musically consistent and easily digestible. Two, “Wings” and “Legacy,” stand out for their refreshing lyric motives. “Wings” is about finding the courage, through Jesus, to face life’s battles. The line, “the same wind that knocked me down gave me wings,” is the best lyric sentiment I’ve heard in a song all year—sacred or secular. “Legacy” encourages selfless giving, an important message in a time of selfies-gone-wild and hyperbolic narcissism.

‘The same wind that knocked me down gave me wings’: ’Wings,’ Natasha Owens, from We Will Rise

For a woman who could barely get out of bed after the death of her father to having a new career in Christian music, We Will Rise is an apt title, a captivating testimony, and an important call to action.

Picks: “Wings,” “Legacy.”

Thursday, August 31, 2017 — Like all Americans, Christian singer-songwriter Natasha Owens has been heartbroken over the ongoing flooding in her home state of Texas following Hurricane Harvey.

After much prayer and discussion with her team, she’s decided to donate all proceeds from the retail sales of her new album, We Will Rise, through the end of the year.

“I’m proud to be a Texan, and even more proud of the way that people are coming together to help others in the wake of the devastation of Hurricane Harvey,” says Natasha, whose own church is on the ground in Houston offering assistance. “Psalm 46:1 says ‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.’ That’s the truth we hold to right now. Jesus is faithful to revive. We will rise!



‘…every thought matters…’


Nichole Nordeman

Sparrow Records/Capitol CMG Label Group



Christian singer-songwriter Nichole Nordeman has a lot to say in her new album, Every Mile Mattered, and we need to hear it.

In a hauntingly beautiful voice that evokes contemporary folk artists Beth Nielsen Chapman and Alice Peacock, Nordeman offers a theology stripped of fiats and thou shalts. For her, it’s simple: Jesus is everywhere, at all times, and in every moment of our lives. For example, in “You’re Here,” Nordeman hears God saying that “the only invitation that you need, is the very air that I breathe.” She sings in “Lean” that Jesus loves us not in spite of our faults but because of them. Similarly, the lullaby-like chorus of “Hush, Hush” confirms that God is covering us, so we “don’t have to have all the answers.”

I suspect Nordeman’s experience as a parent informs her vision of an all-loving Jesus who puts no asterisk next to “love one another.” Indeed, the concluding track, “Slow Down,” which Nordeman sings with her daughter Pepper Ingram, can be taken either as a parent’s conflicted observation of her child growing up, but it can also be seen as God’s own expression of love toward his children: “I am your biggest fan/I hope you know I am.”

‘Dear Me,’ Nichole Nordeman, from Every Mile Mattered

‘Anywhere We Are,’ Nichole Nordeman, from Every Mile Mattered

“Dear Me” is Nichole’s letter to her former self, to “the girl I used to be.” It’s sobering in its honesty and refreshing in its outlook. While the song shares some of the feel-no-fear philosophy of Lee Ann Womack’s 2000 country hit, “I Hope You Dance,” its optimistic message about living out Jesus’s unconditional love despite what we have been taught to believe is the most convincing call to action and statement about love you are likely to hear this year.

But as powerful a statement as “Dear Me” offers, it is eclipsed by “Anywhere We Are.” Its contemplation about what matters in life is anchored by imagery of powerful storms that threaten to destroy everything we possess. Coming out prior to Hurricane Harvey and the devastation it has left in its wake, it is difficult to listen to this emotionally taut song without thinking of the people impacted by this tragedy. Like Richard Smallwood’s “Total Praise,” and Micah Stampley’s cover of “Come to Jesus,” “Anywhere We Are” is so moving it might be prudent to pull off to the side of the road if you are listening to it in the car.

The melodies and arrangements are accessible, and Nordeman is at her most potent when simply accompanying herself on piano. Every thought matters on Every Mile Mattered. One of the best albums I’ve heard this year.

Picks: “Dear Me,” “Anywhere We Are.”



‘…comes down solid on the side of good…’


Derrick “Doc” Pearson

I AM Music Company



Love songs have become quite popular in gospel music.

Perchance inspired by Kim Burrell’s 2011 The Love Album, or Fred Hammond’s 2012 2-CD release, God, Love, and Romance, several artists have written and recorded songs about Bible-based love.

Some even make for good wedding ceremony material. One of the most popular essays on the Journal of Gospel Music is a list of gospel songs fit for a marriage ceremony.

I Still Do, Derrick “Doc” Pearson’s new collection of songs about marriage, echoes Hammond’s album by using biblical reference points to examine the phenomenon of human love from euphoria to navigating personal differences to rekindling the spark.

Depending on your point of reference, the album’s musical accompaniment is either Quiet Storm or Winans. I’m going with Quiet Storm because of bass player Pearson’s foundational work with soft soul groups such as the Whispers. As on his 2015 No Greater Love project, Pearson writes the songs and hands the mic to guest vocalists who interpret them as soloists or in duet.

‘I Still Do,’ featuring Al Johnson and Kathy Horry, from Derrick ‘Doc’ Pearson’s I Still Do: Songs For a Biblical Marriage

‘In God’s Hand,’ featuring Stephan Terry and Amy Tucker, from Derrick ‘Doc’ Pearson’s I Still Do: Songs for a Biblical Marriage

The title track is emblematic of the entire project. To a creamy smooth 1980s R&B ballad underlayment, the late Al Johnson (of the Unifics) and Kathy Horry croon the magic of a lasting marriage. “Bind Us Together,” also featuring Kathy Horry, is ready-made music for a wedding ceremony or celebration.

But not all is bliss in Love Land, Pearson admits. He and wife LaMar offer a brief skit called “Adjustments (We Must Adjust),” which concludes that compromise starts when we first understand ourselves. Though too quickly dismissive of conventional marriage counseling, “In God’s Hand,” featuring Stephan Terry and Amy Tucker, suggests that God is the ultimate marriage counselor.

The album’s most up-tempo selection, “Forgive Forget,” finds E.J. Thomas and Cherlita Claiborne chanting forgive, forget, and move on. Though one might not expect a holiday selection to appear on the collection, Stephan Terry’s “Quiet Christmas Night” is a satisfied parent enjoying a Norman Rockwell-esque Christmas with the family. Terry is featured frequently on the collection.

‘Quiet Christmas Night,’ featuring Stephan Terry, from Derrick ‘Doc’ Pearson’s I Still Do: Songs for a Biblical Marriage

Pearson peppers his album of serious messages with tongue-in-cheek humor, such as on “Adjustments.” On another interstitial skit, “The Encounter 3,” Pearson suggests pre-marital counseling to a fan, with disastrous results.

The backside of the CD includes a warning that “this CD is for married couples ONLY! Experiencing music from this CD while unmarried may cause unwanted side effects.” So confirmed bachelors and bachelorettes beware! But not really—this is Pearson’s fun side coming out again—because despite the album’s exposition of the good and the bad of marriage, I Still Do comes down solidly on the side of good.

Pick: “I Still Do.”



‘…the power of love, given and received…’


Devin Williams




The power of love, both given and received, is at the center of We Are Forever Yours, the latest release by worship leader and six-time Billboard Top 30-charting Christian artist Devin Williams.

Nowhere is this negotiation more explicit than on the current single, “Hear Our Hearts Sing.” Interceding on behalf of an inferred congregation on this vibrant song of corporate worship, Williams offers God the congregation’s (and his) collective hearts. But this is not a one-way proposition; in return, God will bestow peace, joy and love.

God’s covering love, Williams sings on “I Will Not Fear” and “Because of You,” protects him from harm. On “You Give Me Strength,” he adds that the love of God keeps him strong when he wants to give up. When it comes to expressing gratitude for direct intervention from God, Williams makes his case most plain on these three songs. “I Worship You Now,” on the other hand, expresses God’s love for his people through Jesus’s death on the cross.

‘I Will Not Fear,’ Devin Williams, from the EP, We Are Forever Yours

The songs are buoyed by bright, welcoming melodies flavored by energetic country-rock-meets-Coldplay arrangements and instrumentation. Williams’s voice is part worship leader, part country-rocker, meaning eager, honest and genuine. There’s nothing not to like about this pleasant presentation of worship songs from a Nashville guy who credits the late Chris Cornell of Soundgarden as one of his influences.

Pick: “I Will Not Fear”



‘…aims to cure what ails you…’


Adam Everett

Polytone Records



If John Hiatt made a gospel album, it would sound like Adam Everett’s If You Are Weary.

This eight-track collection of hymns and newly-composed songs, generously infused with southern soul horns, is the product of a new breed of young alt-gospel artists such as the Eagle Rock Gospel Singers (who opened for Everett’s album release party), Liz Vice and Eli “The Paperboy” Reed. Together, they are taking to church the Americana soul-country-rock melange refined by JJ & Co and Neko Case (who has covered some gospel on her albums).

The most resplendent moment on If You Are Weary is “Jesus (What Grace Have I Found in Thee).” Set in the rocking chair rhythm characteristic of traditional black gospel, the song builds in intensity as blue notes and organ speckle its countrified foundation.

‘There is Power,’ Adam Everett, from If You Are Weary

‘Pressing On,’ Adam Everett, from If You Are Weary

The uptempo “There is Power” has a camp meeting singalong feel, and “He is Risen (Undertaker Blues)” tells the tale of the Passion in a bluesy way but all the while cheering Jesus for not letting any grave hold his body down. Infused by lovely harmonies from the background vocalists, “Thank You Lord” is a paean of gratitude for favor in a time of trouble that seems never-ending. Throughout, Everett’s cadre of musicians demonstrate jam session cool.

The familiar songs on the album are the Gaithers’ “Because He Lives” and the 1907 hymn made popular by the Carter Family, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Everett’s take on each, however, is quite different from the original. In his hands, they become even more deeply personal and introspective.

If You Are Weary is a fine debut for Adam Everett and, true to its title, aims to cure what ails you.

Pick: “Jesus (What Grace Have I Found in Thee)”




‘…the purpose is more than spiritual…’


World Church Unites

Third World Vision



Gospel music has a higher purpose, and in the case of Maker of the Heavens, the purpose is more than spiritual. It’s about the very sustenance of life itself: water.

World Church Unites, the Lincolnton, North Carolina-based music ministry team for Third World Vision, released a CD of original music as a fundraiser to provide clean water technologies to parts of the world that suffer from a lack of clean water. Anyone who donates to the cause gets a copy of the CD in gratitude (while supplies last).

The seven original songs, all cut much from the same cloth, are earnest, melodic, megachurch-sized performances that focus for the most part on the importance of salvation. The opener, “It is Finished,” riffs on a dual interpretation of the title to depict how Jesus’s final words on the cross were not just about the completion of his earthly life, but the successful completion of his goal to save mankind. “To Be Saved” is another selection centered on Jesus’s dying so we may live. This focus on spiritual salvation parallels the project’s explicit intent to provide physical salvation to the poorest countries through supporting the World Church Unites Clean Water Mission.

‘It Is Finished,’ World Church Unites, from Maker of The Heavens

The album’s loveliest cut is “Spirit Breathe,” a liquid ballad about spiritual renewal that features a warm, throaty lead by Amber-Lee Garcia. Garcia sings background harmonies on many of the CD’s other tracks, but she deserves to be heard more often as a lead singer.

The World Church Unites band features thumping rock drums, electric guitar, and Parker Sipes’ rock stadium vocals. The group uses the contemporary pop music technique of pinning chiming musical motifs to song melodies to give track their instrumental hook. Although not listed as a formal member of World Church Unites, Mike Faircloth’s deft piano and synth work is featured prominently through the project.

Maker of the Heavens will appeal to CCM and Christian rock enthusiasts especially, but anyone who believes in clean water for everyone will discover that receiving the CD as a way of saying thank you makes it just as nice to receive as to give. To participate, visit http://worldchurchunites.org.

Pick: “Spirit Breathe”



Bob Marovich is a gospel music historian, radio announcer and author. His “Gospel Memories” radio program of vintage black gospel music and artist interviews airs live first Sundays from 3 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. on Chicago’s WLUW 88.7 FM, and streams live at the station’s website. Snippets of recent broadcasts can be heard online at the Gospel Memories Radio Show. Bob is also the founder and editor of The Black Gospel Blog, now the Journal of Gospel Music, the source for the reviews published here. Bob launched JGM on the tenth anniversary of The Black Gospel Blog, which he founded July 28, 2004, as the first blog to cover African American gospel music. His first book, Shout Troubles Over: The Birth of Gospel Music in Chicago, is scheduled for publication in March 2015 by the University of Illinois Press as part of its Music in American Life Series. Bob lives in Chicago with his wife, author Laurel Delaney, and their