Fill This House – Shirley Caesar

Shirley Caesar
Fill This House (2016)
eOne Music 
By Libra Boyd
Fill This House is Pastor Shirley Caesar’s most refreshing body of musical work in recent years.  Many who bought the project, helping it debut at number one on the Billboard Top Gospel Album chart, will probably agree.
The album kicks off with the immediately infectious “It’s Alright, It’s OK,” featuring soulful R&B singer and fellow North Carolinian, Anthony Hamilton.  Following the opening track, she takes us straight to church with the testimony-charged “He Won’t Fail You,” praise-break inducing “Survive This” with Bishop Hezekiah Walker, and worshipful title song “Fill This House.”
Although head-bobbing comes standard with “Need Him Now,” the traditional-contemporary groove is the backdrop for sobering social commentary:

Look at all of the trouble today–war and killing flooding the land
You know it’s time to pray
No prayer in the schoolhouse, and wrong is right in the White House
We need Him right away…

During the last ten seconds, crank up the volume and check out some of Pastor Caesar’s wordless improvisational sweetness.
Having recorded more “mama” songs than perhaps any other gospel recording artist, it is entirely appropriate that Fill This House also features a matriarchal ode of sorts—this one to the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church, site of the devastating Charleston church massacre.  “Mother Emanuel,” penned by Chip Davis and Dony and Reba Rambo-McGuire, is the poignant, moving standout of the project, elevated in emotion when President Obama begins to read the names of the victims. 
“Prayer Works,” written by V. Mike McKay, brings Fill This House to a high energy, inspirational end and solidifies the project’s place among the great releases of 2016. 

The saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  There is certainly nothing broken or in need of a fix when it comes to the music of Pastor Caesar and the writing and production of her longtime music director, Michael Mathis.  Still, their collaborations with this project’s host of creative writers, producers, musicians, and background singers has reinvigorated the Caesar sound and brought out the best in one of the best to ever sing or preach a gospel message

I have never made such a bold prediction and do not know what the rest of the year holds for highly anticipated music releases, but I believe Fill This House may net the reigning queen of gospel Grammy number twelve. 

“It’s Alright, It’s OK” – “Need Him Now”

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SWELTERIN’ (5 of 5 Stars)

‘Remember Me’—’Live’ In Concert – The New Christianaires

The New Christianaires "Remember Me"—"Live" In Concert cover artThe New Christianaires
“Remember Me”—”Live” In Concert
Carter Classic Records (2014)

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

“Remember Me”—”Live” In Concert
is the latest album by The New Christianaires, whose traditional quartet style intermingled with new school arrangements gives the Florida-based group its modern edge.

Recorded live in Louisiana at House of Praise COGIC, “Remember Me”—”Live” In Concert is bursting with spiritual energy, both from the New Christianaires and their lively hand-clapping audience.  There’s no lack of singing talent in this group; all the members are lead singers.  For this project, the lead tasks are shared among Jarmain Hawthorne, Elvis Brumfield, Jr., Clint Walker, George Carter, Sr., and Joe Mitchell.  On several of the album’s 14 tracks, pairs of them tag-team to get the job done.  Their soul-steeped vocals shine brightly on “Lord I Thank You,” “Still Standing,” and “I Feel the Spirit.”  Sonorous drum and bass lines in the cantering tracks (like “When You Think” and “One of These Old Mornings”) and seamless chord progressions in the mildly paced ones (like “Praise Him” and “Trust Me”), enliven the singers’ harmonies.

The project’s title tune, “Remember Me,” encapsulates the group’s overall sound well, but “Trouble Won’t Last” and “Jesus” turn out to be particularly interesting because of Brumfield’s vintage soul vocal texture and delivery.

The New Christianaires were formed in 2010 by Carter, who was an original member of the Legendary Christianaires from Suntag, Mississippi.  In 2014, the group took home the Rhythm of Gospel Award for Quartet Group of the Year.

Fever Meter

SMOKIN’ (4 of 5 Stars)


“When You Think” – “Jesus” – “Trust Me”

Clara Ward and the Famous Ward Singers Recordings 1949-1958

Clara Ward and the Famous Ward Singers
Recordings 1949-1958
Gospel Friend (2013) 

Clara Ward and the Ward Singer cd cover

By Libra Boyd, Founder & Editor
Gospel Music Fever

Fans of Golden Era gospel will enjoy the current release on the Gospel Friend imprint, Clara Ward and the Famous Ward Singers. Strolling, strutting, and sometimes shouting down Memory Lane with Clara Ward and the ladies presents 25 reasons “famous” managed to work its way into the group’s name.

Step back at least 55 years, and you will hear gospel singing at its finest. Prior to the days of heavy studio overdubs, electronic instruments, and pitch correction software, there were skilled voices honed from raw talent. Frances Steadman, Henrietta Waddy, Thelma Jackson, Willa Ward Royster (to whom the CD is dedicated), Marion Williams, and Clara were all top-notch lead vocalists. On this particular CD, Marion Williams–the only bona fide gospel artist to date to receive a Kennedy Center Honor–leads several of the numbers, including one of their hits, W.H. Brewster’s “I’m Climbing Higher and Higher” and her self-written “I’ll Be There.”  In contrast to Marion’s robust delivery is Clara’s refined soprano on Robert Anderson’s “Prayer Changes Things,” as well as Willa’s recognizable timbre on “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” and Frances Steadman’s stirring near-baritone on “God’s Amazing Love.”

As I said earlier, forget about the presence of the studio enhancements that give a lot of today’s gospel its marketable sound.  You won’t find them on this CD. What you’ll find are pure and piping unobstructed vocals complemented by piano and organ on the earliest dated tracks, and then drums and “sacred steel” guitar as the 1950s ushers in additional musical accompaniment.

I do not own Clara Ward and the Famous Ward Singers on vinyl, so I am ecstatic that producer Per Notini of Sweden has made this collection available in a format that gospel music aficionados can enjoy for years to come. If this reissue is ice cream, then the cherry on top is Robert Sacré’s comprehensive liner notes with photos interspersed.

In the United States, Clara Ward and the Famous Ward Singers is available at

“Prayer Changes Things” – “God’s Amazing Love” 

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SMOKIN’ (4 of 5 Stars)

History: Complete Early Recordings – The Yancey Family Singers

The Yancey Family Singers
History: Complete Early Recordings
Yancey Family Ministries (2013)

Yancey Family Singers cover art

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

The Yancey family is to the North Carolina city of Oxford what the Winans are to Detroit.  Full of singing, writing, and musical talent, the 11-sibling family has shared their brand of traditional gospel throughout the region for decades; it’s a legacy passed on to them by their parents, Melcina and the late Willie G. Yancey.  Their longtime supporters probably own the first vinyl records released under the name The Yancey Family Singers.  For younger ones like me—who own the more recent CDs and mp3s by those who’ve become solo artists in their own right—it’s a real treat to be able to step back in time via History: Complete Early Recordings, a 30-track double-disc compilation of the family’s early LPs and 45s.  The Yanceys are grateful to collector John Glassburner who supplied them with several of the hard-to-find original recordings that they were not able to easily access.

The CD set features music from two of their 1970’s albums, God Brought Us From A Mighty Long Way and Mind Your Own Business as well as several singles.  The set also includes two early 70’s tracks from The Yancey Glorietts, younger siblings of The Yancey Family Singers.  The presentation of the early performances is as initially recorded, and there doesn’t appear to have been any remixing or remastering (which may explain the volume adjustments you’ll need to make and the clipping you’ll hear on just a few of the tracks).  Among the standouts is “God Brought Us From A Mighty Long Way,” a retrospective musical narrative through which Willie N. Yancey recalls the family’s humble beginnings—when there were only four siblings and their father worked for a meager wage (60¢/hour), while Mother Yancey handmade their clothes to help make ends meet. Yet, “we were thankful…He brought us from a mighty long way.”

The compilation boasts its share of homespun quartet selections, including the punchy “Jesus Never Let Me Down” and sauntering “He Loves Me”—both of which hint at stylings of the Williams Brothers and Jackson Southernaires.  One might even think the Keynotes’ Paul Beasley showed up for a vocal workout, but it’s actually the keen falsetto of Willard Yancey on “Jesus Don’t Leave Me.”  Another tune, “Poor Man Cry,” ambles into country music territory and still another, “Pray for the Nation,” wallows in bluegrass as it tugs on our social consciousness.

The folksy “God’s and Satan’s War” puts sister Susie out front, while “I Had A Dream” and “You And God” are respectively plaintive and cautionary, capturing the piping vocals of a preteen Larry Yancey on the former and a barely teen Gloretta McNeil née Yancey on the latter.  Along with a pair of “mother” songs, the remaining numbers are quintessential Yancey gems that bespeak Dorothy Norwood’s endorsement of the singing family as the “best kept secret of Granville County.”  Of course, in the minds of all the Yanceys’ longtime friends, fans, and followers far and near, the secret has long been out.

“God Brought Us From A Mighty Long Way” – “He Loves Me”- “I Had A Dream”

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SMOKIN’ (4 of 5 Stars)

The Hymns of the Church – Reverend Lawrence Thomison

Reverend Lawrence Thomison
Reverend Lawrence Thomison Sings The Hymns of the Church
Indie (2011)
Available at CD Baby 

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

In case there is doubt about whether or not there’s still room for hymns in today’s churches, let Rev. Lawrence Thomison assure you in the affirmative with his fittingly titled CD Reverend Lawrence Thomison Sings The Hymns of the Church, produced by Jonathan Winstead and Chris Carr.

Backed by a 40-voice
choir with singers from the Nashville and Memphis areas, Thomison relies
heavily on his traditional gospel background to pour out each of the 11 sacred tracks
with fervor.  His charisma is as infectious on the handclapping “On the
Battlefield” (featuring Jennifer Selvy-Carr) and mostly a cappella “Let Jesus Lead You” as his worship is tangible on “Great Is
Thy Faithfulness,” over Julius Fisher’s soothing piano accompaniment.  Even a contemporized version of “Thank You Lord” has ample traditional flavor to be well received in either
style of worship.

In addition to Selvy-Carr’s appearance, other tag team efforts on this project are notable too. The always soulful Wess Morgan guests on “Yes, God Is
Real,” as does Michelle Prather on “Have A Little Talk With Jesus,” lifting every round of the bluesy, horn-laced song higher and higher as Rev. Thomison, choir, and band thrust her forward.

If you’ve actually seen him perform during his tenure with Dr.
Bobby Jones and the Nashville Super Choir–or even as a soloist–you’ll
wonder how Rev. Thomison managed to stand stationary at a studio mic long
enough to record “Blood Medley” without hotfooting like one whose shoes are ablaze, especially when he transitions from the Crouch
classic “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power” to uptempo selections “Power in the Blood” and “Oh The Blood of Jesus” before the climactic “I Know It Was the

Four additional hymns round out this churchy offering to make it
an enlivening interpretation of the music that has ushered many a
generation through the jerks and snatches of life.  Surely, if you think of hymns like a cached webpage on a newly updated website, then Reverend Lawrence Thomison Sings The Hymns of the Church is like hitting “Refresh” on your Internet browser.

“Have A Little Talk With Jesus” “The Blood Medley” 

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SIMMERIN’ (3 of 5 Stars)

Churchy Christmas/Joy to the World – Beverly Crawford & JDI Christmas

Beverly Crawford and JDI Christmas
Churchy Christmas / Joy to the World
JDI Records (2012)
By Libra Boyd

You need not hear anything beyond this CD’s opening track to understand exactly why it’s called Churchy Christmas.

If your spirits need uplift this holiday season, Beverly Crawford and her labelmates at JDI Records have just what you need. Crawford herself kicks off Churchy Christmas with “Joy to the World,” a traditional Christmas carol recorded live in Dallas that she transforms into a high energy fire-starter. She’s backed by the 200-voice Antioch Fellowship Voices of Praise. (GMF recently shared the official video.)  The scorcher is followed by Shanika Bereal’s “Precious Lamb of God” and Gary Mayes and Nu Era’s “Don’t 4get the Baby,” featuring the sensational Nakitta Clegg Foxx (of the Kurt Carr Singers).  Both selections stand out beautifully for tenderly rendered vocals.

But it’s not just the ladies who deliver on this project.  Professor James Roberson ministers a flawless interpretation of the BeBe Winans ballad “I Wanna Be More,” and Patrick Lundy and The Ministers of Music sprinkle in some Yuletide funk with the bouncy “Emmanuel” (written by Cedric Thompson).  Earnest Pugh comes along and serenades the Savior on the jazzy “Hosanna” (which hints ever so slightly to Kool & the Gang’s “Joanna”), elevating the chorus after announcing, “I feel a key change in the house right here!” There’s still room for one more drive though, and that belongs to Chester D.T. Baldwin on “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” backed by a jubilant choir and band as he takes us on modulation after modulation.
Genita Pugh (“Holy to the Lamb”) and saxophonist Donald Hayes (“What Child Is This”) round out Churchy Christmas, making this CD one of the nicest and churchiest I’ve heard this season.
“Joy to the World” – “Don’t 4get the Baby” – “Holy to the Lamb”

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SMOKIN’ (4 of 5 Stars)

Victory – Douglas Miller

Douglas Miller
Universal Music (1993) 

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

A few weeks back, Douglas Miller shared a copy of his CD, Victory, with me.  Although it was one of his releases from the early 90’s, his music reminds one why some gospel songs are hopelessly dated while others are auspiciously timeless.

As one of the most recognizable voices in gospel, Miller’s uptempo choir numbers like “Soldier,” “Victory” (the title track), and the churchy-fied “Trouble Won’t Last Always” carry both a sound and message for Sunday morning 2012 (especially if the church minister of music wants to give the choir baritone a solid lead vocal).  With Miller’s rich tone resonating clearly and beautifully throughout, the slow selections work, too.

While none of the 10 tracks stands up to the classic “My Soul Has Been Anchored,” the flavor of Victory whets one’s appetite for something new by one of the industry’s most unique voices.

“Trouble Won’t Last Always”

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SIMMERIN’ (3 of 5 Stars)

The Best of Elder Goldwire McLendon – Elder Goldwire McLendon

Elder Goldwire McLendon
The Best of Elder Goldwire McLendon
Music World Gospel (2012)

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Many viewers of BET’s Sunday Best 3 were captivated by Elder Goldwire McLendon from the moment he mesmerized judges Donnie McClurkin, Kim Burrell, and Tina Campbell at his audition with the Gaither hymn “He Touched Me.”  He went on to delight audiences every week with his velvet vocals and “soft-shoe shuffle” when the Spirit moved him.  Ultimately, the elder and former pastor became the runner-up to Le’Andria Johnson in the finale.  The fans he picked up along the way have anxiously awaited the release of his new project–The Best of Elder Goldwire McLendon–which features seven new recordings of the songs he wowed audiences with throughout the music contest.

At 81 years old, Elder McLendon may be new to the broader gospel community, but he is a legend in Philadelphia, where he was a member of Savoy recording group The Savettes, and where he was honored at Philadelphia’s First Annual Living Legend Music Awards (alongside Chubby Checker, Dee Dee Sharp, and Billy Paul).

Certainly, Elder McLendon has the skill and anointing to invoke the Holy Spirit’s presence.  It was a younger Goldwire McLendon who sang at the 1970 funeral of Ruth Davis, lead singer of the Golden Era gospel group, The Davis Sisters.  According to Anthony Heilbut’s book, The Gospel Sound, when he sang “Just to Behold His Face,” gospel icon Clara Ward “fell out, hollering long, loud, eminently musical shrieks.”

If there’s a number on The Best of Elder Goldwire McLendon that could create a similar effect, I imagine it would be “The Battle Is the Lord’s,” especially if it were to be experienced live.  “Jesus Be A Fence Around Me” may not make you fall out, but hand-clapping, toe-tapping, and head-bobbing are probable.  It’s in the vamp especially, that Elder McLendon rhythmically riffs over a funky organ driven musical backdrop, inserting phrases like “can’t no devil penetrate that fence” and “don’t leave no gap in between Lord.”

Not surprisingly, McLendon is very much at home with hymns, as is obvious by his equal parts simple and stirring rendition of “How Great Thou Art,” over lone piano accompaniment, and by his polished tenor on the traditional “I Know It Was the Blood.”  On the latter, he swings occasionally into a deliciously sweet falsetto before taking you to church in the vamp.  He does similarly on his cover of Edwin Hawkins’ “O Happy Day.”  Also for your listening and swaying pleasure are his covers of Alvin Darling’s “He’s All Over Me” and “I’ll Take You There,” popularized by the Staples Singers.  

With clean production by Stanley Brown and the tunes that kept the elder at the top week after week, my only disappointment is that this isn’t a live project with a companion DVD.

“How Great Thou Art” – “I Know It Was the Blood” – “O Happy Day”

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SMOKIN’ (4 of 5 Stars)

Speak Myself Free – Robert Jamison and Victory

Robert Jamison and Victory
Speak Myself Free
RJM Publishing (2011)

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

Robert Jamison and Victory are on a mission to spread the hope and joy of salvation to all who will receive their message.  The Kentucky native and his gospel ensemble are off to a fairly good start with their four-song introductory project, Speak Myself Free.

Described by Jamison as “good ol gospel music,” the CD opens and closes with two uptempo tracks (“Warfair” and “Can’t Find A Friend”).  The slow ones (“Speak Myself Free” and “I Cannot Make It”) are sandwiched in the middle.  All were written, produced, and arranged by Kyri Demby.

“I Cannot Make It” is the best of the foursome.  Tonya Thomas’s soprano really soars just as the song passes the five-minute mark.  Jamison takes the lead on the last number, “Can’t Find A Friend.”

Constructively speaking, the CD doesn’t quite hit the mark musically.  There are pitch problems in a few spots with both the lead and choir vocals, which a bit more rehearsal time and fine-tuning could remedy.  Were I watching the ensemble perform live, perhaps I wouldn’t notice the lengthy intros to “Warfair” and “I Cannot Make It” (forty seconds and one full minute, respectively), plus the latter features nice guitar work by Mark “Lupe” Hamilton.

Robert Jamison and Victory are on the right track with their mission and their zeal, and they’ve already taken hold of opportunities to share their music with radio markets in Chicago and Dallas.  I’m looking forward to the choir’s growth as they persist in developing their gifts and talents.

“I Cannot Make It”

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WARM (2 of 5 Stars)

My Purpose – Genita Pugh

Genita Pugh
My Purpose
Eternity Records (2011)

By Libra Boyd
Gospel Music Fever

You won’t hear any vocal acrobatics on Genita Pugh’s current CD.  What you will hear, though, is the heart of a pastor with a passion for her purpose: worship.  My Purpose is a most fitting title for the no-frills alto vocalist’s current project.

The set opens with “Can’t Live,” borrowed from R. Kelly’s “Can’t Sleep.”  From there, “Open My Eyes,” “You Were There for Me,” and “In the Presence of the Lord” deliver a pleasant listening and worship experience.  “Who Can?” does the same, albeit with an uptempo head-bobbing bounce.

Pugh doesn’t neglect her roots, though.  The founder and pastor of Original Worship Ministry has old-fashioned church Mississippi-style with her self-penned toe-tapper “All the Ways of You” and the mid-tempo “Die to Myself.”  Even with this pair of tunes, Pugh stays in her lane–avoiding feverish riffs and vocal cartwheels–supporting the adage that less is sometimes more.  She does give some oomph to the urbanesque “Do You Love the Lord?” an upbeat track accented with beastly slap bass and mean horn swells.

Produced by James Roberson (JDI Music), this project melds nice selections, good writers and musicians, and a singer who is grateful to know her purpose.

“Can’t Live” – “Open My Eyes” – “In the Presence of the Lord”

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SIMMERIN’ (3 of 5 Stars)