All the Way, Live!!
Such is true for Integrity Gospel’s Lisa McClendon, a pioneer in Gospel’s neo-soul movement. With that, her name is immediately associated with soulful sounds, eclectic beats, and thought-provoking lyrics that, when combined, leave a lasting impression on all who listen.
So, it’s with great excitement that McClendon launches her third album, a highly anticipated live project titled Live at The House of Blues - New Orleans. GOSPELflava.com recently caught up with the talented artist during her recent tour, which goes by the name The Live Experience ‘06.
McClendon’s decision to pursue a live album for her third solo release seems like a profound concept.
“Actually, it was nothing deep,” laughs McClendon. “My manager had the idea and I wondered why we hadn’t thought of that. I think it was such a great thing to do because when you do what they call ‘neo-soul’, people who are not familiar with it don’t quite get it unless they see it live. It is an experience. A lot of things in music you can’t just capture by listening to radio. You have to actually be there to get it. So it was good that we did it.”
“It was recorded in New Orleans a couple of months before the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe,” continues McClendon. “It was different because I’ve never done a live album. So you have to depend on the band to get their part and the singers to get their part. Everyone pulled it out and did their thing and it was awesome. In the studio, of course, you can go back and fix this or that. When it’s live, it’s just one take. It’s a one-shot deal. I would like to do a live project again, maybe not for the next album but somewhere in the future.“
The first radio single from the project is “Move On Over”. The infectious track has made quite the impact on radio, but McClendon had initial misgivings regarding the song.
In light of the well-publicized tragedies of Hurricane Katrina, this project, emanating from New Orleans, holds great meaning and significance to McClendon.
“The greatest connection right now is that the band and the singers are all from New Orleans,” reveals McClendon. “I had a connection to New Orleans through them. Then we actually prepared for the album in New Orleans. You’re talking about flying there every weekend, coming home for a couple of days, then having to fly right back out. The main thing is that the people of New Orleans have supported me. That’s very special because there are a lot of people there who believe in what I am doing. Seeing that what I’m doing is so different, you’re more appreciative of the people that embrace what you’re doing. The fact that they support neo-soul Gospel so much gives me a great connection with the people of that city.”
The landscape of varying genres within the industry has changed, and the same is true within the neo-soul movement. Consequently, McClendon has grown careful to categorize her offerings as “neo-soul”. “I just see that neo-soul is becoming more R&B,” states McClendon. “Not to take anything away from R&B, but it’s like neo-soul is losing its own unique style. With that being said, that’s why when you hear the new album, it’s not neo-soul. It’s classic soul. We went back to the Al Green, the Aretha Franklin, and the Curtis Mayfield sound and feel. That’s when soul music had its own identity. Neo-soul has changed a lot. To me, the context is no different than what R&B is talking about. But there’s a lot more to the soul than things like ‘love’ and ‘you hurt my feelings’.“
With this soulful declaration, McClendon views her latest effort as the spiritual evolution of her life.
“The album is a sequel,” admits McClendon. “Anyone who has followed me since My Diary, Your Life (her first album), will see the progression of my life. The first album was about me just struggling. It’s about me struggling to stay holy, struggling to do what I know I’m supposed to do, with the flesh in the way. Then the second album, Soul Music, is where you can see me get victory in some areas and overcome in some areas.
On this new album, I’m totally free. Not to say that I don’t get tempted, but the Word of God speaks about being enslaved to sin. You can’t be a slave to God and a slave to sin. Right now, I’m just a slave to God. I’m not a slave to sin. Temptation may come to me, but I know who I am now and I know that I don’t have to fall. It’s just a victory album and an album of deliverance for me.”
In an era where artists often look to separate life from their craft, McClendon embraces the merging of these two and looks to carry the responsibility of a role model.
“I think my responsibility is just to keep doing what I’m doing. The Scriptures say that they overcame by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimonies. I feel like I would be robbing myself, God, the people of God, and everybody if I weren’t an artist that was transparent. Because I go through so much and I’m not afraid to be candid, I could care less what people think about me, sometimes…for the most part. I think that God can use that so I can get the message out that you are not the only person going through. It’s my responsibility to let that person know that you are not the only one who has fallen. I have, and I made it. Somebody else has, and they made it. You can make it as well.”
On occasion, Gospel artists are viewed through a jaded perspective if they are transparent about their flaws. However, McClendon feels that transparency is necessary for the body of Christ.
“Just read the Bible,” declares the soulful artist. “We know all of David’s business. We know all of Moses’ business. We know all of these peoples’ business. We know that the Word of God is inspired by God. Men may have written it, but it was by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit giving them what to write. He thought it not robbery to expose these people’s imperfections. Not that you go and tell all of your business. It’s not that. It’s a point of making sure that when the Lord has delivered you and the Holy Spirit says ‘Speak’, open your mouth and speak so that you can bring deliverance to someone else. We talk about other folks’ business. We talk about foolishness. But we can’t talk about the goodness of God so people can be delivered? So, if the Word of God can expose men throughout, why not expose yourself? We are encouraged by seeing that even after all that David did, he was still considered to be a man after God’s own heart.”
While influenced by expected soul legends such as Al Green and Aretha Franklin, one might not expect the soul artist to have heavy Gospel influences. However, the new album features a cover of an old Winans’ cut titled “Uphold Me”, which seems to declare that the legendary foursome is a major influence for McClendon.
“That was the hottest song on The Winans’ first album during that whole era,” says McClendon excitedly. “I remember thinking that I didn’t know that Gospel could be like this. I remember feeling that. Even before Ron Winans’ passing, we had decided to do this song. I just felt like we really needed to do this song. We needed to put a throwback in there and that’s how this song came about. It’s just crazy how God ended up calling him home, so we just thought it was perfect just to dedicate the song to him and his family.”
At her core, McClendon is a worshipper, so it’s no surprise to find worship cuts sprinkled throughout each of her projects. “You Are Holy”, found on her Soul Music album garnered much fanfare and proved to be a smash hit for McClendon.
“The funny thing about that song is that I had never heard the original version,” admits McClendon. “One of my musicians introduced the song to me by singing it to me in the studio. I only heard the original version [by Michael W. Smith] like a year and a half after we recorded it.”
“Breathe” is my favorite all-time worship song. I love that song, so I had to do it. The producer that was working with me at that time came up with a nice feel to it and I just love it. On this album, we did another Integrity song called “Joy of My Desire”. It was just the perfect song because He is the joy of my desire. We hadn’t heard it before and we needed to be refreshed with that song.”
This new album was more than just a live experience for McClendon. “I did more work on this project than I’ve ever done,” states the Florida native. “I engineered and produced the album along with Maurice Henderson from Shabach Entertainment. Aside from the production, this was a live experience, so we had to have singers. There’s a new group coming out called Soul. They were my background singers. Jerry Henderson served as my music director. Dave P. Stevens, my writing buddy, wrote one of the songs, “You Loved Me”. There were just a lot of great people that came in and helped out with the album.”
Over time, McClendon can see both musical and personal growth through her artistic journey.
“Today, I’m not just an artist,” says McClendon. “When I first started out with Shabach, I was just an artist. I was a writer and an artist. Today, I’ve found that there’s more depth to me than just getting on stage and singing and writing. I’m now an author. I just wrote a book called Diamond Girl: A Mother’s Love and a Daughter’s Inspiration. It’s a book of wisdom from mothers to daughters. I’ve grown in the business. It’s important for me to know the business and not just sign on the dotted line to be an artist and be seen on TV. I think a lot of artists come in and just want to be famous. It’s not about that. You have to be a good businessman or businesswoman. I believe it makes our Father proud when we’re taking care of business and we’re not just looking for a check. You don’t want to find out years later that you’ve been taken advantage of. Today, I’m a smart businesswoman.”
With the declining moral state of popular music these days, McClendon really sees the platform shifting towards a mainstream run for Gospel music.
“I think that not just the church but the world is getting tired of the same things,” says McClendon. “People are running out of things to talk about. You can only talk about booty and stuff for so long. You know? I think the world is getting tired of it. That’s why people are embracing people like Kanye West, who talks about more than just stuff like that, if he talks about any of it at all. People want hope. Just think about the disasters that we’ve experienced over the last decade. People are searching. They may not admit it, but I believe that behind closed doors, Gospel music is really a tool that the Lord is using to minister to people in and outside of the church.”
Without question, McClendon is back and ready to provide soulful and soul-filled healing and inspiration with her live experience and new release. She’s poised to continue building a legacy complete with powerful and effective music highlighted by skilled artistry and a transparency that makes ministry palatable.
All of this is sure to keep Lisa McClendon on the cutting edge of Kingdom building while propelling her up the musical charts.
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