One Nation Crew

Open up the CD liner to see the double-page photo spread, and you instantly know why Kirk Franklin calls this new group One Nation Crew. Listen to the album and you know another reason. One Nation Crew
Franklin moves forward with a fresh new sound with 1NC, a small multi-cultural ensemble with familiar, yet new and fresh vibes. Swirling together influences from the earth's many corners cements the concept of one nation —believers diverse in culture but absolutely unified in Jesus Christ. The project has definite pop overtones soundwise, but retains the urban base. And there's no skimping on scriptural content.

There's lots to dig into here (interludes too!), with perhaps the sleeper being "Unconditional". With spoken Spanish from 1NC's Sheila Ingram, it follows a typical Franklin flow, with the added umph of a latin percussive drive, and staccato accents of horns and keys delivering a heavy dose of flava. Acoustic guitar by Todd Parsnow, who strums to perfection throughout the project, is a noticeably welcome twist.

There's also "Be like Him" where Franklin stretches his world reach even further, tackling an arrangement of the African folk song "Kwaze Kwabonankala". The bass vocal pulse and percussion (by way of stomps, One Nation Crew CDclaps and snaps) set the pace of the tune, and is sure to delight the numerous South Africans that were so demonstrative of their support during The Nu Nation Tour (see video review) that hit that land. The tune also serves as the introduction of the vocal group Committed, who guest on the set.

Other song varieties go beyond the geographical and bring musical diversity into the mix. The rock riffs of the otherwise urban jam "Could've Been Me", the piano-backed, softer pop touches of "Lost Hearts" and the invitational "In Your Grace" featuring Jana Bell, serve this up.

At times, Franklin brings back some of the welcome elements that blessed so many in 1993, when he debuted with The Family. These similarities can especially be heard on songs such as "Free", a strong and moving ballad that sounds like it was written for Crystal Lewis (see review of her album). The exceptionally clean string arrangement by Jeremy Lubbock creates an open canvas on which the members of 1NC take their turn rendering smooth, and sometimes interlacing leads.

On that same tip is "Breath Away", a back-in-the-day groove that will put you in the mind of The Staple Singers, with stark harmonies, sparse instrumentation and ample leads by Markita Knight and Nathan Young. "When You Fall" is in the same camp, with Ashley Guilbert paring down for a simple, well expressed vocal, aptly combined with percussion from the incomparable jazz master, Paulinho Da Costa

Bobby Sparks continues his significant collaboration with Kirk, with keyboard and production input throughout. Noted producer Al West lends his bounce touch to several of the cuts, such as "Hands Up", which speaks for itself: "All my people put ya hands up, while ya trippin' and ya flippin' put ya hands up I'm praisin' God because I'm no joke, Devil tried to run up on me, got his neck broke!". This jeep track catapults its killer chorus into hook stratosphere with its combination of clever production effects and all-over vocals.

One Nation Crew"Nobody", the album's first single (and the one on which the first video is based), is another mega-cut and embraces creativity. Parsnow's tender acoustic guitar opening is quickly jarred by a slamming rhythm track and slick percussive effects. Possessing both Spanish and Italian verses as well as punctuated silences, the song bluntly offers Jesus as the only Source of joy through any and all of life's trials.

1NC is yet another Gospel triumph. Surviving the storms, trials and tribulations that fame brings, the lyrics on this disc show that Kirk Franklin has remained true to his Gospel calling, and God has seen fit to continue to pour anointed artistry into his vessel.

You can file these beautiful blends and wonderful moments of solo artistry as another crucial moment in Gospel.

Producers: Kirk Franklin, Al West, Bobby Sparks, Myron Butler
album release date: August 15, 2000
B-Rite Music

reviewed by Stan North and Melanie Clark

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