Chicago Mass Choir
Calling on You

Freshly established on their new label home, New Haven Records, traditional stalwarts Chicago Mass Choir mark the occasion with a strong effort that highlights some great songwriting and the stellar production of Percy Gray Jr.

With roots going back over thirty years as their predecessor The Ecclesiastes Community Choir, and to 1988 when they organized as Chicago Mass, the dozens that bring their voices together once again Calling on You CDdo not disappoint those with an ear for that never-die churchy vibe. Recorded live at Christ Unity Evangelistic Church, the praise feast is captured in all its richness.

Prime among the cuts is "Holy Ghost Power", propelled by soloist Lemmie Battles. Music director Jeral Gray Sr. drives a full band complement to its potential with its mix of tambourines, busy rhythms and pounding keys. Equally effective is "You Can’t Hurry God", with its wonderfully swampy instrumental drive and Robert Blair’s impassioned testimony.

Pierre Walker’s “If God Said It” and “Take It To Jesus” with choir president Dr. Feranda Williamson on lead also lend themselves to church stomp and shouts.

There’s some nicely finessed new-style traditional cuts on this project as well. That’s the sound you get when you layer contemporary inflections on a pew-solid traditional song base.

"God Is One Prayer Away" is such a song, with a groove laced with thuddy bass and guitar work from Eugene Harris and Joey Woolfalk and refreshing vocals from both Lewis Warrick and Percy Gray Jr. On "Just As I Am", the choir’s vocal burners are fired sky-high for a mass ride with a subtle Chicago Mass Choirshuffling rhythms tied to plenty activity on the B3. "Nobody But You" uses a stings/synth/rhythm track and alternate leads from David Holmes and Donyelle Henderson to glide into a mid-tempo groove.

On the smooth tip, you’ll find your ease on the choir cut "Time", which waxes that because ‘no man knows the day, no man knows the time’, that we need to do the best that we can do while we ‘still have time’. The title track is another softly tracking ballad, a reflection on our need for Jesus amidst all the craziness of the world. Patricia Clifton’s sensitive lead on this, her own composition, is perfectly suited to the tone of the expression in the song.

Calling On You satisfies those with that need for Chicago church as only Chicago Mass can deliver, while successfully transitioning at the same time to a related variety of other sounds. It’s a finely meshed collection from tracks one through thirteen.

Producer: Percy Gray, Jr.
album release date: March 6, 2001
New Haven Records

— reviewed by Stan North

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