Time & Seasons

They're back with a little different look, but with the tried and true Commissioned sound. True to form, their latest project is stuffed with urban jams, slow grooves and smooth vocals painted over a scriptural foundation that has brought the Detroit group the respect of the Gospel world for over a decade.

With Time & Seasons being the first project since the departures of both Marvin Sapp andTime & Seasons CD Montrel Darrett, some have already dismissed the group as 'has beens'. Those doing so have greatly underestimated the vision of mainstay anchors Mitchell Jones and Karl Reid. Credit these co-founding members with perseverance, holding down the fort, and having the faith to forge ahead, as they welcome newcomers Marcus Cole and Chris Poole into the crew.

Detroit area natives both, Cole and Poole don't come short of Gospel credentials. Cole has already impressed with a recent solo project, and Poole has Motown Gospel in his blood, having previously sung with Marvin Winans, Vickie Winans and the legendary Mattie Moss Clark. But it's in the listening that it becomes obvious how much these two are perfect for the fit.

With Cole's seasoned old-school vocals blending perfectly, and with Poole's grittier offerings texturing the sessions, Commissioned frequently gives the rookies a major piece of the action on this CD, and not just with vocals. Songwriting, production and instrumentation credits are peppered throughout as well.

Contributing to the blend is the inclusion of Gary Crawford and Michael Allen in production and songwriting capacities. With recent album credits on Lexi's resurgent entry into the Gospel scene, both play a hefty role in imparting urban flair to Time & Seasons.

You'll quickly find you head bobbing to "Glorious Praise", with its hook-laced chorus and synth sounds. The voice box takes prominence on the track, performed by Rufus Troutman. (The nephew of the famed voice box pioneer, the late Roger Troutman, is a Gospel artist in his own right, and makes his first major label debut as a guest artist.) Also on the song, is Michael J. Mindingallís Communion. The locally-renowned Detroit choir provides wonderfully resonant backing vocals.

"Testify" is another Gospel jam, speaking of 'overcoming by our testimony'. Cole takes the spotlight on the cut, his rootsy vocals supported by an ingeniously catchy, looping, falsetto track with lyrics of "Oh...that's what he's done". The cut is preceded by an interlude bringing memories of ol' time testimony service, which abruptly cuts to be immediately followed by the sudden urban intro to "Testify". At first, the mix of the old and the new sounds strange, but the transition is so unusual that it works, and after repeated play, it stands out as ingenuity. It also serves to emphasize that although the sound of the praise may change with the times, our testimony of Jesus Christ remains consistent.

Following up on the theme of love that was the strong point on their last album (Irreplaceable Love), Commissioned tackles a wedding anthem, "One Love". Written by Shannon Davis and Gary Crawford, it's an appropriately slow ballad of classic Commissioned smooth soul, conditioned by the jazz guitar of Tim Bowman. On "Walk Right, Talk Right", the transition proceeds to slow funk, as Marcus Cole's tune sets up an easy riding lyrical Commissionedcontinuum, self-explained by the song title. Then there's "You Are Forgiven", an 8-minute harmonic powerhouse with gorgeous arrangements, a potent message and plenty of punch. Vying for honors as the album's trophy track, it's pure ministry.

"Barach You" takes you straight into live worship, with a concert sound reminscent of any Commissioned event you've ever been to. With buzzing guitar riffs and alternate unison and harmony vocal segments, Cole handles lead vocals on the cut, which he co-wrote with Mitchell Jones.

On the 'back in the day' tip, there's two qualifiers. Jones' re-arrangement of "Ordinary Just Won't Do" (originally written by Jones and long-time Commissioned cohort, Parkes Stewart, from the 1989 album of the same name), is a nice example of how a skilled remix can make the familiar fresh again. Also reminiscent of earlier Commissioned is "Psalms 84", which has a gliding vibe emphatic on group vocals. The fact that Cole wrote this song is reassuring proof that this 'new Commissioned' is not only setting trends with current vibes, but has retained the group's memory, and is capable of reaching back to their roots —even with the new members.

With a very generous 19 tracks (15 songs, 4 interludes), sometimes the distinction between songs tends to blur. While it may called consistency, it's true that some greater diversity would have been welcome. It's really the only drawback to the project.

History alone says that this new project from Gospelís supergroup deserves close scrutiny. The music and the ministry on this disc insist on it.

Producers: Mitchell Jones, Marcus Cole, Michael Allen
album release date: February 22, 2000
Verity Records

ó reviewed by Stan North ó

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