Darwin Hobbs

His debut solo project (Mercy) was characterized by an anointing pieced together in soulful song with the help of producers Fred Hammond and Victor and Cedric Caldwell (see review).

Darwin Hobbs turns around swiftly on Vertical, his sophomore project with EMI Gospel, by combining both some of the same, and some fresh twists too.

Darwin Hobbs CDProduction mainstays Victor and Cedric Caldwell return to the fold, and join forces with Tommy Sims, whose Positive Movement production house has blown notorious in recent years. A fascinating choice of guest artists also marks this effort.

Crucial to the album is the groovified "Cast All Your Cares", which harnesses the writing hooks of Angie Winans and the brothers Caldwell, is powered by the guitar finesse of Paul Jackson Jr., and features a strong chorus supporting Hobb's soulful delivery on lead.

The familiar voice of Donna Summer graces "When I Look Up". It's a softly soaring AC ballad about the liberty that Jesus brings, with Hobbs intertwining his pipes with Summer's exquisite phrasing over subtle bird twittering effects and a soft rhythm track. Written by the Caldwells with up-and-comer Hallerin Hill, it's a quiet full force gale, complete with backing vocals from Angie Winans.

Continuing on the guest artist theme, former Doobie Brother turned solo artist Michael McDonald joins his husky soul with Hobbs' rich tones on the head-bob track, Everyday. Fueled by musical elements of the Gap Band's "Outstanding", the Tommy Sims composition is an urban delight. Check these lines:

Surely the mercy of your love is in this place
I know that every day, come rain or shine
That it's mine all mine.

—from "Everyday"

On "So Amazing", Hobbs turns the tables on those who can't refrain from constantly comparing his vocal vibe to that of Luther Vandross. With his Gospel cover of this Vandross hit, Hobbs boldly tackles this comparison issue head on. No doubt he could easily be mistaken for the crooner, but with Hobbs' spirit of sensitivity infused throughout, there's no comparison on the deeper level. Virtue softly provides sweet backing vocals.

Michael McDonald

Michael McDonald contributed vocals to a couple of The Winans' projects (Decision and Back 2 Back) back when.

He's primarily known for his work with The Dobbie Brothers and Michael McDonaldSteely Dan, plus his own solo work.

Other hits have come in collaborations with James Ingram, Aretha Franklin, Kenny Loggins, Christopher Cross and Donna Summer (who also appears with Darwin Hobbs on this Vertical project).

Hobbs has stated that on this project, "every song was written strategically to represent some aspect of our relationship to God and His relationship to us" —hence the title Vertical, indicating that relationship.

So it's no surprise then, that the jewel in this CD jewel case is the medley of praise and worship ("Praise Medley"). It's on this soft, 8-minute, vocals-focused cut that Hobbs truly astounds with his range and selection of expression. The fact that he doesn't need vocal dramatics to do this speaks volumes to his gift. Holy praise tunes included are "El Shaddai", "You Are Holy", "You Are My Hiding Place" and "Great Is Your Mercy".

Set your alarm clock now, because you certainly don't want to sleep on this project. There's so much to love on this disk that you may not be able to handle it in one listen.

I'm still reeling.

Producers: Victor and Cedric Caldwell, Tommy Sims
album release date: May 9, 2000
EMI Gospel

reviewed by Stan North

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