"A Streak of Flava Runs Through Them"

Lately in Gospel music, the blurring of musical styles and the integration of novel influences has become increasingly common.

With the popularity of Latin sounds, the broadening influence of hip-hop beyond its underground roots, and the intrigue of musical exploration that many artists are drawn towards, things are not always what they seem.

So hereís our take on a few recent Christian recordings that are united in their diversity, and bound together by the streak of flava that runs through them.

Nicole C. Mullen
Nicole C. Mullen
Myrrh Records
Nicole C. Mullen CD Nicole C. Mullen seems to be able to do what the Gospel music industry and CCM market struggle with. Her debut solo project neither ignores, nor relies on racial issues. In her song selection, she talks both about the racial heritage she inherited and the one she has chosen for her future. "Black, White, Tan" shares her view and God's view about that. The projects strengths are in its genuineness and honesty, and of course, its musical prowess.

Mullen, who you may be familiar with as the voice of Larry on Veggietales, or as the writer of Jaci Velasquez's smash single "On My Knees", possesses a wonderfully expressive voice and writing ability. Highlights include the folky, guitar-driven "Fly"and similarly-structured "Shooby". She reclaims "On My Knees" as her own, and in other places, uses balladry to display her lovely voice. While some might pigeon-hole Mullen to the CCM side of the spectrum, the quality and realness is much broader reaching than that —if you let it be.

Myrrh Records
Salvador CD Newcomers to the scene, Salvador is a young band with a latin vibe pulsing through their musical expression. Thatís not surprising, considering that the six come from a strong hispanic heritage, most calling Texas their home. The album is supported by some of CCMís most respected producers (Monroe Jones, Dan Posthuma), so itís perhaps not too surprising to hear an overall sound that is more Ďpop with a latin twistí than Ďlatiní. Maybe thatís the overall aim of this introductory effort (to appeal to both the pop and the latin market).

Still, the promise that Salvador show here makes you shake your head at would they would sound like with a lot more salsa and little less of the standard rock/pop approach. Perhaps the answer to that can be found on their fascinating interpretation of Fred Hammond and RFCís 1996 hit, "When The Spirit of the Lord" (retitled as "Davidís Dance" on this disc), with its hefty dose of conga rhythms and steamy brass. (Salvador's website.)

Plus One
The Promise
142/Atlantic Records
Plus One CD The pop sounds of Plus One would normally would fall outside the bounds of our coverage here at GospelFlava.com, but even the briefest rundown of the players involved on this very splashy boy band debut means that we have to take a second look. Names such as Buster and Shavoni and Rodney Jerkins will certainly cause Gospel hands to check this one out. Other notables stepping in include Robbie Nevil (Brandy, Monica) and Bradley Spalter (Babyface). It also marks the debut project from super-producer David Foster's new Christian label, 143 (the album is jointly released with Atlantic).

This album delivers what it promises, for the most part: finely-harmonized pop with a groove, and some nice melodies. But donít be confused. The involvement of some of urban Gospelís biggest names doesnít mean that youíll find a heap of jeep tracks. Rather, in a reflection of their respective talents, it's a showcase of how good producers aren't confined to one sound only.

While it's doubtful that Gospel radio will find much to fit in their format, the The Promise still offers some fascinating insights. (Plus One's website.)

John Reuben
Are We There Yet?
Gotee Records
John Reuben CD The latest in a recent stream of pop-influenced Gospel hip-hop projects comes from Gotee Records, and is the work of a 21-year-old Ohio native of Jewish descent. Defying expectations from heads of all sorts, Are We There Yet is an inventful collection of honest worship that no doubt has hip-hop as its root. Yet, it's layered with a collage of guitar-heavy alternative and rock influences that unmistakeably seep through several tracks.

This is not an earnest attempt at building bridges, yet it probably will. And with the honesty and self-deprecating style that he exhibits, you never get a 'wannabe' vibe. Proof at just how fresh this project is comes by way of the artist's name, for here's an MC that takes the bold step of using his own. John Reuben.

ó reviewed by Melanie Clark, Stan North ó

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