Londa Larmondís solo debut has already lit ears on fire on the merits of the mega-bounce single, "Once" that appeared on the WOW Gospel 2001 project. That promise turns into solid reality on her studio project Love Letters.Producers: Mookie, Alex Ward, Sanchez Harley, Montrel Darrett, Carlos Pennell
album release date: June 19, 2001
'Fresh' would be the appropriate word here, from tracks one through ten. The Toronto native shows herself to be versatile in her adaptation to a diversity of styles and production approaches. And through the wealth of musical streams that Larmond wades though, she retains an undeniable tone of self-sufficiency that indicates the security she has in her own testimony, her own message and her own voice.
That security can be heard in her Gospel cover of Maxwellís "Ascension (Donít Ever Wonder)". Under the production guidance of Michael-Anthony Taylor (Mooki), Larmond rips the song on vocals, letting the funky drums, guitar and keyboard track do its thing, but not relying on that alone to carry the song. Lashun Pace covered the same song on her Just Because God Said It project, and it could have been easy for Larmond to let that version influence her own interpretation. To her credit, she never lets that happen, and easily finds, and brings out her own voice on the song.
The same trap is sidestepped on the several cuts produced by Alex Asaph Ward. The Kansas City-based producer is known for his wonderful work with Kim Burrell on her acclaimed Everlasting Life project. With Larmond, Ward is given the opportunity to work with a voice that has many of the same colors, tones and textures as Burrellís famous pipes. How easy it surely would have been for either party to slip into a "Londa Larmond does Kim Burrell" vibe.
Instead, on the three cuts where they are paired, ("He Lives", "Heís All Right With Me" and "Hold On"), Larmond and Ward work to deliver some of nicest material to be heard in Gospel today. Larmond is equally at home with these finely-gravelled, churchy-touched, old school/new soul deliveries as she is in front of the jamming-est grooves laid to disc. For those wanting to hear those finely nuanced vocal turns and tosses, on par at times with classic Clark Sister vocal approach, thereíll be no disappointment.
About those grooves, itís not merely the reinforced heavy-duty, jeep variety such as you hear on "Once" and "Ascension" that show up on Love Letters. Mookie also gets behind a finely patterned melody, "I Delight In You" that shows a groove intensity on a more mellow tip. String flourishes, snaps and guitar musings float this gem into Larmondís airy vocal streams, with some nice backing vocal touches from Mooki and Wendi Moten. Lyrically, the song is on point with the other material on this strongly thematic project ; the emphasis is consistently on the incredible intimacy and depth of relationship that Jesus Christ desires to have with us.
The title track also easily finds that essence of light groove, the gentle vocal hooks and Montrel Darrettís soul-laden production prowess etching themselves into mind. On "Better Days", another Mookie-penned and Mookie-produced song, Darwin Hobbs joins Larmond in lightly jazzed duet for an appealing combination of vocal textures.
Rounding out the album are an ode to brotherly love from Darrettís pen, produced by Carlos Pennell, and with Anointed helping out on vocals ("Help Him Stand"), plus a very catchy Sanchez Harley number, ("Itís All Up To You").
If you have to catch one new artist (read interview with Londa), surely this is the album to snag. Love Letters has all the hallmarks of making the yearís top Gospel projects, and certainly Londa Larmond seems bound for new artist award territory.
reviewed by Stan North ó
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