Lonnie Hunter & The Voices of St. Mark
Next Level

Lonnie Hunter takes it to the next level, literally, on his sizzling sophomore album with The Voices of St. Mark, on Muscle Shoals Sound Gospel.

 CD Titled Next Level, Hunter and choir ratch it up a notch to deliver punchy choir fire, with all the innovative twists and turns that they are known for.

Musical director Daniel Weatherspoon ensures that his signature 'pocket sound' is put into play, and the Voices of St. Mark are in top form as they offer up 12 songs with contemporary style and traditional foundation.

The album was recorded live at the choir's home church in Harvey, Illinois —St. Mark's Missionary Baptist Church. Weatherspoon on keys is joined by Joey Woolfalk (guitar), Sharay Reed and Morris Euman (bass), Reginald Johnson (organ), brother Michael Weatherspoon and Cory Raymond (drums) and Raeshaun Wright on percussion.

Everything comes together on the opening selections as churning choir parts, that free-wheeling band and memorable melody mark pure choir cuts "Let's Dance" and "We've Come To Praise Him".

Pharis Evans Jr.'s "Get Back Satan" has Hunter and The Voices taking on a more traditional edge. Contrasting that are several grooving ballads. "Thank You 4 Caring For Lonnie HunterMe" has Hunter singing lead over percolating rhythm and keyboards, with multiple modulations.

Vashawn Mitchell's song "God Will Take Care of You" is short, running at just under one minute in length, but Hunter and Voices double it up, spicing up the second run by adding some innovative touches and making the congregation want more.

Bridgette Campbell-Johnson steps out on Hunter's new arrangement of "For God So Loved The World". Tender piano underpins strong choir vocals before the song turns a corner to build into her solo entrance, leading to a memorable high point on the project. Campbell-Johnson brings the right combination of reverence and intense awe to her interpretation of the essence of the Gospel message.

Songwriter Armirris Palmore has written for Yolanda Adams ("Let Us Worship Him"), Ricky Dillard ("Power In The Blood") and others. Here he writes a soft but powerful praise titled "You Alone Are Worthy" that is taken up by small "praise team" ensemble before they hand it off to The Voices of St. Mark, who bring it up a little in power.

Lonnie Hunter & The Voices of St. Mark do everything but disappoint on Next Level, providing more fuel to the argument that Chicago's choir scene is perhaps the most vibrant in the nation.

Producer: Lonnie Hunter, Daniel Weatherspoon
album release date: February 25, 2003
Muscle Shoals Sound Gospel

— review by Stan North

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