Levels of Life

Ever seen a project on the shelf, and start wondering...hey!..is this a Gospel CD? Sometimes it's hard to tell. Track titles don't always tip the hand, and liner notes are sometimes no better. And often, it's something important to know. So, once in a while, GospelFlava.com will take a look at such projects.

While Evander Holyfield's Real Deal Records has made some noise with solo Gospel artists such as Lexi and Nuwine, this project marks the first group to come from the fledgling label.

Shalom enters with their debut project, titled Levels of Life. The quartet brings smooth harmonies and heavily R&B-infused tracks to the game, looking Shalom CDto make a lasting impression. The label is not marketing the project as "Gospel", although group members certainly have the appropriate backgrounds and profess Jesus Christ in their credits. And while the project is rhythmically sound, its lyrical content is indeed more 'positive' than it is Gospel.

Alabama natives Jeffrey Carroll ("Jeffron"), Keefer Cotton ("Mr. Breeze"), LeRoy Harris ("Lee"), and Chester Johnson ("Chess"), clearly state their objective at the onset of the album. The intro affirms their desire to present positive solutions to problems by way of "clean lyrics over hip-hop tracks". The album itself addresses many life issues ranging from peer pressures, to life changes, to friendship.

Shalom's strong suit is definitely the urban jam. Cleverly produced by Gerald "Geo" Hall, the group makes a musical impression with jams such as "Make a Change", "It's Up to You", and "Respect". The foursome even enlists a rap cameo from labelmate Nuwine on the single "No Doubt", which concentrates on the importance of friendship. Another noteworthy track is "The Pressure", where the group urges ladies not to yield to life's temptations within relationships.

The one track on this album that might be in the running as a Gospel cut, is titled "The Revelation". It's the only selection on the album to make any references, overt or covert, to God and His power toShalom exact change on the lives of the listener. Other tracks stress more of an "change yourself from within" theme.

While the urban jam is Shalom's strong suit, the foursome's balladry could do with some more work. Less than stellar lead vocals combined with average lyrical content on tracks such as "Wait Awhile" and "I Pray for the Day" leave one looking for another jam.

Shalom does show some musical potential, and it is commendable and certainly a rare refreshment to hear uplifting encouragement throughout an entire project. However, Gospel heads will be wishing that Levels of Life offered more straight-up Gospel, more along the lines of what is found in the shout-outs of the CD liner notes.

While the project achieves its goal of presenting "clean lyrics over hip-hop tracks", lyrical ambiguity makes it difficult to classify this one in the sanctified category.

Producers: Shalom, Gerald "Geo" Hall
album release date: October 26, 1999
Real Deal Records

reviewed by
Gerard Bonner

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