Smokie Norful
I Need You Now

You could say that the Smokie Norful experience is as unique as his name.

On I Need You Now, the seasoned singer / songwriter / instrumentalist makes his solo debut on EMI Gospel with a finessed flair and distinctiveness of style that instantly captivates from the get go. Artistry is firmly stamped all over this disc. Combine that with the evident gift that Norful has for ushering us into worship, and it's clear that Gospel has found a real treasure.

 CDThe Midwest-reared artist has written for a diverse ranges of artists, including Marvin Sapp, Dottie Peoples, The Tommies and Shirley Murdock; his songs are often make the album highlight reel. Suffice it to say that I Need You Now is chock full of memorable songs.

Stylistically, Norful is as comfortable in wailing his smooth tenor over infectious blends of rhythm and synths (and there's plenty of that on this project), as he is at sitting behind the piano, eyes closed, head raised to heaven in awe, pouring personal praise to Jesus Christ in soaring ballad while his fingers spin a splendid glory of praise on the keyboard.

If you've got your pen handy, you can put a star beside tracks one through ten inclusive. Yes, every single song on the project beckons your finger to touch that repeat button.

The title track is a triumph in its expression of desire for God. Singing "not another second or another minute, not an hour or a day, Lord I need you right away", Norful lets loose a soulful intimacy on top of his piano meanderings, lush string arrangements from Ronn Huff and tasteful splashes of muted sax from Dino Saldo.

"Same Old Sad Song" has Norful wistfully singing of his hope that the world will abandon its familiar song of woe and opt instead for the new song that Jesus brings us. The tender harmonica and guitars from Derek "DOA" Allen puts just the right touch of reflection to the ode. The included remix wraps a urban, nearly quiet storm cloak over the song, with Vangoss adding her backing vocals.

A neosoul vibe comes through on "Somethin' Somethin'". Norful turns his voice inside out to tell that Jesus is still the name, and there's somethin' about that Man". He detours vocally to impart a very definite brashness of color to his voice on this DOA track that persists in rocking a steady acoustic rhythm throughout.

Smokie NorfulOn the urban jam "It's All About You", Norful wisely keeps the focus on vocals, delivering some fantastically fashioned inflections and vocal nuances, a mix of falsetto and near-growl musings that displays his range. Backing vocals from the group Focus easily squeeze the hook-driven, descending chorus into memory. Antonio Dixon plays the track and co-produces.

Other songs on I Need You Now include "Still Say Thank You", which has the Denver Inspirational Voices adding their mass sounds to the mid-tempo praise. There's a touch of traditional Gospel on "Praise Him", produced by Logan Reynolds. Freddie Flewelyn's bass, Doc Powell's guitar and Michael Neuble's drums ensure a rousing ride.

"Psalm 64" deserves attention, with the biblical poem spoken by Reverend W.R. Norful, Sr. while his son surrounds it then expands upon the words with echoes of tender vocalization, stacked harmonies and expressive piano chording.

More than an impressive debut, I Need You Now from Smokie Norful marks the dawn of a chapter in Gospel.

Producers: DOA, A. Dixon, S. Norful, E. Oliver, L. Reynolds
album release date: June 18, 2002
EMI Gospel

reviewed by Stan North

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