Straight Gate Mass Choir

Straight Gate International Mass Choir
Expectations: I’ll Praise

Bishop Andrew Merritt and The Straight Gate International Mass Choir have released their sophomore effort, Expectations: I’ll Praise on the Bishop’s own Bajada Records.

This two disk set is divided into a Worship disk and a Praise disk, with production from Noel Hall (former music director for Fred Hammond and Radical for Christ) and Steven Ford.

CD There’s no playing around here, with vocal contributions from artists that include Fred Hammond, J Moss, Tracy Bryant (of Ramiyah), The Binions, Pastor Sheryl Brady and Keith Staten. Steven Ford, producer of the choir’s first project (Faith In The House —read album review) produces.

The album kicks off (in a big way) the with the jumping “I’ll Praise” led by Fred Hammond. Penned by Hammond and Ford, the song has that “Fred and Steven touch”, but Straight Gate shines on this song.

The J. Moss written “Jump Start” follows suit and keeps the flow in high praise. Several choir modulations, Terrance Palmer’s thumping bass licks and a nice groove makes this song repeat-worthy.

J. Moss and Tracy Bryant of Ramiyah trade ad-libs on the encouraging “Work Your Faith”, and make it one of the best songs on the album.

Sheryl Brady lends her alto pipes to “Four Words” as she and the choir explain that “I Love You Lord” would be the words that they would use if they could sum up their love for Jesus. Then Korye Allen leads the beautiful “Only You are Holy”(written by Steven Straight Gate Mass ChoirFord) and “Holy Holy Worship” which includes some fine Ford-arranged strings, courtesy of the Detroit Heavenly String Orchestra.

Nicole Binion steps in to lead “He Loves Me” and the ever-popular worship song “Breathe”. Binion starts accompanied only by piano and Rhodes from Hall and Ford, before the choir joins in. Together, they take the song into a high place of worship, and make it simply breathe-taking. The song then melts into the wonderful “Let Your Eyes See Me” sung by Psalmist Keith Staten.

Straight Gate is featured on the Latin-tinged choir-rouser, “I Will Praise Thee”. Music ministers, get ready to teach, because this cut is sure to be sung at many Sunday morning services across the nation.

Moving to the Worship disk (produced by Hall), the primary focus is on the choir, who impart their Straight Gate spin to some of the most beloved worship choruses in recent memory. Call it a Sunday morning worship service.

Worship leader Dana Powell is prominently featured, reprising her role from the Faith in the House project. She’s joined by musicians that include Hall, Terrance Palmer on bass, Joey Woolfalk on lead and acoustic guitars, Daryl Dixon on guitar and Tommie Walker. (You could say it’s a RFC band reunion!)

The well-written, “Music From Heaven” features heavy hitters Pastor Sheryl Brady, Pastor Clint Brown and Israel Houghton. There are also covers of Richard Smallwood’s “Total Praise” as well as “Center of My Joy”, which features Ali Woodson (of Tempations renown).

Straight Gate Mass ChoirThe choir then move into a worship medley of songs that focus on the name of Jesus. These include “His Name is Wonderful”, “Jesus Name Above All Names” and the Hillsongs hit, “Jesus What a Beautiful Name”. All three are sweetly led by Powell.

“Oh Come Let Us Adore Him” and “Jesus I Adore You” feature the glorious narration of Pastor Merritt —truly, the album would not be complete without his comforting exhortation.

There’s something for everyone on this album: Sunday morning songs, urban praise and worship, contemporary praise and worship and just wonderful music. Bishop Merritt, Steven Ford, Noel Hall, the wonderful Psalmists and of course the Straight Gate International Mass Choir have outdone themselves.

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Producers: Noel Hall, Steven Ford
album release date: November 2003
Bajada Records

— review by Dwayne Lacy

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