But with the passing of Rev. Milton Brunson into glory in 1997 just after the release of their last project of new material (He’s Still Good), The Tommies suddenly vaulted into the land of greatest hits compilations.
Not only were two such projects released by their own record label (50 Blessed Years and Greatest Hits), but several other albums of ‘way back’ vault material from the legendary Chicago choir were suddenly available in retail (from MCA's series of Peacock Gospel Classics and also from Frank Music).
It's little wonder that many were wondering if Brunson's beloved vocal soldiers would now only reside the memory and in The Gospel Hall of Fame.
Now under the direction of Rev. Brunson’s wife, Jo Ann Brunson, The Tommies have indeed regrouped and present an album of entirely new music. Real demonstrates that history alone will not dictate the direction of this choir.
By delivering several urban, studio sounds on this disc, The Tommies remain true to their founder’s vision of pushing the envelope of choir innovation while remaining rooted in the historical mass choir sound.
Much of the album is produced by the gifted Asaph Ward and the equally blessed Percy Bady, two well-known names on the production circuit.
But it’s Derek Allen (Tyrese, Janet Jackson) who is given the nod to step in and handle the ultra urbanized title cut. The song opens the project, and while not the album’s strongest cut, delivers just the right lyrical intro to the project, as Allen takes the mic as producer in the now familiar ad lib commentary style.
Next up is another urban effort, "Clean Heart", delivered appropriately by guest soloist Eric Dawkins and cleanly produced by Ward.
In the album credits, Jo Ann Brunson gives honor to Edwin Oliver, head of Disney’s Seven Summits music publishing division, for his expertise in guiding the assembling of the project's producers and writers. Seven Summits has Donnie McClurkin signed under a co-publishing deal, so it’s no surprise to see one of McClurkin’s songs included on Real.
Billy Avery takes solo lead on that song (“My God and My King”), lending an astonishing McClurkin vocal feel to the mid-tempo ringing praise, as the simple lyrics move from English to French to Spanish. Again, Ward’s production is apt, with the studio piece taking on a live vibe.
Triumphs like these on this album each tend to possess that classic 'Tommies' sound.
“No One Like You” is another one of these successes, a Percy Bady choir number that flows with ease in its movements, particularly in the beautiful wordless vocals that sew the song up at the end.
And don’t be fooled by the title of V. Michael McKay’s “My Way”. It’s anything but Sinatra. Guided by the vocals of Andrea Moore and with a combo of classic Gospel turns of phrase, another of McKay's always-blessed melodies and masterful diction from the choir, the lyrics throw passing references to the 'ole blue eyes' classic, but with different meaning. And ingeniously, by way of subject matter, reference is made to The Tommies’ own hit from the 80’s, "My Mind’s Made Up".
Check out these excerpted lines, you'll see what I mean:
To live a life that pleases the Lord
I’ve wasted much, much too much time
Doing things my way
I cannot see what’s up the road
But thank God I know what I left behind
I might not last through another night
Doing things my way...
Eternal life would never be mine
Doing things my way
I’ve refrained from doing things my way
— reviewed by Stan North —
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