Tri-City Singers

It's been five long years between Tri-City Singers projects, if you don't count their brief seasonal stopover in 1997 to say Hello Christmas.

It's been five years too long.

With Gospel's preeminent Donald Lawrence again steering the Tri-City ship, the North Carolina collective re-invents themselves with a cyber twist on this dot comTri-City Singers CD project from EMI Gospel. (Going hand in hand with the techno-title of the album, you can check out loads of info on Tri-City's dedicated website for the album)

Elements of many styles are amply evident: balladry, Y2K traditional, house-Gospel-fusion, latin and straight-up Gospel among them. As he's done consistently throughout his career, Lawrence comes through with inventive songwriting, stunning arrangements, and the pick of the anointed voices crop.

Getting straight to the biz, "God's Favor" has been the buzz of the industry for months. When word got out that the trio of Karen Clark-Sheard, Kim Burrell and Kelly Price were being brought together for the song, peeps woke up and started to pay attention. That promise is realized on this song, as each of these distinctively patterned voices are a wonderment to the ear. But together? Straight off the hook. While this could legitimately be considered a 'diva-fest', in no way does the song become a battle of ego. In keeping with the humble spirit of the respective K-ladies, and with Tri-City prominent on backing vocals, the mid-tempo cut encourages us to focus on the reality of God's favor to us as believers:

Hold on, be strong, Godís looking out for you
Just remember at the end of the day
The favor of God can open the way
Godís favor is more precious than life

—God's Favor

Switching gears, the slammin' choir power of "Never Seen The Righteous" imparts immediate 'classic' status on this one. You'll be putting this one on perpetual rewind. With a driving rhythmic boom groove and powerful mass vocals, it's a Lawrence composition that needs to be heard to fully grasp its potency.

With "Superman", things get much slower. It's a song familiar to some, not only because it was released to radio as a single multiple months ago, but also because it was a song on Company's album Devotion from 1993. It worked then, and it works here. This time around, Lawrence has slowed it way down, added the gentle acoustic guitar of Reggie Graves, and placed it in care of the gorgeous vocals of Arnetta Murrill-Crooms and LeJeune Thompson, in addition to his own. The song's unusual approach to worship describes the overpowering superiority of Jesus to someone as renowned in 'powers' as Superman (alias Clark Kent) and Aquaman.

Tri-City Singers

On "Love The Hurt Away", Lawrence introduces The Murrills, who provide solid family-based vocals on the smooth cut which is introduced by Lawrence. With a sensitive lead from Arnetta Murrill-Crooms (she previously sang on projects from TD Jakes, Karen Clark-Sheard, Oleta Adams.... you can never hear enough of her!), you will feel the hope that this is merely the first of more to come from this gifted family.

It would be a Gospel crime not to mention that "And Yet Iím Still Saved" features lead vocals from the familiar and peerless soprano pipes of Robin Rowe-Stewart, a Tri-City mainstay from projects gone by. And on "Sign Me Up" (for the Christian journey), both Melvin and Doug Williams are brought in to lend a downhome edge to the new traditional vibe of the cut. On the complete other side of the spectrum is "Testify", which Doug Williamsprofiles an underlying club rhythm kick to full throttle glorious vocal energy from Tri-City.

Spanish is brought a little into the mix on the slow ultra-ballad, "Senor Yo Beso Tu Pesencia", with Lawrence taking lead, and Sherri Jones providing additional backing vocals along with the choir. While there are some Spanish lyrics, the song is mostly in English, with the translation being, "Lord I Kiss Your Presence".

In a clever sequence, the cut is immediately followed by the jazzy latin / calypso-flava'd "Uzziah", which features longtime Lawrence associate, Brenda Waters. It's an uplifting rouser that also appears on Water's recently-released solo project. The title refers to the famous passage in Isaiah 6:1, which makes reference to God's all-encompassing glory.

Other choice tracks are bountiful, each set against a consistent sound backdrop from Tri-City's band. With experienced musical director Cedric Thompson heading things up on keyboards along with Daniel Weatherspoon, and with stalwarts Mel Gray on bass, Reggie Graves on guitar and Calvin Napper on drums, this is a Gospel unit that defines tight.

Tri-City4.com is a standout that is sure to be resilient against this year's coming onslaught of high-profile Gospel projects. Blessed songwriting, flawless production, and variety enough to keep your attention throughout every one of the 74 minutes of track time ensures this. Take a note now, this one's going places.

Producer: Donald Lawrence,
album release date: February 29, 2000
EMI Gospel

ó reviewed by Stan North ó

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