Naysayers who say that Gospel albums do not sell have to eat their words when it comes to Donnie McClurkin. With the soul sashay of Ne-Yo and the spiritual depth Kirk Franklin, McClurkin is one of the few Gospel artists to have two albums ("Live in London and More" and "Psalm, Hymns and Spiritual Songs") selling over a million copies each. Cumulatively he has sold over 10 million records and with 3 Grammy wins, 10 Stellar awards, 2 BET nods and 1 Dove Award victory, all the cynical pessimists have to be muted. Six years since the release of his last record "We All Are One," RCA Inspiration Records has finally issued "Duets." The initial buzz was that the CD would feature a McClurkin duet with soul songstress Anita Baker. However, to the disappointment of fans, the track for some unknown reason didn't come to fruition. Nevertheless, this should steal the glow from the red-carpet of McClurkin's duet partners such as Mary Mary's Erica Campbell, Tye Tribbett, Marvin Sapp, Israel Houghton, Tramine Hawkins, Preashea Hilliard, Dorinda Clark Cole, John P. Kee and Justin Savage.
Lead single "We Are Victorious," an anthemic roar with Gospel new sensation Tye Tribbett, is already lighting up request lines. Though many have (and will continue to) sing about the victory Christ has secured for those in his militia, what makes McClurkin and Tribbett's contribution conspicuous is the believability in their nuances. McClurkin, himself is a living testimony of what he sings about. At the tender age of 8, McClurkin witnessed his 2 year-old brother brutally killed by a speeding driver. Later, McClurklin himself suffered sexual abuse at the hands of his great uncle and then years later by his great uncle's son. Just when you thought suffering would have given him a recess, he was diagnosed with leukemia in 1991. In most circumstances, many of us would wallow in defeatism. So, to hear him hollow about being conquerors, one can't help but give thanks for God's grace and mercy.
More autobiography is interwoven into "My Past." Considering McClurkin's history of abuse, many would have given God the finger in rebellion. But not McClurkin: instead he comes to this ballad of healing with brokenness and helplessness. Simple but affective is "Encouraged," by far is the lodestar of the record. When was the last time have we asked God to encourage us? "Encouraged" features the vocals of Justin Savage. Though Savage has yet to release his own record, he has had written hits for Anthony Brown and Thomas Nelson. McClurkin ignites some gratuitous vocal firework displays with Mary Mary's Erica Campbell and Preashea Hilliard on "I Am Amazed." Though this is technically a "duet" album, three major voices (McClurkin, Marvin Sapp & Israel Houghton) are featured on the reggae-titled worship piece "Come As You Are."
Yet, one has to be trenchant on a few sloppy details: on what is a studio album of recorded music, "Let It Go' which is recorded live stands out like a sore thumb. Also, in what is a supposed to be a "duet" album, why couldn't McClukin or his team find a duet partner for the last track "All About Love." And why were all of McClurkin's partners narrowly selected only from the Gospel genre? It would make for a more thrilling album if artists from other sectors of Christian music (such as Michael W. Smith or Matt Redman or Darlene Zschech) or secular R&B (Ruben Studdard or Jordin Sparks or even Jennifer Hudson) were invited to sing along. Nevertheless, despite these quibbles, "Duets" is not only a star-studded affair, it is spate full of salutary numbers fruitful for the soul.