Prime Cuts: Hebrews 11, Same God, Anthology
Every album that Richard Smallwood releases is an event. Longtime fans of Smallwood often wait with bated breath for his albums to drop. This is because they know that God is always at the cynosure with each of Smallwood's live recordings. "Anthology," Smallwood's debut album for RCA Inspiration, is no exception. From Smallwood's opening prayer to his choir-directed ad lips to his glorious belts to his homilies between songs to the instrumental overtures, you can't help but feel God's presence saturating every note of this recording. Further, this collection is also a star-studded event. Here there's a mile's long red carpeted list of Gospel & R&B stalwarts including Angela Winbush, his 20-member renowned ensemble Vision, and Maurette Brown-Clark. Just as copious is the length of this two-CD collection which boasts 22 tracks clocking in at nearly two hours, with 11 new songs and 3 nostalgic pieces.
Smallwood is a maestro when it comes to Gospel music. His recording career began in 1982 with the album "The Richard Smallwood Singers." The album spent 87 weeks on Billboard's Gospel chart. And its follow-up, "Psalms" was nominated for a Grammy. Two years later, the album "Textures" was also nominated. "Textures" spawned the now-classic "Center Of My Joy" written by Richard Smallwood along with Bill and Gloria Gaither. He won his first Grammy, along with a Dove Award for his production on the Quincy Jones' gospel project Handel's Messiah: A Soulful Celebration. To date, Smallwood's music has been recorded by artists such as Destiny's Child, Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Yolanda Adams, Karen Clark-Sheard, and many more.
"Same God," easily the album's most melodically assessable piece, is also understandably the album's lead single. Featuring a smooth sultry R&B groove, "Same God" gives us practical handles of how we can face our daily struggles by trusting in our never changing God. Smallwood again shows his ability to interact Scripture truths with our daily happenstances on "Hebrews 11." Preaching through a choir-backed anthem, you can't help but feel like Smallwood is speaking right into our hearts on this faith-inducing piece. Choir masters need to take notice of the title track "Anthology." Over a thumping beat packed with so much spiritual punch, "Anthology" utilizes the life as a book metaphor where each page is stamped by God's ownership.
When Smallwood gets to paid his musical tributes, he particularly shines with his ode to Edwin Hawkins on "When We All Get to Heaven." Capturing the haunting echoes of augst that is found in Hawkins' original, this longing for our eternal abode has a sense of desperation that adds depth to this hymn's words. The legendary Angela Winbush is at her sheer vocal best on "Look Up and Live" but she is somehow let down by the song's ever winding melody. Being a live recording it's understandable that the night began in prayer. However, if you want to play this album over and over, it becomes an exercise of tedium to hear the same long prayer over and over again. The same goes for the extended talks between songs. Maybe a little bit more editing would have made this event an even tighter and even more invigorating experience.