Music Review: Finale by Donald Lawrence and the Tri-City Singers


Donald Lawrence and the Tri-City Singers - FinaleThe story has been told and retold of a young man growing up in the Carolinas and carving out his niche in the gospel world to attain a level of esteem among his peers and collaborators that has been seen by only a select few in the history of the music we love.  However I want to personalize the story somewhat. 

As a gospel novice some years ago, I was given a tape (yes a cassette tape) by my mother to play in my dilapidated Mazda 323.  The album was Tri-City.Com and it became the soundtrack to my life for that whole year, introducing me to a whole new world of gospel music.  I committed the lyrics and the music to the memory of my heart and have been a devout fan as well as a respectful admirer of the musical innovation that has characterized Donald Lawrence and the Tri-City Singers over the last fifteen years.

Tri-City’s current 40-strong roster is a community choir with representatives from the cities of Spartanburg, Gastonia and Charlotte (hence, their name).  The choir’s relationship with Donald Lawrence was providence, as the choir and young producer formed a formidable musical alliance that has forever altered the landscape of gospel music.  Their lyrical content, musical agility and vocal prowess has yielded a timeless musical legacy of which Donald Lawrence says “Timeless doesn’t have to do so much with a musical style, or genre, or place in chronological time…Timeless is from the heart. If a song is indeed of the Lord, and from the heart…that’s what makes it truly timeless.”

THE FINALE, the final offering from the Tri-City Singers will be in stores April 4th, The Limited Edition, features the complete collection of songs from Acts I & II and autographed by Donald Lawrence and will include 2 full DVDs of the live recordings as well as two exclusive bonus tracks and a 16-page color booklet highlighting the live recording in Atlanta last November.

THE FINALE ACT I offers five original songs bursting in musicality at its best, as represented in The Blessing of Abraham, the title track to the two-disc farewell compilation for the Tri-City Singers.  One of nine original compositions on this album, this song follows the tradition of uplifting melodies which have become signature Donald Lawrence.  Filled with an inspirational message of prosperity for the children of God, this song features strident vocals and full-fledged instrumentation.

A quiet percussive rhythm leads into the smooth-as-silk ballad Heir as theTri-City Singers softly remind the Saints of their destiny “You are an heir, you are royalty destined to possess the land, you are an heir, embrace your legacy”. Ending on a Smallwood-esque symphonic vocal arrangement, the choir encourages believers with the words “oh my sons and my daughters, don’t you know that you are royalty”

Up-tempo Giants is another uplifting song that reassures the people of God that the Jericho walls of their lives will fall through their praise.  How fitting that the song should end on a praise break, culminating in an a cappella hand-clapping acclamation to the heavens.

Featuring the talents of Erica McCulloughGod is a soft-spoken love song made magnificent in the rousing voices of the 40-member Tri-City Singers,lifted in effervescent worship.

Inspired by Bishop TD Jakes’ commanding oratory on Paul’s epistle to the Galatians “I am crucified with Christ” These Nails takes a jazzy approach to the Word as Blanche McAllister echoes the sentiment in a deep bluesy contralto.

From A Songwriter’s Point Of View, the very first single of the Tri-City SingersPersonal Friend is revamped and speeded up with jazzy piano and cadenced percussions keeping the subdued big-band tempo. With a  “Sunday night broadcast” feel, it feels as though a born-again Duke Ellington found his way into a Sunday morning service as the single harks back to the 50s big-band feel with the organ adding a special sanctified touch.   The organ transitions smoothly into a snippet of I Walk With The King minus the participation of the original soloist – Stephanie Mills.

The best of Bible Stories is as current today as it was over a decade ago.  Oh Peter and Stranger share an instrumentation that gives new life to classic Tri-City sound.  Reprising their roles as featured soloists on previous Tri-City projects, Arnetta Murrill-Crooms’ smoky soprano reminisces on I Am God contrasting with LeJeune Thompson’s vociferous soprano in Cast Your Cares.  Once again with the masterful participation of the incomparable vocal stylings of Pastor Daryl Coley brings When Sunday Comes to another dimension of musical excellence.

ACT II boasts five more original compositions, the first of which is the title track.  Furthering the message of God’s power in our lives and in the tradition of the contemporary chorale sound that has defined them over the years are Encourage Yourself With Sheri Jones-Moffett and It’s your Time.  The latter is a star-studded number featuring Vanessa Bell ArmstrongDarwin HobbsKaren Clark Sheard on vocals in a lyrical content very much in the tradition of D. Lawrence’s inspirational best such asThe Best Is Yet To Come, Go Get Your Life Back and I Speak Life.

The message of God’s healing power is reiterated in God Is where Donald’s protégé - Dewayne Woods - testifies of The Great Physician with the words of the psalmist “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever”

Keeping in pace with the biblical prose is a 21st century tribute to the 80s choir sound in Matthew 28, where Donald Lawrence dons his choir director’s cap and shows off the vocal prowess of the Tri-City Singers with all the oral versatility and distinctive musical intricacies characteristic of the chorale sound of old.

The Murrills take the stage in Better, the only remake from D Lawrence’s most recent project I Speak Life.

TRI-CITY.COM

The up-tempo Never Seen The Righteous is reinvented as slow as molasses jazzy number then returns to its original fervor

Original soloists Karen Clark SheardKim Burrell & Kelly Price are replaced by LeJeune ThompsonSheri Jones-Moffett and Blanche McAllister inGod’s Favor maintaining the same intensity in the belief that “God’s favor is indeed more precious than life…”  The ebony and ivory keys of the piano continue their soft trailings into one of my favorites When The Saints Go To Worship.  As a final tribute to Tri-City.Com, LaShun Pace lifts her lilting soprano in And Yet I’m Still Saved.

The prayer of Jabez (Bless Me) packs the same larger-than life impact as on the original recording while Seasons, starring gospel legend Bishop Walter Hawkins whose smooth tenor compliments The Tri-City Singers to melodious perfection.  The Best Is Yet To Come is a fitting end to the project as we are assured that although this album maybe called THE FINALE, there are bigger and better things in the future for this talented lot of music ministers.

“Above all else,” says the songwriter, “I would hope my songs can bring healing and comfort to even just one person, then that’s something they themselves can pass on to another, and that other to another, on and on. There’s nothing greater I could ever accomplish than that.”  Well, Donald Lawrence and the Tri-City singers have accomplished that and so much more as the stage of Gospel music has been forever changed by their artful representations in song.  This may be THE FINALE, but I foresee another curtain call and perhaps…even an encore performance! 

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