Musical Review: Set Me Free by Myron Butler & Levi

Myron Butler - Set Me FreeFrom the innovative hyped sounds of Tye Tribbett & GA to the enduring energy that most recently characterizes Kirk Franklin, contemporary choir sounds have been at the forefront of the gospel music ministry, with musical offerings that not only make the Word appetizing to everyone within an earshot, but also allow folks to blessedly bounce along the way to Glory.

One name that has been synonymous with spectacular songwriting over the last decade has been Myron Butler, penning such smash hits as “Up Above My Head” by Kirk Franklin’s God’s Property, and co-producing Kirk Franklin Presents 1NC in 2000, as well as the soundtrack to the major motion picture, Kingdom Come, in 2001.  His production talents have also been featured by such artists as Kim Burrell, Twinkie Clark and Smokie Norful. But now, Myron comes out of the shadows and presents himself not only as a stellar producer but also as a gifted vocalist, unafraid to push musical and stylistic boundaries in his debut (multiple Stellar Award-winning) project, Set Me Free, released in November 2005 on EMI Gospel.

The Dallas native began his songwriting early on and by the age of 17, had seen his first song recorded by the Dallas-Fort-Worth Mass Choir, where he early on collaborated with Mr. Kirk Franklin.  The professional relationship led to a kinship between the two talented young men that endures to this day.  The mutual respect and admiration the two men have for each other can be heard in their respective musical recordings.  Butler says of Franklin, “Kirk really opened a lot of people’s minds and ears to hear new types of music under the banner of Gospel… and that’s also encouraged me to stretch things a little more even, and go wherever my own ideas, and influences, and inspiration lead me.”

Thus a new voice has emerged under the moniker of Myron Butler & Levi, with a full bodied sound reminiscent of contemporary choral sounds.  One journalist stated that there is not one bad cut on Myron’s album, and I would have to agree.  Every piece from the heart-pounding in-your-face title track to the pensive lyrical melody of Heal The Land offer a brand new, albeit familiar brand of artistry that defines Myron Butler.

The vibrant voices of Levi groove along to the pronounced horns heralding the promise of That Place we all dream of called Heaven.  I Can is a bluesy, soulful interpretation of the familiar Biblical phrase that says “I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me” under the jazzy ministrations of Minister Butler with the help of one of his adept sopranos.

Hand clapping, percussions, and well-orchestrated vocal arrangements characterize the title track Set Me Free.  Sure to become one of many breakout hits of the album, this song dares the listener to sit still as the choir raises their united voices in full-bodied infectious praise, accompanied by Butler whose voice strikes a hauntingly familiar chord similar to that ofJohn Legend.

Latter Rain is a composite of the contemporary sounds reminiscent of the Clark Sisters.  Here, Butler demonstrates he is more than just a singer as he ministers the Word “To those that are expecting a harvest, to those that know that what’s coming is so much better than what’s been, we rejoice in the fact that God has given us a future and a hope past our present situation”

In more sedate tones That’s Who You Are and Everything are reverent hymns extolling God in his majesty.  If these tunes are indicative of Kirk Franklin-esque ballads, it’s only because Franklin and Butler have been colleagues and friends for the better part of their respective musical careers.

The acoustic guitar strums quietly along with Levi’s piously passionate tones in Redeemed, a symphonic-styled gospel harmony, great for a Sunday-morning worship service.  If you should close your eyes and listen to Myron Butler & Levi’s moving rendition as they call on the name of Jesus, tears would undoubtedly stream down your cheeks.

The album concludes with prayers for healing and the promise that God will come through in You Will Survive, with its full symphonic orchestral effects that develops into modern jazz, and Heal The Land.  Though ballads, these songs are anything but serene, their effectiveness found as much in their lyrical poignancy as in their instrumental mastery.  The violin whines its melody against the heartfelt pleas for healing:  “If we would take heed to every word God has said, if we would humble ourselves then God will heal our land…of Heal our land, heal our land oh… save our land… if we would humble ourselves then God will heal our land.”  This contemporary ballad speaks to the current state of the world and our need as Christians to humbly and steadfastly cling to the Throne.

Butler, has seen his star rise steadily over the last decade in part due to his unquestionable talent as a songwriter (Kim Burrell credits him as one of her most trusted producers) but also in part to his keen awareness as to his calling as a minister.  “My greatest hope is that people who feel hopeless and at the end of the line would hear these songs and feel encouraged and empowered, and find God through them… I want to encourage the believers, but I realize so many people are in a place where they have already decided that `God,” and `the church,’ and `Gospel music’ have nothing to offer them. So I’m trying to give them some serious jams where they can put the top down and cruise, and get off on the music and the groove, and at some point start hearing the words and being affected by them. Those are true breakthrough, life-changing moments, and I can’t imagine accomplishing anything more, or greater for the Kingdom than that.”

No musical grandstanding here, only the humble artistry from a gem in the diadem of gospel music.   As for Myron Butler, his music simply is… And as far as your listening pleasure is concerned; you will definitely be left hungering for more when the album concludes its musical voyage… yes folks, it’s that good!  

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