Grammy award-nominated gospel singer/songwriter Byron Cage has a rich musical background; he began to to play organ and piano at a young age. Later, he would serve the capacity of music minister to Ebenezer A.M.E. Church in Ft. Washington, MD for 15 years, amongst numerous other accomplishments.
On his ninth album Memoirs of a Worshipper, produced by Aaron Lindsey (Marvin Sapp producer amongst others), Cage recorded live at Chicago’s Christ Universal Temple. On this new effort, Cage hopes to place emphasis on a deeper relationship with God.
On opener “Gratitude,” Cage opts for balladry as opposed to an uptempo, driving opener. Cage handles the lead vocals initially, accompanied by piano and dashes of cymbal. Eventually, female lead Mumen Ngenge takes over, giving the cut a different sound.
The two work in tandem powerfully, supported by subtle “oohs” from the choir. With a propelling key change, the cut and the choir ‘opens up’ pushing “Gratitude” over-the-top in superb fashion.
“Out of Them All,” penned by Cage and Lindsey, finds the tempo quicker, contrasting the grinding “Gratitude.” Cage initiates lead vocals, only to relinquish them to the choir as he ad libs, encourages, and ministers. Angularity proves to be a strong suit, particularly as the choir vamps on lyrics “…He Can, He Will Deliver.”
Length is a slight drawback, though duration is gospel is ‘part of the territory.’ “Victory” features the renowned Fred Hammond. Opening with a raucous introduction, the groove translates into a tropical-gospel feel. The choir delivers the ‘call’ with Cage ‘responding.’ Despite the cut’s flaws, ‘vamping’ continues to shine through.
“Mighty One” never quite gels, at least how the listener suspects it will. The understated pop/rock-gospel sound works, but never ‘percolates to a boil.’ “Great And Mighty” bodes slightly better, but is hampered given its ten-minute plus duration. The cut seems to lack enough ‘lyrics’ and ‘song’ to back its extravagantly ambitious duration.
“Good Anyhow,” a Rudolph Stanfield & New Revelation cover, follows an introduction (“Good Anyhow Intro”) performed by Pastor Charles Jenkins. “Good Anyhow” works marvelously because it takes a traditional gospel approach. Vocally, Cage and former Sunday Best contestant Clifton Ross deliver compelling, emotional vocals with choral harmonizations nothing short of spectacular.
“My Refuge, My Strength,” the faster companion-piece, doesn’t miss a beat employing the choir in ‘response’ fashion. The vamping is perfect, as is employment of multiple key changes intensifying spirt and emotion. The musicians deserve a nod as well, given the ‘killer’ instrumental lines.
“You,” which was penned by Cage at four-o’clock in the morning, finds the tempo slackening to provide yet another contrast. The piano-driven cut is not too shabby, but lacks some direction. “Throne” is a solid penultimate cut, with Cage inciting the choral vamp on “Reign Jesus Reign, you’re the master of everything…” “Troubles Away,” penned by Gerald Haddon, closes solidly, if not quite as capably as the effort opened with the powerful “Gratitude.”
Overall, Memoirs of a Worshipper is a solid album with some flaws. Cage always remains in solid voice and the choir is at its best when it vamps in cutting-edge harmony. The main quibble might be that as a live effort, sometimes the cuts take ‘too long’ to evolve for the studio audience’s ear. Despite this, there are some ‘rock solid’ gospel performances here.