Gospel vet Donnie McClurkin releases his latest album, Duets, nearly six years following previous effort, We Are All One (Live In Detroit). Working with some of gospel’s brightest voices, McClurkin adds another uplifting LP to his discography. Duets isn’t innovative, never buying into contemporary gospel’s ‘radicalness’, but it’s a balanced effort that is both contemporary and traditional enough.
Opener “We Are Victorious” embodies the sound of guest, Tye Tribbett. “We Are Victorious” sounds little like a track normally associated with McClurkin, but as a contrast, it’s certainly enthusiastic. Following the energetic start, “I Am Amazed” slackens the tempo, opening with choir carrying the melody. McClurkin eventually takes full reins, exhibiting the sheer power and emotion of his pipes. He also gets the assist from Preashea Hilliard and Erica Campbell (Mary Mary). Throw in choral support behind him, and McClurkin is on ‘autopilot’. “I’m Still Here” follows, with Tina Campbell (Mary Mary), guesting. The album’s briefest track, “I’m Still Here” packs a punch despite its brevity.
“Anytime” delivers a simple, but prudent message, with the help of John P. Kee – “You (God) were there anytime… I needed you.” “Write My Name” follows showing traditional gospel at its best, penned by the legendary, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark. Fittingly, Dorinda Clark-Cole arrives as McClurkin’s ‘partner-in-crime’. Characterizing the spirit as ‘high’ would be an understatement; it’s nothing short of electrifying. A dual effort it is, Clark-Cole steals the show, incited by the lengthy choral vamping. Length is the sole rub, with “Write My Name” running at nine minutes.
“My Past”, featuring Tremaine Hawkins, begins calmly, but like much of Duets percolates into a more emotionally, heart-wrenching track. This progression matches the sentiment of “My Past”: “My past is gone away / it’s a new day, tomorrow.” “Let It Go” once more brings in those commanding pipes of Dorinda Clark-Cole onboard. “Let It Go” fittingly follows “My Past”, continuing to emphasize letting go of the past. Among the most impressive musical moments of “Let It Go” is when McClurkin and Clark-Cole trade riffs with one another, truly releasing the past.
“Encouraged” is indeed encouraging, featuring exceptional vocal chemistry between McClurkin and guest Justin Savage, not to mention a lovely, effective choral arrangement. Key lyric “I can make”, highlighted the choir, summarizes the messaging superbly. Penultimate track “Come as You Are” has an easy-going African-feel about it, a sound contrast to previous tracks. Israel Houghton and Marvin Sapp guest on the uplifting tune, though it does exhibit more restraint than other cuts. That isn’t to say that the spirit isn’t lofty, but “Come as You Are” is more reverent compared to “Write My Name.” “All About the Love” closes enjoyably, retaining a reverence about it in sound.
Overall, Duets is another welcome addition to McClurkin’s discography. Even being an infrequent recording artist, McClurkin’s voice still shines as brightly as a beacon. Duets is not perfect, but more often than not, the effort offers plenty for those who enjoy gospel music to sink their teeth into. ~Brent Faulkner
Recommended Single: “Write My Name” featuring Dorinda Cole-Clark