Disclaimer: All views presented in this Album Review are those of the reviewer and not of DJ Wade-O
Gospel music is a genre that is uplifting and loved by many while simultaneously being something that is heavily debated or scrutinized for its content and musical influence. Some are wary of the sounds and styles that the genre have been producing over the last decade, where others have appreciated the shifting in musical production from their favorite gospel artists.
In the forefront of this “modernizing of the Gospel sound” has been Kirk Franklin. With his decades in keeping Gospel music current, he took under his wing a family of talented singers – who have the potential to help usher in the next generation of young worshipers to their own place, with their own sound. The Walls Group, made up of siblings Darrell, Rhea, Paco, and Ahjah, are talented singers with all the “gospel runs” to prove it. But after listening to their debut album Fast Forward, I wasn’t just excited about the vocal gymnastics that they can perform, but more so about what was being presented as a whole in the album. Allow me to explain.
The definition of the word “Shift” is defined by Webster’s dictionary as: “to move or to cause (something or someone) to move to a different place, position, etc.” In line with the title of the album, when you press fast forward on a device, it causes a shift in the record. And unless you hold it down for a long period of time, the shift is short. I feel that the title was spot on for this record because The Walls Group does a great job of moving the genre forward – from how their vocals blend with the production of the record, to the professionalism towards their craft and the song topics (something not usually thought to be true about the younger generation). There are a few songs that are relative to traditional gospel, but a lot of the songs have modern production, and contain both instruments and percussion, that you would hear in songs in the CHH genre.
Usually, this scares a lot of gospel music lovers away because their ties to the genre have to do with the musical style and not the content. The Walls Group have no reservations about that known fact. Much like Kierra Sheard, a younger gospel artist, they are unafraid to try new sounds, not to be relevant, but because it’s relevant to them. Fast Forward is a collection of really catchy songs that make you sing, make you dance along, but doesn’t lose the content of what gospel music, or the Gospel itself, is about. It’s not the fluff gospel of repetitive church cliches or “slogans for the year.”
Now, if you’re looking for “lyrical theology”, thats expecting too much. It’s difficult to exegete meaty texts in songs anyway, but this album does address real topics that direct us towards The Lord – like being “Satisfied” with the Lord above worldly things or proclaiming how “Great Is Your Love” to God. The younger generation of the world needs music that they want to hear. There are younger Christians who desire to hear the content of the Gospel with a sound that is relevant to their generation, and The Walls Group understands just that, because they are in that generation. They’re not trying to rewrite the gospel music genre, but they are making a small shift in it to be able to include a demographic that hasn’t had a voice in years.
Pause And Appreciate
The Walls Group produced a debut album that possessed no flaws, was well put together, and gives the listener the ability to listen to the entire project without skipping a track. Even with a few interludes, which give the album a chance to breathe. Broken down into about three separate styles (upbeat, traditional gospel, and slow jam), the album moves from one to the other without messing with the listener’s ear. All of the hooks are catchy and made up of melodies that can easily get stuck in your head. The Walls Group’s vocals is the highlight to their project, as they exhibited great vocal control and had smooth harmonies.
Some of my favorite songs give a full display of their vocal abilities. Of course the singles “Perfect People” and “Love On The Radio” are both smooth songs in their own right, but I feel that on the songs I put in the -Slow Jams- category really show you how well they can sing. “God On My Mind” is a nice throwback to early 90’s tunes with the chord progressions, but the group does a great job blending their voices as the song ramps up. In the song “High”, we hear a homage to Art of Noise’s “Moments in Love”, but with an added twist that includes one of CHH’s frontmen, Lecrae. I might’ve replayed this particular song four times when I first heard it. But the song that really allows The Walls Group to run wild with their vocal talent is “Satisfied”. The harmonies you hear in that make you stop the song so that you can mentally comprehend what you’ve just heard.
When it comes to the content section of Fast Forward, The Walls Group were also able to deliver. Many may have qualms with the Gospel genre as of late because the messages are more inspirational that spiritually uplifting, but with Fast Forward, I felt like the genre had hope of returning to the days of my childhood – when a verse would only have so many words, but still held a strong message within it.
Play The Record
For a debut album, in a genre full of fickle mindsets on what gospel “really” is, The Walls Group have an album that is undeniably one of the best I’ve heard in the past two years. It’s not stale, it’s not boring, it’s not repetitive, but it is and exciting and fresh album. You can tell that Kirk took calculated steps to carve out a place just for The Walls Group to fit in, and they’re ready.
Whatever brought them to this point made them ready to be themselves, no matter what others have to say. Fast Forward can be enjoyed by anyone of any age, but if you have any youth or young adults who have been having a hard time getting into gospel music, I recommend that you share this project with them. It bridges the gap within the “black church’s” community age gap, while moving the genre forward into the next generation of worshipers.
The Walls Group’s Fast Forward is now available for purchase on iTunes.