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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Limited Edition

  • reviewed by LaTonya Taylor Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Nov
  • COMMENTS
Limited Edition
Sounds like … this EP, offered as a "thank you" to supportive fans, consists mostly of live recordings of songs Norful performed on his Stellar Award-winning debutAt a glance … Norful's many "front-row-seat" fans will enjoy this collection of live favorites, but there's not much new stuff here that you haven't heard before

In the year and a half since the release of Smokie Norful's debut, I Need You Now, he's become one of the best-known new artists in gospel music. Norful's soulful voice and honest, emotive lyrics have garnered comparisons to Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway. That debut won three Stellar Awards—Male Vocalist of the Year, New Artist of the Year and Contemporary Male Vocalist of the Year—and has had held its own on the Billboard Top Gospel Album Chart.

Five of Limited Edition's eight tracks were recorded live at Norful's home church in the Chicago suburbs. Offered as a "thank you" to fans, it's comprised of live versions of four songs from I Need You Now, with a couple of new offerings.

"It's All About You" has a fresh, high-energy sensibility, aided by smart, thumping bass guitar, sassy background vocals and a fun vamp. In some ways, the live version is more enjoyable than the original—and than the version Marvin Sapp recorded on 2002's I Believe. "Still Say Thank You" has a more leisurely, improvisational feel than the original, showcasing Norful's impressive vocal riff-and-run abilities.

"Praise Him" has a rousing, down-home feel, similar to the studio version on I Need You Now. The difference here is a fun call-and-response between Norful and the background singers toward the end. Fans of the now-defunct Thompson Community Singers (one of the first and best groups in the mass choir tradition) will remember "He's All I Need" from the Tommies' final album, Real (2001). Although this version is serviceable, it doesn't have the same energy or full-bodied sound the Tommies brought to it.

Not surprisingly, the standout track on this album is the same as before: Norful's performance of "I Need You Now" here is richer, fuller, and even more dramatic. Recorded live at T.D. Jakes' Manpower 2003 Conference in Atlanta, this version makes full use of Norful's vocal and emotional range, conveying a deep sense of desperation for God's touch before segueing nimbly into the chorus of "I Need Thee Every Hour," then "Revive Us Again."

Victor and Cedric Caldwell contribute their arrangement of "O Holy Night," which can also be heard on T.D. Jakes Presents: Follow The Star, released in time for the holiday season. This rendition is alternately bold and sensitive, effusive and soft-and bound to draw comparisons to Stevie Wonder or Jon Gibson.

Two tracks aren't even songs, but rousing sermon snippets—one from Marvin Wiley, pastor of Rock of Ages Baptist (Norful's home church), and one from Jamal H. Bryant, pastor of Baltimore's Empowerment Temple AME Church. These speaking parts are powerful by themselves, but they interrupt the CD's flow. They might have been better placed as hidden tracks at the end.

All in all, this is a fine choice for the diehard, "front-row seat" Smokie Norful fan. It's another opportunity to enjoy his impressive skills—plus you get a copy of the "I Need You Now" video on this enhanced CD. Nevertheless, there's just not enough that's new for the average listener. This is little more than a quick thank-you gift for current fans, giving them "a little somethin'" to tide them over until Smokie's next album, due in '04. There's nothing wrong with that. Limited Edition is already on the Billboard charts, and people are clearly blessed by Norful's ministry. And if the past is any indication, Norful's new album will definitely be worth the wait.


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