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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Phenomenal

  • reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2006 1 May
  • COMMENTS
Phenomenal
Sounds like … Stacie Orrico, Joann Rosario and Beyoncé, for a sound spanning urban pop, R&B, Latin pop, and contemporary gospelAt a glance … with a remarkable voice and eclectic urban sensibilities, Michelle Bonilla presents a memorable, knockout debutTrack Listing All to You Sin Ti (Without You) Oh Lord You Are Your Love Phenomenal Interlude Phenomenal Little Girl Don't Stop Paraiso (Paradise) Daddy's Song Everybody Praise Him Cold World El Shaddai Cámbiame Hoy (Change Me Today) Thank You

The year has been relatively quiet for the Cross Movement Records camp—quiet compared to the blockbuster release calendar they had in 2005, with albums from Phanatik , Ambassador, Tru-Life, J.R., and many other associates infiltrating the market. The first R&B chanteuse to join the famed hip-hop corporation, Michelle Bonilla leads this year's release schedule with her national debut Phenomenal, an outing that, in many ways, fills a huge void in today's faith music scene.

Like label cohort J.R., Bonilla joins Christian music's sparse urban department, and for a new artist, she does so with a bang. The daughter of an accomplished Latin jazz guitarist, she remains in control throughout Phenomenal's entire running length, co-writing 13 of its tracks and singing the heck out of every one of them. Though not a vocal powerhouse, Bonilla boasts exceptional control and not only knows how to sing, but also when. Her tone and timbre are strikingly reminiscent of Stacie Orrico, except with a wider range.

It's a tool she uses with self-assurance and command, especially for an album as varied as this one. In fact, "varied" doesn't quite do justice to the stylistic scope of Phenomenal, which, for R&B standards, may even be too diverse. From urban ear candy ("Without You") and pop-inflected contemporary gospel ("Don't Stop") to acoustic pop ("Oh Lord You Are") and acoustic soul ("Cold World"), the album zigzags persistently, without ever sounding disjointed.

It's even better when Bonilla tries the unexpected, like the jazzed-out "Your Love," the salsa-ridden "Cámbiame Hoy," or the electro-funk of "Phenomenal." This musicality and eclecticism help complement the disc's lyrical spectrum—largely worshipful and declaratory, yet not necessarily eye-opening. That, plus a plodding, uninteresting version of Amy Grant's "El Shaddai," are the only qualms with a debut that's otherwise one of the freshest to come out of urban gospel this year, poising Michelle Bonilla as a talent to watch.

© Andree Farias, subject to licensing agreement with Christianity Today International. All rights reserved. Click for reprint information.


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