- reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2008 1 Jul
- Cover Me
- Holding on to You
- Total Attention
- Time for a Change
- Talkin' About
- U Got Me Through
- Power of Christ (Live)
- Brace Up
- Testimony—The Dedication
- Everybody Can't Go
What a difference that a couple of years and trials have made for urban gospel trio 21:03 since the release of their so-so 2006 debut, PAJAM Presents 21:03. Assembled and groomed Motown-style by the PAJAM production team, Evin Martin, Torrence Greene, and Jor'el Quinn had every reason to sound wet-behind-the-ears on their first release. But that didn't prevent their target audience from scooping up the disc, filling a longtime B2K-sized voice in urban gospel.
Then, just as 21:03 was introduced to the world, tragedy struck. Martin faced the loss of his mother, who died of multiple sclerosis shortly after the debut's release. The group soldiered on, but Martin was dealt a second blow when his father lost a battle with brain cancer as the trio was recording Total Attention.
That's a lot of grief for anyone to bear, let alone in such a short span of time for a young man barely out of his teens. It's also a lot of pressure for the other two members, who had to walk their brother-in-arms through the process as they fulfilled touring and ministry obligations. Somehow, this growth and togetherness comes through loud and clear on Total Attention, an effort that outdoes its predecessor in more ways than one.
In keeping with 21:03's youthful spirit, there are still several ultra-modern club bangers to be found throughout, but they're never banal or juvenile. Instead, they're more forward-thinking and worshipful, like the Timbaland-flavored "U Got Me Through" or the spatial, synth-heavy "You," two tracks that are eons ahead of earlier 21:03 fare like "Spiritual Bizness" or "Chozen."
Even the ballads and mid-tempo cuts, which often sounded obligatory and saccharine on the debut, are delivered with more conviction and gravitas here. When Martin leads the soaring "Holding on to You," he truly owns every lyric and adlib, while his teammates back him up with solid vocal interplay. Some of this material, particularly the star-studded "Cover Me" (featuring none other than Fred Hammond, Smokie Norful, and J Moss) and the Take 6-styled "Riverside," feel more like radio selections, but just about everything else stacks up with recent output by Usher and Chris Brown—a sound that continues to be criminally underrepresented in Christian and gospel music.
Trials and tribulations can either make or break an artist. As Total Attention testifies, the hard times have only made 21:03 stronger—spiritually, musically, and otherwise.