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Sounds like … other church-based choirs, like John P. Kee's New Life Community Choir, Hezekiah Walker's Life Fellowship Choir, and the Mississippi Mass ChoirAt a glance … not as anchored in the '80s R&B sound of its major-label debut, New Birth still offers up an otherwise strong modern choral collection full of pleasant surprises. Track Listing Sermonette: God Starts With a Dreamer (Part 1) It Shall Come to Pass Lord We Bless Your Name A New Beginning (Part 1) A New Beginning (Part 2) Sermonette: God Starts With a Dreamer (Part 2) God Is Be Healed Sacrifice of My Praise Sermonette: God Starts With a Dreamer (Part 3) Christ In Me Make His Praise Glorious (Rejoice) Magnify the Lord Holy Are You Lord (Santo Eres Tú Señor) Glory, Honor & Power Sermonette: God Starts With a Dreamer (Part 4) Be Healed (Instrumental)
Chalk it up to the influence of Bishop Eddie L. Long, but the New Birth Cathedral in Atlanta could very well be the hot spot when it comes to live contemporary gospel music. Figures as prominent as Israel & New Breed, Byron Cage, Dottie Peoples and William Murphy all have graced the stage of 25,000-plus member church and recorded albums there. Equally massive is the congregation's own choir—New Birth Total Praise Choir—which with little fanfare has issued the first great choir album of 2006, its sophomore outing A New Beginning.
And it's A New Beginning indeed. On Spirit & Truth—the choir's favorable 2004 debut—choirmaster Kevin Bond kept his ensemble firmly rooted in classic '80s sounds, rarely deviating from a distinct keyboard-derived formula. But this time around, Bond shoots every which way, circling through traditional anthems ("It Shall Come to Pass"), churchy hand-clappers ("Magnify the Lord"), funk-rock showstoppers ("God Is") and even riff-laden headbangers ("Make His Praise Glorious"), refusing to stay put stylistically for any two songs in a row. The rhythmic, synth-dominated vibe of the debut is noticeable in "Christ in Me," but it's definitely not the norm.
Vocally, also, Bond lets the choir and choir alone to take center stage, avoiding the solo performances and occasional star-power diversions of Spirit & Truth. If there's a best-in-show, New Birth Total Praise Choir it is, with an unsung Bond masterfully leading his versatile group through awe-inspiring modulations, reverent moments of worship, and some truly gorgeous melodies, particularly the breathtaking "Sacrifice of My Praise," quite possibly the best ballad in the set.
With all this choral goodness to savor, the inconsequential sermon snippets by Bishop Long that both bookend and interrupt the disc appear gratuitous and ultimately skippable, their self-empowering subtext having no correlation at all with the choir's praise-filled declarations. But all preachiness aside, A New Beginning is still a knockout choral collection, one so eclectic and varied you might feel tempted to switch your church membership.