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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Assignment No. 1

  • reviewed by LaTonya Taylor Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 1 Jun
Assignment No. 1
Sounds like … ensemble-based gospel music similar in quality to Natalie Wilson and SOP, with a stylistically diverse repertoireAt a glance … the band is amazing, with vocals that are well-arranged and cleanly performed, but the lyrics are frequently clichédTrack ListingOut of the BoxUnder My Feet (featuring BB Jay)He's All That I NeedGod WillBecause of YouWhat A FriendThat's Our PraiseNobody Like YaFocusInterlude Thank YouGive ThanksHeavenCovenant GodCovenant God (reprise)

With their debut album, Assignment No. 1, Alabama-based pastor L. Spenser Smith and the 20-member ensemble Testament have produced one of the best church-grounded albums in recent history. The album, produced in-house by musicians and vocalists from Greater New Testament Church in Tuscaloosa, is part of the church's mission to testify to God's love through music. Minister of music John Jackson, who also serves as musical director and keyboardist for American Idol Ruben Studdard, serves as producer.

The "neo-soul gospel" music here is undeniably fresh and impressively varied, with sounds including old-school Sunday morning, hip-hop (featuring BB Jay) and '70s-era R&B. Vocals are superb, and it's clear that Testament and the band far exceed the ability of the average church ensemble. Assignment No. 1 is worth picking up for those reasons.

Still, generally speaking, there's a conspicuous disparity between the stunning musical quality of the songs and their lyrical quality. If this were the case for just one or two of the 14 tracks, it wouldn't be worth mentioning. But it's striking how many songs string together cliché after cliché. Songs often outlast their lyrical content by a couple of minutes, a fact poorly hidden by repeated choruses, modulations or unique stylings. It frequently feels like the band has taken over, leaving the top-notch ensemble underutilized.

Highlights despite this pattern include the sweetly passionate "Covenant God;" the retro-esque "Heaven;" "Give Thanks," featuring husky lead vocals by Kevin Bennett; "Focus," with an easy R&B vibe; and the calypso-flavored "Nobody Like You." The old-school, down-home deacon 'round the piano feel of "What a Friend" makes for a fun listen.