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On the Inside

  • reviewed by LaTonya Taylor Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jun
On the Inside
Sounds like … the classic praise-and-worship stylings of Slaughter and contemporaries Ron Kenoly and Darwin HobbsAt a Glance … this album provides a satisfying variety of styles, personal, compelling lyrics, and worshipful choruses from one of the most memorable voices in gospel music

Alvin Slaughter has the kind of voice you never forget. His smooth, rich tenor has a husky, controlled strength that gives it a breathless quality as he sings of God's faithfulness, and a confident ease as he shares the beliefs he's clung to through the challenges of his life.

This versatility has allowed Slaughter to enjoy the acclaim of audiences within the gospel and praise-and-worship segments of Christian music. Since he began a solo career in 1990 after several years as a guest vocalist with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir (including his powerful, testimonial leading vocals on "I'm Clean" and the title track on the choir's 1984 album You're My Praise), Slaughter has been nominated for Dove Awards in categories as diverse as Praise & Worship Album, Contemporary Black Gospel Song of the Year, Contemporary Black Gospel Album of the Year, and Praise and Worship Album of the Year. He's also received a Stellar Award nomination for Best Solo Performance.

With On the Inside, his first album since 1999's Rain Down, Slaughter presents a satisfying variety of songs, aided by Kevin Bond, the veteran traditional, contemporary, and urban gospel music writer, producer, and keyboardist. The unifying theme of the album is clear: Each song describes an element of his 20-plus year journey with God. It begins with "Love Is," a smooth, mid-tempo song that features Slaughter's easy tenor, supported by clean, effortless background vocals, subtle keys by Bond, and gentle strings by the Nashville String Machine. Slaughter's passionate ad-libbing at the end hints at the restrained strength of his voice.

"Secret Place" is splashed with Caribbean-styled percussion. An enjoyable listen, this sleek track is fun and upbeat—a nice way to vary the pace. "Shout Hallelujah" has a similar vibe with a live, churchier feel supplied by Bond on organ and a call-and-response segment at the end. "I Believe" is a lyrical collage of oft-used phrases about God alternated with Slaughter's personal reflections on how God has proven himself in his own life. It features a brief spoken-word interlude. "Lord Please Draw Nigh" is a plea for God's presence among his people that includes a stirring modulation and a brief portion of "O Come Let Us Adore Him."

In "Ain't No Rock," Slaughter and Bond update LaMarquis Jefferson's 1987 praise-and-worship song, giving it a horn-and-guitar-infused R&B flavor that manages to be both smoother and brassier this time around. Understated organ and sassy background vocals make this track one praise team leaders will want to dust off and use again.

"Speak to the Mountain" has a techno-infused, danceable urgency accented by tight vocals, and "Power" features Slaughter's son Sean, who followed his father into the music industry—but as a rapper. Interestingly, these songs fit well into the overall album, providing variety and showcasing the flexibility of Slaughter's stylistic range.

Probably the most powerful track on the album is "Grace," a traditional gospel number penned by V. Michael McKay (who has written for Yolanda Adams and the Thompson Community Singers, among others). The lyrics include: "Grace saved me/When my verdict read guilty/Grace it kept me/When I couldn't keep myself/Grace will sustain me/Until I reach Glory/O what it means to me." The Atlanta-based New Birth Chorale joins Slaughter in this deeply moving testimony that builds to an expressive crescendo that is potent and compelling without losing control. A close second is "I Call the Name," Slaughter's celebration of the power in Jesus' name. It begins gently, then grows in intensity lyrically and musically. "Passion," the final song, serves as a fitting finale for the album. Accompanied by Jason White on piano and soaring strings, Slaughter's voice carries a sense of wonder as he shares his joy in the one he calls "My morning sunshine, my anchor and lifeline/My living word, my all and all."

Frankly, On the Inside is one of the best gospel albums I've heard this year. There's a nice variety of styles here, a cache of songs that are gripping and relatable, superior lead vocals and production and accompaniment that accent Slaughter's gifts rather than overpower them. If you don't know about Alvin Slaughter, this album demonstrates why it's time you heard him. And if you enjoy the praise-and-worship stylings of his contemporaries Ron Kenoly and Darwin Hobbs, this album will fit nicely into your collection.