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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Wings to Walk This Road

  • reviewed by LaTonya Taylor Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Oct
Wings to Walk This Road
Sounds like … an eclectic blend of inspirational pop, with touches of classical, R&B, neo-soul and gospel musicAt a Glance … this album is the rare combination of compelling music and satisfying lyrics that will appeal to both musical purists and lyrically-focused listeners

John Stoddart is one of those artists you may have been listening to for years without knowing it. This Washington, D.C.-based writer/producer/vocalist/keyboardist/arranger/conductor's work transcends several genres and venues. He's played at National Prayer Breakfasts, Grammy Celebrations, Stellar and Trumpet Awards, and written songs performed at the United Nations. Extremely prolific, the long list of artists Stoddard has worked with includes notables as diverse as Sandi Patty (on her Dove-winning album Artist of My Soul), Grammy nominee Kirk Whalum (who recently released Into My Soul) and Wintley Phipps (who gave a young Stoddart his first major production experience on 1995's The Power of a Dream). Stoddart has also worked with Boney James, Diana Ross, Celine Dion, Patti Austin and Al Jarreau, among others.

Wings to Walk This Road is Stoddart's sophomore solo release, following 1997's Love So Real. Fans who've enjoyed his work with others can now enjoy another chance to hear him on his own. Though the musical styles vary from song to song (reflecting influences ranging from the soaring pop stylings of David Foster to the jazzy piano arrangements of Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson), the cohesiveness of the album comes lyrically, through the relational themes reflecting the passionate love between God and his creation.

Wings opens with "Anything," based on the Apostle Paul's desire to count everything as loss compared to knowing Christ. This upbeat pop offering begins with sensitive keys and guitar and soars to a passionate crescendo aided by lofty strings and emotive lyrics. "Falling For You" has a funky, "cruisable" R&B groove, driven by Larry Kimpel on bass guitar and lyrics describing Stoddart's relationship with God: "Now I'm fallin' for you/In this love affair/What kind of love would make me feel this way/'Cause I can't stop fallin'/I'm in love again." Stoddart slips into a falsetto ad-lib toward the end, reminiscent of original Tempation member Eddie Kendricks.

"Fly Away" is truly unique, with a poetry-slam meets jam-session vibe. It features spoken-word segments from Stoddart accented by smooth bass, sax, trumpet and flugelhorn. And "Everybody Talkin'" has a funky, slightly cynical edge. From a lyrical perspective, it's Stoddard's "the way I see it" equivalent of Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On," Stevie Wonder's "Jesus Children of America" or Jon Gibson's "The Narrow Road" in its editorial critique of religion. Saucy brass and organ give it a retro-soul feel as it warns that "Everybody's talkin' 'bout a man they know/but they're livin' any kind of ways/talkin' 'bout religion Jesus loves me so/and it's all right but it's not OK."

Several tracks are from the loving perspective of Jesus to the listener. "Have You Ever Been Lonely?" has a warm, pop-acoustic feel and lyrics emphasizing the High Priest's empathy with the pain of his hurting children. A smooth, romantic R&B song, "Come to Me," is a compelling, emotive invitation to come to Christ. "You Will Never Know" features evocative strings and dreamy, breathy vocals from Stoddard. Pensive keys accent the sense of desperate love Christ has for us-and his desire for a personal relationship with us.

"Make You Believe" has a similar theme, describing God's "everyday miracles" and conveying a gentle frustration at our refusal to see his loving acts: "I gave you a sunrise just to see you smile/did you stop to see it yesterday?/I gave you the faith to walk another mile/you took and walked the other way/every day I try to make it clear to you/can I help you understand … what can I do to make you believe me?" Similarly, "Anytime You Need a Friend" is an easy, upbeat number describing God's promise of friendship.

Other outstanding tracks include a head-bobbable cover of Stan Vincent's "Ooh Child" with a smart, churchy vamp at the end, and a seven-part (all sung by Stoddart), 35-second, a capella arrangement of "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" arranged by musical historian/choral conductor Lloyd Mallory, Jr. "Angel" is Stoddart's gentle tribute to his wife, and "You Can Call Me," one of several transitional interludes on the album, has a soulful, foot-stomping sensibility. Kirk Whalum joins Stoddart briefly on "No Greater Love."

Stoddard's classical training and pop influences are evident throughout, and segments of several songs have a sweet, fulsome orchestral feel. Frankly, the music is so enjoyable that this album would have worked well as an instrumental collection-Stoddart's earthy baritone is a welcome bonus. Those elements, combined with the depth and maturity of the lyrics, make this offering from a musically astute "roaring lamb" and "everyday believer" worth a listen … or many listens.