Sounds like … a collection of great performances from the most popular gospel projects in recent yearsAt a Glance … last year was a somewhat slow year for gospel music, evidenced by this collection's inclusion of many older tracks, but there's no denying the quality of the songs and performances represented here.
Recently, we received an e-mail asking why our best-of list for 2001 wasn't more diverse. The reader was particularly interested in why there weren't any gospel artists included — a fair question. I have a strong respect for gospel music from recording it and performing it over the years, but since much of gospel music strictly adheres to a particular genre style (rather than try to break new ground in songwriting or sound), a gospel album has to be truly breathtaking to crack my favorite albums of the year list. It's the subtle nuances of the performance and the perfect marriage of the right words and melody that make the perfect gospel song. Regarding the past year in gospel music, I asked some of my closest friends who happen to be gospel enthusiasts, and they agreed with me … 2001 was a somewhat slow year for exciting new gospel music. That's not to say it was a bad year, as I positively reviewed several new gospel releases, but there was nothing particularly new or fresh either.
Case in point, WoW Gospel 2002. I love these WoW compilations because they're great for introducing Christian music to people not familiar with it. They also nicely capsulize the best in music for the last year — at least, I'd like to think they do. Some of the WoW releases have been notorious for plugging songs that had yet to hit radio or even to be released on an album yet. With radio play a far less significant factor with gospel music, the goal would seem to be to select the best songs from the past year's new gospel albums. Interestingly, only about half of the songs on this two-disc collection fall into that category. 2001 saw the release of solid gospel projects from the likes of LeJuene Thompson, Virtue, Hezekiah Walker, Beverly Crawford, and Excelsior to name a few. I was surprised that Mary Mary (one of the strongest debuts of 2000-2001) was excluded, as was Londa Larmond, who was included on last year's compilation yet excluded this year with a debut release in June of 2001.
An equal number of the songs on WoW Gospel 2002 come from albums released in 2000, however, and this includes most of gospel music's most respected trailblazers. We're long overdue new albums from pioneers such as Fred Hammond and Kirk Franklin. These artists and others have new albums releasing this year, but there are no previews here. Particularly inexplicable are the inclusions of CeCe Winans's "King of Kings" from her 1999 Alabaster Box album and Yolanda Adams's "The Battle Is the Lord's" from her 1994 Save the World album. Both artists have released new albums this past year, so why not include material from them to help promote those albums? Perhaps Yolanda's song was resurrected on gospel radio as a response to the September 11 attacks? Gospel albums tend to have a longer shelf life than those in other genres, but the inclusion of songs from prior to 2000 seems to negate the album's advertisement of "The Year's 30 Top Gospel Artists and Songs" (except that they've included the artists, as promised).
Despite an odd musical selection that seems to misrepresent the year in gospel music, you can't really criticize the music itself. Like last year's WoW Gospel release, this is a compilation that does a good job of reflecting gospel music's diversity. There are plenty of traditional gospel songs from artists such as Bishop T.D. Jakes's Potter's House Mass Choir ("When My Season Comes"), John P. Kee with the New Life Community Choir ("I Believe"), Donnie McClurkin ("That's What I Believe"), and Hezekiah Walker with the LFT Church Choir ("The Battle"). If you like knockout solo vocal performances, you'll be impressed by offerings from Kim Burrell ("Victory"), Beverly Crawford ("Run to the Water"), and Dottie Peoples ("I Want to Be Ready") … not to mention CeCe and Yolanda, of course. For smooth rhythm-and-blues-flavored gospel, there's Deitrick Haddon's "Home" and Remixx's "Dear Lord." If you prefer more of an urban/rhythm-and-blues sound to your gospel, there's "If We Pray" by Anointed and "Gotta Worship" by Virtue. Kirk Franklin and 1NC demonstrate their diverse sound with the Latin-gospel track "Unconditional."
Like all WoW compilations, you get a fair amount of music for your money, and I can only list so many tracks in a limited amount of space. Suffice it to say, WoW Gospel 2002 does indeed feature a fine collection of gospel performances from both studio and live albums, choirs and solo artists, performing traditional and modern gospel arrangements. There's no question that these are good songs that pack a wallop when it comes to praising the Lord. But the abundance of older material on the collection only seems to confirm that 2001 was not as artistically stunning a year for gospel music as years past have been. With plenty of important gospel projects on the horizon for 2002, I predict WoW Gospel 2003 will be all the more amazing by comparison.