One of life’s many hard-knocks facts is that nobody was promised a rose garden, especially ministers and singers who profess their unapologetic faith. Cheryl Fortune, one of gospel music’s go-to background vocalists for Shirley Caesar, Kirk Franklin and James Fortune & FIYA, is also an accomplished songwriter, highlighted by co-writing Fortune & FIYA’s “I Trust You,” which remained on Billboard’s Gospel Airplay chart for over half a year in 2008. However, despite her longtime association (personally and professionally) with James Fortune, who promoted a ‘rise above your circumstances’ platform in much of Fortune & FIYA’s catalog, the trails pierced this Houston native for a long season, being estranged from her husband and as a recent evacuee from the after effects of Hurricane Irma. Now, if that were not enough ammunition for a future debut release, she unleashed an empowering moment of her own with her debut single, “Fighters,” documenting the transformation from battling domestic abuse to reaching the other side with hope and purpose.
Mixing inspiration with Fortune’s personal joy of eighties and nineties old school, Fortune and co-producer/musician Lucius B. Hoskins offer their ten year experience in the industry to form LuDawn Music through Tyscot Music. Their inaugural release, Simply Cheryl, journalizes Fortune’s personal challenges that are shaped into valid teaching points about self-esteem, overcoming and of course, dealing with life as a survivor through God’s way.
In the long run, the ultimate decision to steer more towards Fortune’s happy zone is the glue that holds much of Simply Cheryltogether. “For A Night” rolls in deep bass, funky guitar and hand clapping fills along with a promise that our sticky situation will soon pass with joy in the morning. Jack swing rules on “Nobody,” with “that kind of love will stand the test of time,” even with personal mishaps. The R&B slow ballad, “Figure it Out,” is graced with pleasant male backing voices and the promise that “God is on our side/So there is no need to worry.” Shifting gears just a touch, “Give It Up” invokes Southern Soul a la Malaco, Hi and Stax that also suits Fortune’s passionate voice, about having “everything,” before making the decision to serve God.
Unfortunately, when the mood changes more towards a futuristic path, Simply Cheryl is downgraded on several counts. For instance, “Lost In The Crowd” drowns in a rock flavored arrangement that overshadows Fortune’s confident delivery. Production gadgetry and mundane lyrics (“Jesus, grab the wheel…I don’t want to crash”) hinder “Reflection.” And “Don’t Apologize” stumbles through more cliché lyrics (“You’re beautiful just the way you are”) and annoying electronic vocal masking. Yet there is an exception or two in “Fighters,” anchored by a solid drumline and better songwriting: “I’ll take Your hand and You take mine/We’ll conquer this thing they call life.” On the unplugged side, “The Walk,” one of Simply Cheryl’s thoughtful pieces, provides full opportunity for Fortune’s voice to be heard with only an acoustic guitar: “Life don’t work that way/You can’t change your yesterday.”
Despite some directional and lyrical missteps, as Cheryl Fortune’s solo debut, Simply Cheryl, shows promise, with an authentic mission to encourage others in tribulations, and the always on-point vocals of Ms. Fortune. And there are enough of these promising moments to make listeners look forward to hearing more from this talented singer and songwriter. Moderately Recommended.
By Peggy Oliver