Jonathan Nelson - Fearless (2016)

Jonathan Nelson
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There are many gospel artists who honed their musical skills in the church under the guidance of family members. Yet, when one grows up with a history encompassing several generations of family who have faithfully served in ministry, these solid examples understandably attract still another generation to carry the gospel music torch.   With a strong ministry background that included his twin brother, Jason Nelson, Jonathan Nelson is more than well equipped to bless the masses in song, armed with his intuitive songwriting abilities and keen motivation to lead choirs, fueled by his mentor, Donald Lawrence.

 

There are many gospel artists who honed their musical skills in the church under the guidance of family members. Yet, when one grows up with a history encompassing several generations of family who have faithfully served in ministry, these solid examples understandably attract still another generation to carry the gospel music torch.   With a strong ministry background that included his twin brother, Jason Nelson, Jonathan Nelson is more than well equipped to bless the masses in song, armed with his intuitive songwriting abilities and keen motivation to lead choirs, fueled by his mentor, Donald Lawrence.

While serving under his father as a music minister in Baltimore, Maryland, Nelson gathered some close friends for informal singing practices. But, with just one special invitation by Karen Clark-Sheard to perform her background vocals, this informal ensemble transformed into Purpose. Suddenly, they were on their ministerial way, launched by an independent live concert CD in 2002 that produced “Healed,” a major hit for Lawrence in 2005. Meanwhile, Nelson and Purpose continued growing in stature as worship vessels, connecting with gospel giants like Lawrence and Troy Sneed through Nelson’s passionate gift for songwriting and garnering several Stellar Awards. After a few years of establishing their dues and refining their performance experience, it was a live recording concert in 2006 that caught the attention of Integrity Music.     

With their major debut in 2008 for Integrity, Right Now Praise, Nelson and Purpose finally landed on the national gospel scene. Yet, it was Jonathan’s sermonic inspirations and stellar arrangements on such as cuts as “Healed,” “Expect the Great,” and “My Name is Victory” that furthered his gospel music kingdom. These new gospel classics registered as hits on the Billboard Top 200, garnered Top 10 positions on the Gospel charts, and won Stellar Awards, cementing their legacy.

As a seasoned music minister with four projects under his belt and consistent contributions toward contemporary praise and worship, Nelson could have opted to rest on all the aforementioned laurels. Instead, with the new Fearless (Entertainment One), Nelson releases what may be among one of his most ambitious projects yet, one whose occasional artistic detours are as impressive as Nelson’s reliable vocal arrangements.  

Recorded live at Nelson's church home, The Faith Center in Sunset, Florida, Fearless taps into a something for everybody mentality — from techno anthems to Caribbean rhythms, all stamped with an emphatic attitude and first-rate choir. The title track jump starts the proceedings, driven by the chant of "I'll be bold like a lion" and a crisp rap break from Da'Truth. There's an underlying blues edge on “Name of the Lord,” capped by a gritty performance from an un-credited female soloist. “Rehoboth” bridges a sophisticated touch of old-school soul a la Earth, Wind & Fire. Oddly enough, the debut single and only real stick-in the mud on Fearless, “Anything Can Happen,” peters out quickly with its over-promotion of prosperity in a surprisingly very bland fashion. However, the follow-up single, “I Believe (The Island Melody),” fares exceedingly better with a joyous sing-along that invites the spirit of the Caribbean islands. Thankfully, Fearless holds up its promise most of the time as an engaging and purposeful church service.

The enriching, African-influenced, “Baba Oh,” is co-led by Ghanaian praise leader Sonny Badu. As always, Kim Burrell rules in a guest vocalist capacity on “Brand New,” scatting away and inviting a classy jazz presence before raising the praise bar even higher during the climax. “Forever Settled” is firmly anchored by the soulfully charged Dorinda Clark-Cole. Jade Nelson's (Jonathan’s niece) pristine soprano soothes the soul throughout “Amazing Love.” The ever-vivacious Tye Tribbett ushers the congregation out with the foot stomping revival in “I Give You Glory.”

Thanks to Nelson’s willingness to explore different musical ground, Fearless is rarely dull. In the overall process, Fearless exemplifies the maturity in a praise and worship leader like Nelson, who proudly represents his family’s current generation of continuing ministry excellence. Solidly Recommended.

 

By Peggy Oliver

 
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