Debra Killings is a talented artist who has been in the background of some of the biggest R&B hits of the past decade, including monster releases by OutKast, TLC, Tamia and Monica. The Atlanta-based musician has provided backing vocals and/or played bass on over five dozen major albums during that period, and has become one of R&B's most sought after session musicians and vocalists.
Despite her talent helping others - or perhaps because of it - it took too long for Debra to break out and create her first solo outing, Surrender. Even more surprising, however, is that she chose to introduce herself as a solo artist through a contemporary gospel album, rather than a secular R&B album. Surrender has the sound and all the trapping of a contemporary urban album, including top notch players and producers. Its message, however, is unapologetically spiritual, and Killings shows that she is an artist with something to say.
The album opens with its most blatantly commercial cut, the radio-friendly "Message in the Music," produced by master hitmaker Dallas Austin (Boyz II Men, TLC). And while most of the attention received by the album has been because of "Message" and the Fred Hammond-produced "Because of Your Love," far more interesting are the other, more personal cuts written and produced by Killings. The disc's high point is "Oh My God," a wonderful acoustic soul number that would sound at home on India.Arie's Voyage to India. On it, Killings displays a fresh, breezy feel while simultaneously hinting at traditional Praise & Worship vocal arrangements. Similarly, the remainder of the album is at its best when it veers from typical contemporary urban sounds, such as on the Stevie Wonder-influenced "Love," the bluesy "Ain't Nobody," and the gospel-ish "A Change." While less original, the ballads "Even When" and "Come On" also make for very good listening.
Surrender is a solid mass introduction to Debra Killings, who proves herself to be as engaging at the front of the stage as she is in the background. Hopefully, this artist who has supported so many others will stay out in front for awhile.
by Chris Rizik