Donnie Williams and Park Place - The Power

Donnie Williams and Park Place
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Fans of Sounds of Blackness and Iyanla Vanzant's star-studded inspirational CD, In The Meantime, will be heartened by the six-track EP, Higher Power, by former American Idol contestant Donnie Williams and his Park Place collective. A lovely collection of inspiring songs of hope, faith and ministry, Higher Power seamlessly blends sophisticated jazz and heartfelt soul with a hopeful message for harrowing times. Superbly sung with an innocence and sincerity increasingly rare in a genre that has become more about self-centered vocal acrobatics than worship and ministry, Donnie Williams and his sister Terrell Williams have voices that breathe life into tired souls.

Fans of Sounds of Blackness and Iyanla Vanzant's star-studded inspirational CD, In The Meantime, will be heartened by the six-track EP, Higher Power, by former American Idol contestant Donnie Williams and his Park Place collective. A lovely collection of inspiring songs of hope, faith and ministry, Higher Power seamlessly blends sophisticated jazz and heartfelt soul with a hopeful message for harrowing times. Superbly sung with an innocence and sincerity increasingly rare in a genre that has become more about self-centered vocal acrobatics than worship and ministry, Donnie Williams and his sister Terrell Williams have voices that breathe life into tired souls.

At just over 30 minutes, Higher Power is brief to a fault, but just enough for a work break or train wait. Though its Christian overtones ring clear, the EP delivers a fairly denomination-free message about surrendering to your higher power, a resonating message for most any faith. With restrained piousness (a tune on addiction recovery, "The Steps," prevents it being completely absent of overt religiosity), producer Paul Tillman Smith and the Park Place musicians pares down the project's themes to the heart of the serenity prayer: to accept your human limitations, seek God for comfort and turn troubling burdens over to a power with shoulders sturdy enough to bear the load. It's a simple, often repeated message throughout and not necessarily an original one, but when so many of the supports we've counted on appear to be crumbling before our very eyes, it's a message worth reinforcing. Going it alone and prideful independence may work out okay when times are good, but it's lonely and positively terrifying when times get rough.

Gratefully, Donnie Williams and Park Place are prepared to warm you in the isolating cold. The passion, conviction and sincerity of Donnie, Terrell and 60s soul legend Freddie Hughes ("Oo wee Baby, I Love You," "You Can't Take It Away") are all right on time. A highlight from Williams' debut album Just Like Magic, the lead track "Higher Power" is again performed by Williams in a 70s soul balladeer style that would have done Peabo Bryson and Donnie Hathaway proud. Fellow American idol Latoya London and half of the Braxton Brother jazz duo, Nelson Braxton, provide angelic backing on the silky cut. A warm duet between Donnie and Terrell, "Darkness To Light," continues the old school spirit, this one reminiscent of classic Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright. A gritty Freddie Hughes takes the project from smooth soul straight to a sing-talking blues in a baritone that is part Barry White, part Jerry Butler and all heart. "Music Land" revives the 80s multi-solo, feel-good anthems of "We Are The World" and "Do They Know It's Christmas?" only with much less kitsch and way more soul thanks to veteran vocalists Derick Hughes (Freddie's son) and Denise Stewart and relative newcomers Michael Cheadle and Raoul Smith.

Musically, this charitable project is more opulent and layered than Donnie's debut, largely thanks to producer and legendary jazz drummer Paul Tillman Smith. Under Tillman's direction, the jazz musicians feel looser and more comfortable here-particularly on "The Power"-than on ...Magic, and the vocalists all more earnest in their efforts to powerfully communicate this empathic message. In its consistent jazzy soul feel, there is a well-executed cohesion on this labor of love. Created in part to support local charities and churches in California's East Bay, Tillman Smith should be pleased to have produced an inspiring project destined to achieve its philanthropic goals while nicely returning his star artists, Donnie Williams and Park Place, to the esteem their talents deserve. Highly Recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 
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