Fred Hammond - Love Unstoppable (2009)

Fred Hammond
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Since his tenure with Radical for Christ (RFC), Fred Hammond has largely been accredited as one of the key architects of urban worship: a smoldering mix of contemporary gospel and melodic worship-like Contemporary Christian music. It became the perfect, surprising fit for the former Commissioned front man; garnering him a landslide of radio, genre-defying tunes like "No Weapon," "When the Spirit of the Lord" and "Glory to Glory to Glory." Almost overnight, Hammond eclipsed most of the contemporary giants in gospel music during the 1990's; giving him additional traction to his newly grown musical dominance. But after awhile the record sales dropped, his focus on delivering epic albums dimmed and Hammond was quickly being replaced with the newest kids on the block. In 2006, Hammond summed up his own experience while being interviewed with BET when he mentioned people were "getting tired of hearing the same old Fred."

But there was nothing really wrong with the same old Fred.

Since his tenure with Radical for Christ (RFC), Fred Hammond has largely been accredited as one of the key architects of urban worship: a smoldering mix of contemporary gospel and melodic worship-like Contemporary Christian music. It became the perfect, surprising fit for the former Commissioned front man; garnering him a landslide of radio, genre-defying tunes like "No Weapon," "When the Spirit of the Lord" and "Glory to Glory to Glory." Almost overnight, Hammond eclipsed most of the contemporary giants in gospel music during the 1990's; giving him additional traction to his newly grown musical dominance. But after awhile the record sales dropped, his focus on delivering epic albums dimmed and Hammond was quickly being replaced with the newest kids on the block. In 2006, Hammond summed up his own experience while being interviewed with BET when he mentioned people were "getting tired of hearing the same old Fred."

But there was nothing really wrong with the same old Fred. What the immediate public wanted was more hard-hitting Detroit funk splashed with Hammond's popular bass lines and even more of that creamy worship ballad etched with irresistible melodies and poignant lyrics. Love Unstoppable, Hammond's seventh solo effort and fifth without the RFC troupe, chronicles much of what people expect to hear from Hammond's work. Different from his previous chapters, he manages to find solace with a new set of co-writing buddies (Calvin Rodgers, Phillip Feaster, Ericka Warren). The new bond gives him a fresh update, renewed joy (highly expressed in his perky tenor on the live-sounding cuts) and, surprisingly, glimpses of the old Fred.

The pageantry of live-natured tracks and studio jam sessions kick off with three upbeat stompers: "Awesome God" is a mighty celebration of sweaty praise and bubbly bass that features a memorable chorus as an album highlight. The springy melody of "Nobody Like You Lord" could have easily been taking out of the RFC archive, but the song turns a page towards a repetitive, sing-a-long vamp that is certain to open up the floodgates of traditional choir lovers. "Find No Fault," the last of the opening up-tempo medley, is less enthusiastic. Here, his ad-libs are never-ending on the vacation bible school tune. Of course, the first two songs are superiorly long and maybe could have been downsized some, but think of them as extended grooves, perfect for a 70s funk band.

While the synth-driven tunes of "They That Wait" (a ‘80s throwback tune featuring a duet with John P. Kee), "Awesome God" and the Commissioned-sounding "Happy" are likely to grab the most attention from Love Unstoppable, his ballads are some of his best creations yet. "Best Thing That Ever Happened" flutters like P.M. Dawn's "I'd Die Without You," but with an urgency towards rock-embellished worship. His finest, "Lost In You Again," walks the same path of pop-gospel, only it gets more easily wrapped up in Hammond's vocal sincerity and most enduring, poetic lyrics since "Running Back to You." On "Take My Hand," Hammond brilliantly updates the Thomas Dorsey hymn, "Precious Lord, Take My Hand," and dips it into a silky Quiet Storm romance.

Hammond takes a few risks toward the end of Love Unstoppable. "Thoughts of Joy" is mellow salsa-jazz that could have serenaded from a Stevie Wonder disc. In an effort to embrace the legend of his influential urban worship, he rekindles reverent worship on "You're Good" and "Lord How I Love You," albeit short of fancy musical progressions.

While Hammond has consistently been active in recording up to this point, Love Unstoppable is a defining moment and extends itself well beyond his last set of album releases. Sure, he's had good moments here and there. However, it seemed like Hammond was cutting records that only generated one or two singles, but quickly vanished into that unfortunate dustbin of the public's forgetfulness. Strong enough to change this trend, Love Unstoppable is an enjoyable album that is certain to "wow!" longtime fans, and perhaps even open windows of newfound interest among those, like myself, that aren't big Hammond followers. The ambiguous album title may beg for a better translation, but here Hammond's stunning contributions showcases a veteran of ‘unstoppable' career limits. Highly Recommended.

By J Matthew Cobb

 
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