Isaac Carree - No Risk No Reward
Revered gospel vocalist/songwriter Isaac Carree has been away from the scene for the better part of a decade. The longtime Men of Standard member, who also lent his vocals throughout the 2000s to the likes of Kirk Franklin, Michelle Williams, and 112 (on the suggestive “Knock U Down,” no less), left a lasting impact with 2011’s Uncommon Me and 2013’s Reset. On his third solo set, No Risk No Reward, he picks up the pieces with an eclectic and generally consistent set of songs weaving together messages of devotion to a higher power and commitment in human relationships.
The opening “Love Affair” encapsulates the album’s overriding theme of a man assimilating his personal relationship with God into his daily actions as a husband. Though Carree’s lyrical approach is traditional in some regards, the musical outlets through which he delivers it vary to an impressive degree—making for a continually engaging listening experience. “Love Affair” coasts along on an ‘80s synth-funk-nuanced track which proves a stylish fit for his vigorous vocals. Also possessing an appealingly rhythmic foundation, “Ordinary Just Won’t Do,” featuring no less than four guest vocalists, is effective in its supple keyboard layerings running alongside a heartfelt call for heavenly guidance.
Outside of bridging gospel vocals with R&B-structured songs, Carree also explores country music terrain via the Harold Lilly-penned “Woman First.” Here, he conveys his priority of true marital devotion through prayer over a steel guitar/fiddle/keyboard arrangement providing contemplative texture for his candid tone and pensive self harmonies. Exploring a more time-honored platform for gospel expression, the very church-y, choir-fueled “What Kind of Man” is impactful with the assistance of singer Lisa Knowles and the riveting organ fills of Bobby Sparks.
At 14 tracks long, No Risk No Reward would have concluded just fine at cut 11, the reflective “Legend.” Addressing racial injustice in the context of self-determination and spiritual growth, the song’s words are thought-provoking and will likely reach a larger listening audience than some less commercial selections on the album. The subsequent “I Need You” and “Worthy” are well-conceived and finely delivered, but coming on the heels of the wide-ranging stylistic flavors of previous tracks, feel a bit drawn out and heavy-handed.
Carree’s authentic vocal approach is the constant factor which keeps the album’s momentum steady and vibrant. Whether the tempo is slow or upbeat, his hearty phrasing and obvious affinity for the lyrics (many of which he wrote) is hard to not be drawn to. The aforementioned “Legend” is the only moment of the set in which production and editing somewhat overshadow his natural abilities.
No Risk No Reward is likely to appeal to both gospel fans with an open mind for bridging a variety of genres with the message at hand and R&B listeners looking for some centered positivity in their playlists. Although there are a few instances in which Carree’s take may seem a bit out of touch with the times (“So I follow Him, You follow me/That’s how it’s supposed to be” to his wife in the previously mentioned “Love Affair”), his missives overall are welcome ones of faith and understanding in very difficult and uncertain times. Recommended.