What makes gospel music truly tick is witnessing the transformation of an artist from their humble beginnings to their maturation process in bearing much fruit throughout their unique ministries. If ever there was an intriguing story that definitely shouts testimony, John P Kee’s pre-gospel days fits the bill. The North Carolina native’s childhood was filled with musical promise and strongly rooted in the church. Kee had all the tools and strong drive to possibly establish a professional career at an early age. Yet, somehow the street life detoured his goals as a teenager. It was only after seeing a friend gunned down that Kee was ready to serve God without reservation.
In launching his ministry, Kee reached back to his troublesome times and rolled up his sleeves to make a difference for those living on the streets, including forming a community choir. That was the birthing of New Life Community Choir in the late eighties. It has now grown into a respectable contemporary gospel choir and remains an integral portion of Kee’s ministry. After over twenty years of recordings as a solo artist, as part of the Victory in Praise & Arts Seminar Choir series and in many guest capacities, the 2012 Stellar Awards’ James Cleveland Achievement recipient rejoins the New Life family for the first time since Nothing but Worship in 2007.
Life & Favor also marks Kee’s new recording chapter for his Kee Music imprint. While New Life plays a crucial role on Life & Favor, the primary focus is Kee’s closest musical associates, most delivering memorable performances. Kee has a definite affection for male quartet music as evidenced on “Amazing,” fueled by the exuberant voices of Zachardi Cortez, Tim Rogers and Lowell Pye. New Life and Phil Lassiter’s funky brass confidently frames the trio. “He’s Working It Out” finds Cortez putting his spin on traditional blues gospel. Le’Andria Johnson runs the table full force on the motivational anthem, “I Win.” Kim Burrell’s jazz toasted set-up for “I Win” warms the worship heart. A bonus surprise is Lisa Knowles whose voice lights up “Another Chance.”
There are also reverent moments of note on Life & Favor. Kee’s rich husky tenor fully enriches “My Worship,” though the ‘remix’ featuring the entire guest cast lacks the punch of the original. New Life’s Sheila Lakin and Maranda Curtis Willis deliver a compelling balance of power and vulnerability on “Fill This House.” The poignant title track AKA “You Don’t Know My Story” featuring LeJuene Thompson and Isaac Carree recalls Kee’s transition from difficult times to victorious ministry leader. Once again, the remix version is a slight waste until Fred Hammond swiftly drops those soothing, soulful vocal fills.
Somehow Kee successfully manages to keep the praise and worship fresh considering the huge and diverse supporting cast. With rare exceptions, Life & Favor is a very welcome reunion for Kee and New Life that comes full circle back to Kee’s passionate street ministry where it all started. Recommended.
By Peggy Oliver