L.J. Reynolds - The Message (2008)

L.J. Reynolds
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Give me that old-time religion! With The Message, L.J. Reynolds delivers a gospel album of rousing, foot-stomping good times and graceful ballads of witness and worship. With a voice of gravel and fire, the lead singer of the legendary quintet, the Dramatics, was ready-made for this traditional gospel material, here done with a definite nod to his Southern Soul roots. Humble in lyric, approach and execution, Reynolds is nothing less than a wonder on his gospel debut.

Give me that old-time religion! With The Message, L.J. Reynolds delivers a gospel album of rousing, foot-stomping good times and graceful ballads of witness and worship. With a voice of gravel and fire, the lead singer of the legendary quintet, the Dramatics, was ready-made for this traditional gospel material, here done with a definite nod to his Southern Soul roots. Humble in lyric, approach and execution, Reynolds is nothing less than a wonder on his gospel debut.

On The Message, Reynolds proves something of an egalitarian in his style of sharing the good news (the unintentionally humorous "Spoken Word" interlude aside). Rance Allen and Walter Hawkins would both be pleased by songs like "A Set Time" that warn folks to get right with God, without stooping to self-righteous condemnation to do so. On songs like "Sunday" and "A Message In this Song," Reynolds' voice possesses a sensitivity and concern for his listeners' souls that is apparent on these simple, highly melodic tunes. Throughout The Message, Reynolds has written lyrics that are clear and straight-forward without abstractions and obscure biblical quotes that only serve to confuse non-believers seeking an understanding of Christ. On "You Can Make It," his is a testimony of encouragement with an abiding generosity for human faults and frailties.

Vocally, L.J. Reynolds retains a velvety resonance that belies his four decades of throaty soul cries and guttural screams as an admired, frequently recorded soul man. Most Southern Soul singers his age are near hoarse, singing in the same safe keys, and struggling to hit the high notes of their heyday, but not Reynolds. L.J.'s instrument comfortably glides in his upper register on elegant ballads like "Sunday" and "We Need A Word From The Lord." It is just as elastic in the deep wells of Reynolds' soul on "Jesus Cares" and "Never Get Too Busy." Throughout The Message, his effortless voice is never less than earnest and heart felt.

The production is very light on slick and high in its efforts to create a live jam session feel, particularly on the up-tempo numbers. "Shout" and "Do It For Me" are through-the-rafters gospel jams, complete with horn sections that will have listeners hopping a Holy Ghost dance. A more rhythmic, contemporary gospel tune, "So Good," is a personal fave that I hope gets a hearing by gospel radio programmers.

Reynolds has toiled for decades as a "close, but no cigar" soul star. Despite several solo singles in the early 60s and then again with a series of low-selling, but critically respected albums throughout the 80's with Capitol Records, Reynolds barely broke the R&B top 40 as a soloist. L.J.'s greatest fame came from his two long, laudable tenures as the Dramatics front man. Reynolds certainly has always had the talent, melodic sensibilities and the distinctive voice to make it as a commercially viable soul star. Through this material, we also know he had the heart. Maybe now is the time and gospel the genre that will finally catapult him to the artistic acclaim and financial rewards his artistry so richly deserves. That it would come through Reynolds most personal material to date, through his Christian worship of God, could only serve to make his inspiring testimony that much more powerful. Still, even without more worldly success, L.J. Reynolds has delivered a fine message, one definitely worth listening to, be ye one with or without faith. Highly Recommended.

-L. Michael Gipson

 
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