Myron Butler - Stronger (2007)

Myron Butler
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Throughout the last half century of popular music there have been true pioneers like James Brown and Berry Gordy who had a vision of R&B that opened new doors for the genre.  And then there have been talented others, ranging from Gamble & Huff to Prince who have helped the genre progress through evolution rather than revolution.  In the world of modern Gospel, Kirk Franklin has been a relatively revolutionary artist, merging hip-hop and traditional call-and-response Gospel into a new form that has arguably dominated contemporary Gospel for the past decade.  And Franklin's protege Myron Butler has proven more evolutionary but no less enjoyable, taking the template created by Franklin and moving it to an even more accessible level, with wonderful songwriting and R&B sensibilities that turned his arrival as producer and choir director into a real event for the Gospel community.

Throughout the last half century of popular music there have been true pioneers like James Brown and Berry Gordy who had a vision of R&B that opened new doors for the genre.  And then there have been talented others, ranging from Gamble & Huff to Prince who have helped the genre progress through evolution rather than revolution.  In the world of modern Gospel, Kirk Franklin has been a relatively revolutionary artist, merging hip-hop and traditional call-and-response Gospel into a new form that has arguably dominated contemporary Gospel for the past decade.  And Franklin's protege Myron Butler has proven more evolutionary but no less enjoyable, taking the template created by Franklin and moving it to an even more accessible level, with wonderful songwriting and R&B sensibilities that turned his arrival as producer and choir director into a real event for the Gospel community.

Butler and his group Levi captured the Gospel world with their melodic, groove-filled 2005 debut album, Set Me Free, and they've managed to take it up a notch with the immensely pleasing follow-up album, Stronger.  As was the case with the group's debut album, Stronger doesn't serve as a departure from the paths laid by Butler's predecessors, but it is written, produced and performed so well that it instead serves as a fulfillment of their work.

The disc opens with the infectious Franklin-like title cut, but quickly shifts to a varied palette of material, initially landing on the fine rock-influenced "I Live," which features one of Butler's stronger vocal performances.  And as with Set Me Free, the new disc shines on ballads: "Unrestrained" is an irresistible pop/soul gem and "More Than You'll Ever Know" and "Above All" work beautifully, with Butler sharing vocals on the former with talented Levi members DeBEtte Draper-McIntosh and Sedrick Jenkins.  Most moving is the cover of Edwin Hawkins' classic "Give Us This Day," a near-perfect closing to this fine disc.

His years as part of Franklin's God's Property prepared Butler for the leadership role that began auspiciously with Set Me Free. And with Stronger, Myron and Levi take the next step, moving to the A-list of the modern Gospel movement and simply delivering one of the best Gospel albums of the year.  Highly recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 
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