Vanessa Bell Armstrong - Walking Miracle (2007)

Vanessa Bell Armstrong

Vanessa Bell Armstrong stunned gospel audiences with her 1984 debut album Peace Be Still with vocal stylings that blended jazz riffs, operatic runs, and gut-bucket soul shouts and that inspired a subsequent generation of R&B and gospel singers. Since her stellar 80's run of classic work, Vanessa's has had a patchwork quilt of musical highs ("Don't Give Up On Jesus") and lows (much of her new millennium offerings). So, it was with both suspicion and suppressed anticipation that I opened Ms. Armstrong's latest musical offering, Walking Miracle. Upon a single listen, I'm delighted to report that I almost wept tears of joy when Vanessa blessed my ears with her most complete album in over a decade.

Vanessa Bell Armstrong stunned gospel audiences with her 1984 debut album Peace Be Still with vocal stylings that blended jazz riffs, operatic runs, and gut-bucket soul shouts and that inspired a subsequent generation of R&B and gospel singers. Since her stellar 80's run of classic work, Vanessa's has had a patchwork quilt of musical highs ("Don't Give Up On Jesus") and lows (much of her new millennium offerings). So, it was with both suspicion and suppressed anticipation that I opened Ms. Armstrong's latest musical offering, Walking Miracle. Upon a single listen, I'm delighted to report that I almost wept tears of joy when Vanessa blessed my ears with her most complete album in over a decade.

A lean 10-track offering without an ounce of extemporaneous filler, Walking Miracle is nothing short of its prophetic title: a contemporary gospel project that manages to find an appropriate mix of fresh urban sounds, dust-free traditional gospel of the most earnest righteousness and a sprinkle of bold, ambitious melodies demonstrating Ms. Armstrong ever-evolving artistry. Electronic music, catchy hooks and drum tight backing vocals dominate the album, yet the producers-with one possible exception ("Watch Me")-manage to flex without over powering Vanessa's raspy, flat footed alto. Even on "Watch Me," a hooky mid-tempo groove, when the slick background vocals threaten to steal the song from the venerable Ms. Armstrong, Vanessa just increases her swing. This is the comeback album of a heavy weight.

It's a testament to her highly accomplished production team and Ms. Armstrong's willingness to trust them to expand her repertoire in unexpected directions-while still honoring Vanessa's iconic vocal intensity-that Walking Miracle has something inspiring for all. Producer Cedric Thompson asks listeners on the retro-Sounds of Blackness house ditty to "Wait" on the Lord, while the Fred Jerkins' head banger asks Vanessa fans to endure "Til' The Victory." Both standouts, "Wait" is a cardio-burners' iPod must while" ‘Til The Victory" is the sharp DJ's next summer remix. Not to be outdone, writer/producer Smokie Norful takes Vanessa out of the clubs and into the valley where she shouts to the mountaintop about how God has been "So Good To Me." Soothingly strings, sweetly restrained guitars and choral flourishes build to a heavenly anthem ensuring that Norful has produced another gospel classic for Vanessa on the aching ballad "Just Hold On." Vanessa's sage testimony delivered in Cedric and Victor Caldwell's "It's Over Now" will be echoed at store-front churches by world-weary vocalists for years to come. Rounding out the project is a quintet of highly polished, R&B influenced tracks courtesy of J. Moss and Paul Allen ("Seasons", "I Just Love You"), Rodney Jerkins ("Walking Miracle") and Fred Jerkins ("Watch Me," "Fall In Love Again"). It's on these modern musical landscapes that Vanessa stretches and demonstrates her versatility as a mature artist elevating work that in lesser hands could be boring, predictable or superficial-a cardinal sin in gospel. Always the saint, Vanessa travels through these tunes as her own Walking Miracle.

By L. Michael Gipson

 
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