Shirley Murdock - Soulfood (2007)

Shirley Murdock
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Shirley Murdock's second contemporary gospel album, Soulfood (Tyscot Records), provides plenty of pleasant side dishes but ultimately leaves you feeling hungry. Despite Murdock's soulful tone and usual knock-out harmonies, her newest effort-sans a few delectable ditties-lacks enough meat to feed this reviewer's soul. With her husband and long-time collaborator, Dale Anthony DeGroat, behind the production wheel, we're driven down all too familiar musical highways on this road trip to the church picnic. Since we're only rarely guided into the sanctuary, one wonders if loyalty to family ties is preventing Ms. Murdock from delivering the vocal smorgasbord we know her talent can cook up.  

Since I'm a long-time fan of this 20 year industry vet, let's first talk about what works on the 12-track album.

Shirley Murdock's second contemporary gospel album, Soulfood (Tyscot Records), provides plenty of pleasant side dishes but ultimately leaves you feeling hungry. Despite Murdock's soulful tone and usual knock-out harmonies, her newest effort-sans a few delectable ditties-lacks enough meat to feed this reviewer's soul. With her husband and long-time collaborator, Dale Anthony DeGroat, behind the production wheel, we're driven down all too familiar musical highways on this road trip to the church picnic. Since we're only rarely guided into the sanctuary, one wonders if loyalty to family ties is preventing Ms. Murdock from delivering the vocal smorgasbord we know her talent can cook up.  

Since I'm a long-time fan of this 20 year industry vet, let's first talk about what works on the 12-track album. Easily the standout track is the album's first single, "I Love Me Better Than That." The warm, radio-friendly anthem has platitudes to spare but its inspirational message is easily relatable for anyone who's ever given more of themselves than they had to give. Though the single's live and studio helpings served on Soulfood are tasty, they're not the album's choice cut; those honors belong to the rousing foot-stumper, "Shout Now." This high octane crowd pleaser with its soul-stirring guitar and organ work is a near perfect example of the Chicago sound honed by gospel pioneers Rev. James Cleveland and Rev. Milton Brunson Thompson a generation ago. Guests Jana Mitten and Paula Ewell gut-bucket shouts complement a loosed Shirley Murdock who effortlessly meets the demands of this deceptively difficult tune. On "The Invitation/Nothing But The Blood," a sweetly sincere Shirley Murdock ministers to listeners before smoothly sailing into this traditional gospel classic. The spare production and deftly played live piano here offers Murdock an opportunity to shine and gives this dessert an organic feel that is sorely missing from most of Soulfood.

Other songs have mouth-watering moments in the calypso break of the intricately produced "Oh, To Know Him," the funky hooks and attitudinal background vocals on "More Than a Conqueror" or the South African harmonies of "Praise Him," but they fail to hold the heat for the entire song. Occasionally the failure lies in Soulfood's dated production, as demonstrated by alternating track turns with clichéd bell trees, 80's snare drums and a Vox laden debacle starring guest artists and producers Bigg Rob and Sure 2 B. The latter was intended as homage to the Vox technique's originator and legendary artist, Roger Troutman. Troutman first discovered Murdock and produced her series of 80's R&B hits. This desperate remix of an already tired song, F.O.G. (Favor of God), manages something less than a tribute.

Production issues aside, Soulfood's surprising weakness lies in Murdock's often restrained vocal delivery that is overly reliant on throaty growls and repetitive vocal tricks rather than the soaring notes that made her famous. Shirley does sing here, but rarely outside of her comfort zone. When she does, the song and this project take flight. When she doesn't, you reach for the hot sauce and wonder how such a talented cook could've forgotten her secret recipe of soulful herbs and spices.

by L. Michael Gipson

 
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