Gordon Chambers - Surrender (2017)

Gordon Chambers
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Gordon Chambers - Surrender

Gordon Chambers is in a thoughtful mood. Chambers has always been a writer with a strong spiritual side, and in the five years since his last album, his spirit has been tested by life occurrences, most notably the death of his friend, Whitney Houston, and a near-tragic house fire that acted as a match for a flame of reflection. That all comes out in Surrender, Chambers' fourth solo album, a release that finds him seeking to provide context for himself and for so many others living in a challenging time, and to inspire with messages that are brimming with both compassion and depth.

Gordon Chambers - Surrender

Gordon Chambers is in a thoughtful mood. Chambers has always been a writer with a strong spiritual side, and in the five years since his last album, his spirit has been tested by life occurrences, most notably the death of his friend, Whitney Houston, and a near-tragic house fire that acted as a match for a flame of reflection. That all comes out in Surrender, Chambers' fourth solo album, a release that finds him seeking to provide context for himself and for so many others living in a challenging time, and to inspire with messages that are brimming with both compassion and depth.

Through the 1990s, Chambers established himself as a songwriter on the rise, winning a Grammy for Anita Baker's recording of his "I Apologize," and hitting the top 10 several times with songs he provided to artists such as Brownstone and The Isley Brothers. It was in the following decade that he focused on establishing himself as a performer, releasing a critically acclaimed and popular independent debut album, and working hard to transition from a songwriter-who-also-sings to a top shelf singer/songwriter. His biggest challenge was not material -- he is a uniquely gifted songwriter -- but was establishing a performing career in his thirties, particularly since his organic style was too mature (and, using modern parlance, "too musical") for urban radio.

That struggle led to a bit of trend chasing on 2011's Sincere album, but time and wisdom have put Chambers in a more confident, authentic place on Surrender, his most personal album to date. To call it "personal" isn't to say it is an album of naval-gazing piano ballads. It mixes up tempos and arrangements -- including several electronics-driven orchestrations -- but the sound consistently and appropriately brings drama to Chambers' insightful lyrics, and never gives the appearance of pandering. And it is precisely in those lyrics that Chambers makes this album one that is clearly his own. Songwriters often use the veneer of a third person voice in their compositions, even when they are truly telling their own story. On Surrender, Chambers takes down the fourth wall and opens himself to his audience more than ever before, giving a deeper peek into the artist as a man of great sensitivity, inspiration and, ultimately, faith in both God and in fragile, messy humans.

Perhaps the most representative song on the album is one that Chambers didn't even write: The traditional "I Surrender All" rises as a statement of love and submission to The Savior, and Chambers sings it like a man who has been through some stuff and feels blessed to be back home. The lush arrangement is just right for a song that is a bellwether for an album that focuses on praise, strength and hope, even in darkness. So the beautiful "My Way," a tribute to Houston, looks past the tabloid narrative of her death and final years, and instead recalls the grace and light of an artist who lived a complicated but impactful life. Similar messages of hope and thankfulness pervade the big ballad "One Voice" (which Chambers wrote for Brandy almost two decades ago), the celebration of family, "Circle of Love," and even the difficult re-emergence from tragedy in "Love and Help Somebody." 

Among the best songs on the album are two big name collaborations: "Back To Love," featuring Lalah Hathaway, is a mildly funky call for reunion at a time of a romantic stress, and has the feel of a potential second hit from the album. Even better is the first single, a dramatic collaboration with Steff Reed and Eric Roberson, "I Made It," the video for which tells the story of Chambers' house fire.

There are lots of things to like on Surrender, but maybe the biggest cause for celebration is seeing a talented, mature artist, with the first touches of gray in his goatee, sounding so comfortable in his musical skin. Surrender is not a gospel album, it is not an R&B album, and it is not a pop album. While it has all those elements, it is really Gordon Chambers' statement of who he is today, categories be damned. While complaints about popular music often focus on poor production, on demeaning lyrics, or on formulaic songwriting by committee, the truest objection is a lack of authenticity. So when an artist delivers something that feels this true to who he is, it is worth toasting. Congratulations, Mr. Chambers. Highly Recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 
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