Hezekiah Walker - Azusa - The Next Generation 2: Better (2016)

Hezekiah Walker
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When we last heard from Hezekiah Walker, he released Azusa - The Next Generation in 2013, inspired by a major historical event in the early twentieth century that heavily influenced the Pentecostal movement. From this place called Azusa Street in Los Angeles, California, arose a very passionate plea from William Seymour for revival to promote unity within all races, faiths, cultures and economic levels. Though the hatred and racism still rear their ugly heads in current life scenarios, these magnetizing events at Azusa Street initiated in 1906 inspired choir director/songwriter Walker to unify the masses with the energy of gospel choirs and effective gospel messengers.  Unquestionably, he has echoed this mission statement since he founded the Love Fellowship Tabernacle Choir in the mid-eighties, followed in 1993 by the Love Fellowship Tabernacle Church that embraces all cultures and ages.  

When we last heard from Hezekiah Walker, he released Azusa - The Next Generation in 2013, inspired by a major historical event in the early twentieth century that heavily influenced the Pentecostal movement. From this place called Azusa Street in Los Angeles, California, arose a very passionate plea from William Seymour for revival to promote unity within all races, faiths, cultures and economic levels. Though the hatred and racism still rear their ugly heads in current life scenarios, these magnetizing events at Azusa Street initiated in 1906 inspired choir director/songwriter Walker to unify the masses with the energy of gospel choirs and effective gospel messengers.  Unquestionably, he has echoed this mission statement since he founded the Love Fellowship Tabernacle Choir in the mid-eighties, followed in 1993 by the Love Fellowship Tabernacle Church that embraces all cultures and ages.  

Since taking over the annual Azusa Conferences from conference founder Carlton Pearson, Walker’s heart and mind remained focused on this ongoing, massive goal to remind believers of Azusa Street's impact within a world living in conflict.  Among the artists and choir directors at Walker’s disposal for Azusa - The Next Generation, who understood and appreciated the dynamics of cross-cultural praise, were Brain Courtney Wilson, Donnie McClurkin, John P. Kee and co-producer Donald Lawrence. To this day, the international gospel smash hit “Every Praise” from Azusa - The Next Generation still resonates on the airwaves and is regularly integrated into various denominational praise and worship services.

The latest chapter inspired by the Azusa Conference, Azusa - The Next Generation 2: Better, continues Walker's purpose of uniting Christian believers and others towards a more harmonious, worldwide family through the interactions of choir and soloists.  Though Lawrence sits in the co-production chair once again, there is a completely different supporting cast from Azusa Part 1.  While the first two singles off Azusa Part 2 undoubtedly focus on Walker’s high octane choir attack, they possess traces of other contemporary gospel greats’ imprints. The rousing “Better” has plenty of Lawrence’s trademark snappy hooks. Then there are shades of Fred Hammond via Patrick Dopson’s lead vocals for the pop/urban crossover track, “God Is For Me.”

Much like Azusa 1, there are several notable solo performances throughout the new album.  “Great Is Our God” draws several similarities to “Every Praise,” where the Azusa Mass Choir feeds off the emphatic choruses, aided by Tanya Ray’s uplifting adlibs.  For the Pentecostal high stepping workout, “Work Things Out,” C. Ashley Brown commands the listeners’ attention while throwing in several preaching points: “The Lord will work things out while I’m trying to figure it out” and “Come on Lord and see about me.”  Antonique Smith offers one of the brightest solo performances on the disc with “Grateful,” as her warm soulful voice seamlessly blends with her power moments. Fellow minister Eric McDaniel’s convincing turn on "Keeper" - “I’m giving You every burden/And I’m giving You every care” - is graced with husky vocal edges, well-paced phrasing and on-point control.  Yet, “Holding On,” featuring Carl Thomas, does not quite hit the heights of the other soloists' contributions.

The backing Azusa Mass Choir returns on the new album and owns the stage with “Learning to Live Again,” mirroring L.F.C.’s resounding urban choir flavor, and “No Time to Waste,” dropping a hint ragtime, punctuated breaks and a solid hand clapping groove. However, “Never Forget,” while starting out of the gate with a bang, doesn’t meet its initial promise. 

Despite the differences in musical personnel from Azusa 1, Walker never loses sight of his inspirational and worship business in his everlasting quest for revival in and out of the body of Christ.  And with the critical and spiritual success of this new album, fully realizing Walker’s urgency to repeat gospel revival history, we can only hope that there is an Azusa 3 already in the works.  Recommended.

By Peggy Oliver

 
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