Richard Smallwood - Anthology Live (2015)

Richard Smallwood
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It is truly and astounding achievement if an artist can sustain both career longevity and the respect of other artists, and is one that usually reaps many rewards down the road. Through his distinguished career that included the founding of the first gospel choir at his alma mater, Howard University, Richard Smallwood deservedly has been recognized with Stellar, Dove and NAACP Awards, as well as induction into the Gospel Hall of Fame.  In the past two years, even more greatness headed his way:  Smallwood (along with Daryl Coley) was bestowed with the 2015 BMI Trailblazers of Gospel as part of the Stellar Awards Weekend, where fellow trailblazers greeted him with “Center of My Joy,” “Total Praise” and other Smallwood worship gems.  BET’s Celebration of Gospel showered the ‘Maestro’ with an All Star Tribute in a thirteen minute medley featuring Maurette Brown Clark, Donnie McClurkin and Yolanda Adams. 

It is truly and astounding achievement if an artist can sustain both career longevity and the respect of other artists, and is one that usually reaps many rewards down the road. Through his distinguished career that included the founding of the first gospel choir at his alma mater, Howard University, Richard Smallwood deservedly has been recognized with Stellar, Dove and NAACP Awards, as well as induction into the Gospel Hall of Fame.  In the past two years, even more greatness headed his way:  Smallwood (along with Daryl Coley) was bestowed with the 2015 BMI Trailblazers of Gospel as part of the Stellar Awards Weekend, where fellow trailblazers greeted him with “Center of My Joy,” “Total Praise” and other Smallwood worship gems.  BET’s Celebration of Gospel showered the ‘Maestro’ with an All Star Tribute in a thirteen minute medley featuring Maurette Brown Clark, Donnie McClurkin and Yolanda Adams. 

In another career retrospective, a live concert CD recorded in November 2014 joyously spotlighted Smallwood’s almost forty years of contributions with his esteemed choirs, The Richard Smallwood Singers (T.R.S.S.) and Vision. The opening video tribute for this concert, entitled “The Evolution,” examined Smallwood’s international impact to the body of Christ, with churches from Denmark to Portugal singing “Total Praise” in their native tongue, as well as his classy reputation of keeping T.R.S.S. as a cohesive vocal family, on and off stage.  The concert itself, entitled Anthology Live, unveils a wall-to-wall celebration recalling Smallwood’s achievements and the heroes that sparked his unique angle to contemporary gospel.  Besides his current ensemble Vision and T.R.S.S., many of his key musical associates are reunited to pay their respects towards this living legend.  

After an immediate blunder on Anthology Live with the ill-advised, lengthy contrived opening prayer, the long awaited scheduled program starts immediately, falling into place under the guidance of long time musical director, Steven Ford.  A treasure chest of selections from Smallwood’s songbook, past and present, is skillfully captured sans the vocal hysterics or diva-esque interruptions. “You Brought Me” entails all the elements of Smallwood’s trademark classical music influences and the intricacies of the melody.  The same applies to “Lord You Reign,” led by Vanessa Williams, and Maurette Brown Clark’s solo for “In Your Presence,” which begins with the first two minutes in a cappella.  Urban hit maker, Angela Winbush, serves up her R&B flair to “Look Up and Live,” a song that Smallwood wrote especially for the T.R.S.S. alumnus.  “Same God,” is an inviting praise moment that translates to today’s urban gospel format, yet sticks to the Smallwood successful recipe of grace and groove:  “You just keep on proving Yourself/All over again/And the fact that You never change/Lets me know that You’re gonna do it again.” However, the obligatory praise break that follows is pretty much standard protocol for live gospel recordings and temporarily stalls the otherwise riveting event.

Of course, Anthology Live would not be complete without medleys from Vision, interspersed with a tango and a samba (i.e. “Bless the Lord,” “At the Table,” “Worthy of all Praise”) and T.R.S.S. anchored by Dottie Jones (i.e. “I Love the Lord”, “Holy Spirit,” “Center of My Joy”).  The ever gracious Smallwood also finds time to thank other musicians who shaped the gospel music landscape and influenced his memorable orchestrations.  Smallwood’s homage to the Roberta Martin Singers with “Only a Look” draws upon his pure affection for European classical and black blues traditions.  Edwin Hawkins’ earlier days with The Hebrew Boys are revisited on “When We All Get to Heaven” in a master vocal painting by the male members of Vision.  Finally, Anthology Live concludes appropriately with Smallwood’s piano tribute to another contemporary gospel pioneer, Andrae Crouch.

While many live gospel music concerts thrive on electrifying and uplifting experiences, Anthology Live goes so much further in recognizing Smallwood’s utmost importance to praise and worship.   Through these stellar performances represented on Anthology Live, Smallwood receives much deserved accolades from his peers and fans as an international ambassador for choir music.   Solidly Recommended.

By Peggy Oliver 

 
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