These days, more churches are forming "praise teams." The praise team consists of two or more people who lead the congregation in singing what would have been called "congregational songs" back in the day. The praise team's purpose is to lead the congregation in singing two or three songs that essentially set the tone for all that follows. That makes selecting the right songs paramount. "Praisers" need to choose songs that every member of the congregation can learn easily. Praise songs lean heavily on call and response, repetition and an incorporation of scripture in the lyrics. The praise/congregational songbook includes hundreds of songs amassed over the years, and a church mother can rattle of dozens of them in about five minutes. Some of the classics include "This is the Day that the Lord has Made," "I Don't Know What You're Gonna Do," and "Jesus on the Mainline."
Of course, praise team members are constantly looking out for new songs that usher in the Holy Spirit while incorporating a more contemporary sound. Nearly every gospel group or singer includes at least a couple of praise and worship songs on their new releases. That's certainly true of Promises, the latest CD from gospel artist VaShawn Mitchell. Nearly every cut on this CD is either a praise song or a musical or vocal interlude connecting one praise song to another. And Mitchell is clearly comfortable making songs that encourage church folk to praise, worship and magnify the Lord.
Titles like "Crazy Praise," "Lift My Hands" and "I Worship You" make Mitchell's intentions clear: He wants his music to take worshippers spiritually to the holiest of holies. Mitchell crafts songs that include hooks or choruses that church members will be able to learn quickly. A song like "I Worship You" can be effective if sung in its entirety, or if the praise team leads the congregation in singing the chorus: "I worship you, I adore you, I love you, All praise for you, for the rest of my life."
As an arranger, Mitchell displays ability to craft praise songs that vary in tempo. As the name suggests, "Crazy Praise" is an up-tempo song designed to engage young people and make them dance. "Promises," the title track, is a slower song of encouragement that is one of the few tracks on the CD that is geared for a church choir. Mitchell has a soft tenor with good vocal range; however, he avoids the trap of employing a lot of verbal acrobatics. Many gospel singers feel that employing a lot runs in their singing is a sign of sincerity, but the opposite is often true.
While only the title cut and and the energetic "Favor (Ain't Fair)" are geared for choirs, Promises as a whole is clearly a CD for those who love praise and worship music. These songs are participatory. Mitchell made this music with the intent of getting everybody from pulpit to the last pew up and giving glory to God. Promises is recommended, especially for praise leaders looking for new praise and worship songs to sing.
By Howard Dukes