Sensere - The Soul of Future Worship, Vol. 1

Sensere
Sensere The Soul of Future Worship Vol. 1.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

It’s as if the Temptations were backed by Earth Wind & Fire. Right from the start, South Florida’s Sensere grabs the soul and doesn’t let go. Fresh, original, and exceedingly listenable, gospel’s future superstars gleam throughout The Soul of Future Worship, Vol. 1. Their premium musicianship, live instrumentation and skilled, rotating leads are a reminder of an age when music programs were a part of public school education and playing instruments with this level of skill and dexterity was de rigueur in gospel and soul, not the notable exception. From soul and R&B to pop and gospel what has been missing from the music is MUSIC, a remedy Sensere is all too ready to provide the cure for through an album that effortlessly blends rock, soul, and gospel in ways that credits precursors like Tonex, Montrell Darrett, Tommy Sims and Robert Randolph and The Family Band in furthering the line for where soul and rock end and gospel begins.

It’s as if the Temptations were backed by Earth Wind & Fire. Right from the start, South Florida’s Sensere grabs the soul and doesn’t let go. Fresh, original, and exceedingly listenable, gospel’s future superstars gleam throughout The Soul of Future Worship, Vol. 1. Their premium musicianship, live instrumentation and skilled, rotating leads are a reminder of an age when music programs were a part of public school education and playing instruments with this level of skill and dexterity was de rigueur in gospel and soul, not the notable exception. From soul and R&B to pop and gospel what has been missing from the music is MUSIC, a remedy Sensere is all too ready to provide the cure for through an album that effortlessly blends rock, soul, and gospel in ways that credits precursors like Tonex, Montrell Darrett, Tommy Sims and Robert Randolph and The Family Band in furthering the line for where soul and rock end and gospel begins.

Five singers and seven core musicians, the band is a throwback to the mega-bands that crowded stages and dominated the ‘70s with names like Rose Royce, The Commodores, The Ohio Players, and, of course, Earth Wind and Fire. The male vocalists range in tone and approach, from contemporary melisma-heavy singers like Dwayne Charlton, Terrell Terry, and Cory Jefferson to gritty, Southern Soul belters like the always welcome Brian Williams. Each lead is capable and sure, Williams in particular, though none demonstrate the stratospheric, energizing high notes of say a Darryl Coley. The absence of such a roof-blowing voice sometimes limits the full-impact of the vocal punches their sumptuous arrangements consistently offer throughout. Still, the absence of an unequivocal vocal star conversely provides clear group cohesion, seamless harmonies, and a level playing field among the leads.

While Sensere’s singers lack nothing in polish or ability, there are moments when the group’s youthful growing pains peek through. The vocal gymnastics of the tenors sometimes prove less interpretive of lyric than showing off for showing off sake, lessening some songs’ potential catharsis, like Terrell Terry on “Faith.” The meandering “His Love,” featuring a tepid performance by duet partner Inger Hanna, also represents a lost opportunity and the only weak cut on an album chockfull of bonafide gems.

The band is nothing less than brilliant throughout. Though there are rotating members on certain instruments, including wunderkind producer and mixer James “JDubb” Wright III (a man who literally plays several—often on the same track), the project maintains a consistent feel of musical excellence from its young instrumentalists. There are some standout performances by some of the more consistently utilized band members, including Timothy Wemberly’s bluesy bass and Shoshi Gottersman and Samuel Hall’s dramatic strings on the “Every Moment,” Rick Watford’s rocking out electric guitar on the Speed Racer “Covered in the Blood,” Wright’s floral guitar painting on “Freedom Worship Interlude” and triumphant drums on “The Soul of Future Worship,” not to mention the swinging horn play of Horns of David (Darryl Elford, Glen Eichelberger, and Wildmayer Marcelin) on powerhouses like “What if” and “Got Jesus.” It’s inspiring to see this level of musical talent in a band not called The Roots.

Dynamic vocal and instrumental talents marry in some inspired arrangements that are simultaneously old and new, providing moments of genuine electricity. When their plan comes together it’s clear that Sensere is awash with the influences of classic soul. “What if” with its Motown backbeat, Spinners background harmonies and the fluid trading among the high-pitched tenor, mid-level baritone and raw, closing field-belter is straight out of the Tempts’ playbook. The results of such well-learned lessons is a song of such propulsive power and heart that all one can do is stand back in awe to avoid the steamroll of passion and commitment present with every well-crafted line.

“What if” isn’t alone in its delivery. The first single, already picked up by MTV.com no less (a rarity in gospel), “Got Jesus” is an optimal introduction to who these newcomers are. The radio-ready cut opens sparely with familiar piano chords and a spritely tambourine, but by the time the electric guitar, brass, organs, and drum kicks in with lead singer Brian Williams doing his best John Legend impression, you realize that Sensere is like nothing else happening in gospel today. Only Israel Houghton’s under-appreciated 2002 “Real” album has done as good a job blending traditional R&B with the undiluted message of God’s love, inspiring real hope and promise for gospel’s future in reinterpreting soul.

While the music is purely what has been considered a heavily secular sound, the lyrics are everything gospel should be: bold, encouraging, and uncompromising in its faith and message of Christ's love. Like Men of Standard, Sensere pushes hard with catchy melodies, propulsive rhythms, but unambiguously direct calls for a Christian walk, even if you’re rhythmically bobbing your head as you walk.

Not always a party, Sensere’s ballads are straight out of Philly. Smooth and laidback, but powerfully-voiced by Charlton on “Be Encouraged,” Williams on the raw “Starting All Over,” and Terry on the elegant “Every Moment,” the group also proves it can heal and chill. Able to rock the pews with a party and listeners with peaceful, soothing alms, the very accessible sounds of Sensere represents the best of gospel; they also may represent the genre’s future greatest hope. Highly recommended.  

By L. Michael Gipson

 

Leave a comment!