For many church folks, Shirley Murdock was never further away from her spiritual home than when she was a secular artist known for making “relationship” songs like the 1987 tune “As We Lay.” That’s one way of looking at it. Some might say that in this ying/yang world Murdock simply occupied a place located on the other side of the church walls. Because if you really listen to that record, it becomes clear that Murdock understands the toll that her liaisons with another woman’s husband are taking on all of her relationships. What happens during those trysts might feel good, but the angst and regret that comes through the lyrics and Murdock’s tortured vocals makes it clear that she’s in a place she knows she is not supposed to be – naturally or spiritually. Turns out that the song’s crescendo – that vocal riff about how the two lovers should have counted the cost before passions took over – was inserted at Murdock’s insistence.
After listening to Live: The Journey, Murdock’s latest gospel album, it’s clear that the Toledo native no longer occupies those hidden places spiritually or vocally. Of course, Murdock returned to the gospel music fold long ago. She’s been recording gospel music and starring in gospel plays for the better part of two decades. That powerful and soulful voice is the unifying element between Murdock’s secular music and the output on gospel albums such as Live: The Journey. The big difference is that Murdock’s gospel music possesses buoyancy that the carnal stuff does not. Unmoored from any spiritual misgivings about the music’s content, Murdock tears into the cuts with a passion and joy of a woman who has sought and found her comfort zone.
Those qualities clearly come through on this recording because a live album gives Murdock the space to talk to her audience. She encourages the crowd and gives her testimony. The joy seeps through each selection on Live: The Journey, and it can be heard most clearly on Murdock’s collaborations with Regina Belle, Beverly Crawford and Kelly Price. Each guest vocalist provides a contrast in style to Murdock that makes these tunes appealing. Belle’s jazz influence is the right vehicle for the slow swing feel of the tune “Upward Way.” “He is the Rock” is an old-fashioned “hand clapping, foot stomping” record and hearing Murdock mix it up with a classic gospel singer such as Crawford just feels right, while a singer like Price brings the proper contemporary pop/R&B feel to the gospel balled “Keep Lovin’ Me.”
One thing that we’ve learned about Shirley Murdock through the years is that she can sing in any style. Although Murdock can make singing the Yellow Pages sound good, she wants to give the world more. And she is at her best when she receives a word from the Lord and shares it with the world. Recommended.
By Howard Dukes