If there is one word that stands out when describing Tye Tribbett's performances, it is "refreshing." Since their inception over a decade ago, Tribbett & Greater Anointing (G.A.) has built an assured reputation of reshaping the contemporary gospel landscape. Anyone who has watched Tribbett & G.A. in concert are well aware of their unique stage production, a mix of acrobatic choreography, musical genre experimentation and Tribbett's infectious lead vocals.
During their early years, the New Jersey-based ensemble was in high demand as secular background vocalists. Identity struggles as gospel artists performing secular music temporarily plagued Tribbett & G.A. during those years, until the surprise success of their major label debut catapulted them to fame and defined them as quintessential gospel artists for a new generation. With their foot-stomping single "No Way" off their major label debut, Life, even modern gospel groundbreakers like Kirk Franklin, Deitrick Haddon, and Tonex soon seemed like afterthoughts.
The unexpected acclaim for Life forced Tribbett & G.A. to face an early critical decision whether to compromise their gospel music career by continuing to perform as successful backup vocalists for high-profile secular artists. They chose to concentrate on gospel but remained consistent in keeping with their complex musical statements of contemporary and traditional sounds spanning several genres. Two concert projects followed and reflected that decision; Victory Live! and their latest Stand Out, their boldest musical adventure to date.
Long before revolutionary albums and identity crisis, Tribbett had formed G.A. and their backing band, Sound Check, in 1996 through friends and family members to simply create soul-stirring music. The ensemble enjoyed a brief opportunity in the national spotlight two years later on The Prince of Egypt Inspirational Soundtrack on "Let Go, Let God" with a then aspiring duo, Mary Mary, and R&B vocalist David Hollister.
Just a few years before joining the Sony Records family, the group then produced a little-known independent CD that provided an appealing preview of what was in store for their future. Anticipated by loyal fans that purchased the CD from the group's showcase in 2000, Tribbett & G.A.'s ambitious debut was entitled Ideas & Concepts. The project revealed an unusual mix of contemporary gospel, be-bop, psychedelic soul and musical theatre; indeed a gracious sample of what Tribbett & G.A.'s future fans could expect.
Even though Ideas and Concepts was an underground success, the group remained unsigned when country artist Faith Hill remembered Tribbett & G.A. for backing her at The Prince of Egypt movie premiere. Apparently, Tribbett and crew made quite an impression on the star. Hill extended an invitation to the ensemble for her 2000 tour, which led to background vocal gigs with other recording superstars of all musical backgrounds. Tribbett & G.A. sang backup for country star LeAnn Rimes, international pop phenomenon Sting and rapper Bubba Sparxx, to name a few. The executives at Sony finally caught on to Tribbett & G.A. during another showcase, this time as background musicians for Tribbett's cousin, Vivian Green. The rest was history, or at least Life.
In many ways the major label Life was smoother than Tribbett's independent debut, thanks to neo-soul guru, James Poyser (Jill Scott, Vivian Green). Interestingly, the two big hits on Tribbett & G.A.'s major debut weren't neo-soul tinged gospel; rather, the singles continued the genre-bending detailing that began with Ideas & Concepts. The pop/country hybrid of "Everything" and the driving New Orleans style marching rhythms of "No Way" were far removed from Poyser's trademark Philly sound. With its diverse musical soundscapes, Life generated a lot of attention with gospel radio and through appearances on award shows. Yet, despite the successful confluence of sounds on Life, the project revealed that the studio was not the best fit for Tribbett's intense personality, G.A.'s powerful vocals and Sound Check's sharp musical skills, a problem later rectified by concert albums Victory Live! and Stand Out.
Identifying the best medium for their work wasn't Tribbett's only challenge. After Life and some G.A. departures, Tribbett was also left wrestling with whether to continue associating with anyone outside of gospel music. Tribbett & G.A. eventually vowed not to accept income for any secular music work for at least a year. With their integrity intact and star power rising, the ensemble offered several more musical morsels when they released the appropriately titled Victory Live! Tribbett's affection for Celtic music graces "Hallelujah To Your Name," while "Everything Will Be Alright" invokes the spirit of musical theatre and the funk-heavy "Victory" chalked up another huge gospel hit for the group.
On the latest project, Stand Out, Tribbett & G.A. favorably diverges from the musical continuity of their previous releases. "So Amazing" latches onto a speed metal bridge blending Tribbett's screeching vocal and chainsaw guitar hooks. "Hold On" pays homage to the techno funk of Tommy Boy Records. Longtime guest collaborator, veteran vocalist Kim Burrell, breaks down the familiar hymn "He Has Made Me Glad" with intricate jazz phrasing. If I had to choose, the project's ultimate highlight is "I Made It Through," an intriguing concept if someone could imagine a contemporary gospel choir accompanying a cartoon comedy soundtrack.
The only misfires on Stand Out are when Tribbett & G.A. venture into mainstream praise and worship. Two examples, "I Need You" and "Chasing After You," feature strong vocal performances and certainly reflects the group's biblical convictions. However, these songs enter into territory that has already been covered more successfully by Hillsongs Worship and Israel & New Breed. But even these unsatisfying moments do not impede Tribbett, G.A. and Sound Check's shear excitement in making music while spreading the good news of Christ. Just as long as their creative well never runs dry, Tribbett and company will continue to stand out as another refreshing voice in the expanding contemporary gospel market.
By Peggy Oliver