Music Review: Hezekiah Walker is "Souled Out"

November 20, 2008 Grammy and Stellar-award winner Hezekiah Walker's thirteenth album, "Souled Out," showcases his masterful choir. He makes his renowned Love Fellowship Choir sing with the kind of unity, passion and exuberance that consistently brings people to their feet, and sometimes to their knees.

Where other artists might prefer a smaller vocal ensemble, or rely on the flourishes and trills of a stellar soloist to hold attention, Walker plays this mass of voices like a master violinist. On "It Shall Come to Pass," the phrasing and tone of the choir are so well executed that the lead vocalist's entrance almost seems intrusive.

The album, produced by gospel superstar Donald Lawrence, dabbles with a wide variety of gospel genres. On "O Give Thanks," Walker takes his choir through the traditional gospel paces, working a simple refrain up and down the keyboard until the tenors sound like sopranos and the sopranos are scratching heaven.

Then, mid-album, Walker completely switches gears with "Moving Forward," a collaboration with Israel Houghton. The organ fades back, electric and rhythm guitars enter the fray and a more sweeping, cross-cultural sound emerges. The shift is jarring, but the choir is flexible, the soloist sings with conviction and the lyrics brim with hope. Houghton's influence carries through until silver-toned Marvin Sapp, fresh off the success of the record-breaking single "Never Would Have Made It," invades the "God Favored Me Part II" track for a hot minute and gives the whole thing an R&B flavor.

As always, there is a no-holds-barred praise song meant to inspire spirit-filled tap dancing. "Triumph" is its name. Press play and "put on your shouting shoes."

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