Various Artists – Oh Happy Day: All-Star Music Celebration

April 29, 2009 by  
Filed under Gospel Music

Various Artists
Oh Happy Day: All-Star Music Celebration
EMI Gospel/Vector Recordings 2009

In the spirit of T Bone Burnett’s Grammy-winning coupling of bluegrass queen Alison Krauss and rock icon Robert Plant (Raising Sand), a cadre of producers pair rock and pop artists with gospel singers on Oh Happy Day: All-Star Music Celebration. The result? Combinations that are at once improbable and divinely inspired.

The seamlessness of each performance may be due to the top-quality of the artists, the know-how of the producers, the fact that gospel music is the underpinning of most American pop music, or all three. Regardless, this project is simply electrifying. Each track is distinctive, yet each seems drawn from the part of the soul that is beyond human understanding.

Standout performances on the collection include Jonny Lang channeling the guitar wizardry of Elder Utah Smith on John P. Kee’s “I Believe,” as the Fisk Jubilee Singers let their hair down and back him with an uncommon funkiness. The Clark Sisters seem born to sing Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” on which they share studio time with petal steel guitar legend Robert Randolph. Mavis Staples and Patty Griffin win the award for the collection’s rootsiest duet on the Consolers’ “Waiting for My Child to Come Home,” although Joss Stone and Buick Audra’s harmonica-dominated informal jam session on “This Little Light of Mine” comes in a close second.

Al Green and Heather Headley render a fine duet on Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready.” Why more radio stations aren’t playing Heather’s music, be they gospel or adult contemporary stations, “makes me wanna holler, throw up both my hands.”

The title track is an old evangelistic hymn made famous when Edwin Hawkins and the Northern California State Youth Choir gave it a west coast easy feeling. Here the song is led by Queen Latifah, who can do just about anything, with Rev. Stefanie Minatee and Jubilation as the choir. Rev. Minatee is kin with the late Rev. Lawrence Roberts (Angelic Choir), so she knows a thing or two about choral singing. It shows, too, as Jubilation offers a bright but brassy backdrop to Latifah’s gospel vocals, which sound as natural as breathing.

Arguably the strongest performance on the album is Jon Bon Jovi and the Washington Youth Choir doing “Keep the Faith.” The handclapping, Holiness-inspired arrangement demonstrates just how deep the sacred has permeated secular music.

What’s especially pleasing about Oh Happy Day: All-Star Music Celebration is that the gospel component is not treated as exotic or otherworldly but is afforded the same musical respect as the rock artists. Hallelujah!

Five of Five Stars