Marvin Sapp: Here I Am

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Posted September 13, 2010 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

Gospel pro and crossover sensation quenches thirst with a bigger, better album than his predecessor, Thirsty.

Gospel audiences have been following him since his run with urban gospel group Commissioned, but “Never Would Have Made It,” the mega hit that transformed the gospel ballader into an overnight sensation, was the perfect introduction to Marvin Sapp. It was not-so-preachy to the masses, perfect for a crossover, yet divinely decorated with all the gutsy soul of a gospel classic. So mesmeric was the song’s impact that it welded his sixth solo project Thirsty, with a glorified crescendo: a RIAA-certified gold honor after selling well over 700,000 units.

“Never Would Have Made It,” the moving ballad swept towards the back of Marvin Sapp’s Thirsty album, rose to the forefront and became the sudden career advance for the gospel singer. Though the success was unpredicted by many, the song itself, mirrored the passion of an emotionally-charged soul classic, was predestined to be a gospel landmark. The message, beautified with a sincere praise of gratefulness, touched a sensitive chord in America’s heart. Maybe the timing was right for such a song; helping heal the wounds of 9/11 and stirring up the hope and optimism of Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” spirited mantra. The song charted at #82 pop and dominated the R&B charts – climbing to #14. Thirsty wound up going gold, but the album was still far from a champion’s record. Marred with a handful of remakes, a predictable medley of worship choruses and the obvious lack of the super-dynamo punch tucked in the best gospel records, Thirsty failed to generate a single as competent as its big hit. Even the follow-up single, “Praise Him in Advance,” left new acquaintances a bit stunned concerning his next move. With so much soft worship aboard, the album just didn’t capture the seasoned veteran at his best. Listen closely to Sapp’s timber and you can hear a resilient singer bursting with the passion for ministry and a strong commitment to make mostly any song given him a memorable one. Still, an enduring record requires more than just a few catchy worship ditties and an occasional shouting match.

Hoping to top himself, Sapp, taking the lyrics from “Never Would Have Made It” is getting “wiser, stronger and better” as he ascends into his highly-anticipated follow-up Here I Am. Some of the mechanics from Thirsty are obvious to the ear: the snappy uptempo workouts opening the set, the bigger ballads tucked in the back and another live experience swarming with the glory of a Sunday morning worship service. And then there’s the return of album producer Aaron Lindsey (Israel Houghton) with Myron Butler once again orchestrating the background duties. But this time around, Sapp is holding on to better, sustained, well-etched compositions. Vocally, he doesn’t have to toil so hard to make the songs spark. They pretty much blaze away on their own.

“I Came,” after waiting through a Danny Elfman-meets-Israel Houghton prelude, fires up the perfect uptempo gem for the gospel balladeer. The fun disco-tinged melody does get loss in the many transitions, but Sapp keeps the energy afloat using his carefully timed melismas and spot-on ad-libs. “Keep Holding On,” tweaked with Lady Gaga-esque galactic synths, and the Fred Hammond-amped “Fresh Wind” are also delightful additions to the front; reuniting Sapp with the effervescent joy showcased on his Diary of a Psalmist record. Never compromising his pastoral duties, Sapp does take the last few minutes to work a cold sweat on the churchy vamp of “Fresh Wind,” as if James Brown were to graced the pulpit. “Wait” rocks with its contemporary gospel thrusts and funky harmonies. Sapp, always looking to find a new way to reinvent himself musically, attempts to blend the sonics of Coldplay with worship trance music on “Praise You Forever” It’s a good attempt nevertheless. Where Sapp continues to shine, even when he’s most vulnerable, is in the homelands of the encouraging ballad. Songs like “He Has His Hands on You,” the moving title cut and the string-fueled “Don’t Count Me Out” are met with such sensitivity, as if he’s nursing the listener away from the pits of depression. But the most poignant and greatest reward to Here I Am is nestled in “The Best in Me.” Certainly there are so many familiarities here that surrounded “Never Would Have Made It” that it sounds so much like a predictable reprise. But if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Here originality isn’t so much criticized since Sapp pens a refreshing lyric (“He saw the best in me/When everyone else around could only see the worst in me”) and adds on a soothing gospel balladry reminiscent of Thomas Whitfield’s arrangement of “Peace Be Still.”. Besides the album version clocking in at almost nine minutes, overstaying its visit and chronicling the Isaac Hayes aesthetic, the song is still bound to keep Sapp sedated in the slow lane of ballads.

Here I Am is a far better album than Thirsty. Sapp, a little grittier on the edges this time around vocally, navigates like a true gospel veteran should. Once again he gives songs that are less imaginative the facelifts they need and finds the proper place underneath the lyrics to send them into orbit. There’s obviously more future singles to choose from: a very good thing indeed to extend Billboard chart longevity. And there’s more gospel and soul to hold tightly to. Sapp is more energetic and fired-up this time around. And why shouldn’t he be? With better material and livelier arrangements on this round, Sapp is certain to leave his longtime fans and new followers with more to chew on. If Thirsty was Sapp’s introduction to the world, best be prepared to be re-introduced with Here I Am.

J MATTHEW COBB

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HIFI DETAILS

  • Release Date: 16 Mar 2010
  • Label: Verity
  • Producers: Aaron Lindsey
  • Track Favs: The Best In Me, Keep Holding On, Comfort Zone, He Has His Hands on You, Here I Am

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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