James Fortune & FIYA: Encore

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

Gospel hitmaker returns with more polished set, despite the preachy ramblings

With the winning hand of radio, James Fortune stands tall as a star in today’s gospel world. Counting his radio smash “I Trust You” and “You Survived,” two exceptional power ballads that pattern the gloried musical paces of Kirk Franklin, Fortune and his troupe FIYA have taking the contemporary gospel playing field by storm, even if it’s very familiar to the Franklin brand. The chatter of Fortune’s talked-out, mostly preached ad-libs to the light whispers from the choral layouts are obvious giveaways to the cherishing pop-like gospel traditions of Franklin’s arsenal. But where Fortune stumbles severely is in his albums’ presentation – crowded with a maximum list of guest singers, busy rhythm sections and the departure from traditional melody. Thankfully, one or two songs rise up as the album’s bread and butter, but Fortune, a better song writer and musician than he is a front man, learns a few important lessons along the way and applies them wittingly on his third record, Encore.

While the album suffers for its heavy load of lengthiness, it does pace with a good balance of worshipful tracks, hymn-like ballads and jumpy uptempo firecrackers. “Bounce Back” is wisely and masterfully produced; drifting away from the careful standards of pedestrian gospel. With its club grooves and sassy Earth, Wind & Fire horns, the song, along with its clever lyrics, shine as one of the album’s biggest attractions. “You Are Here” sounds like a spin-off from John P. Kee’s rhythmic “The Greatest.” Having Lowell Pye, former agent in Kee’s chorale, on board helps draw such a comparison. “Can’t Stop,” the synth-wizzy “Battle Is Over” and the fervent Israel Houghton-sounding opener “It Was You,” though overly produced with its hard edges, are entertaining throughout their performances. The ballads, definitely Fortune’s strongest feature, are heftier this time around. Emotionally drenched offerings like the title cut and “Draw Me,” etched like a 21st century worship hymn, stir up replay value. “I Need Your Glory,” tailor-made for William Murphy’s accompanying vocals and “The Greatest” (containing Kierra Sheard’s punchy ad-libs towards the closing) are also a neat fit into the collection. For those who missed the hit from the last album, “I Trust You” gets a hearty lively reprise at the very end of the project.

Probably Fortune’s biggest hurdle to date is his undeniable cravings of hogging the microphone. His previous albums, even this one, contains a gospel-meets-Broadway production controlled by an out-of-control emcee desperate to get a word in. Even with his guest stars, Fortune never steps away from the front. In the charismatic sector of the black church, these ruly outbursts are not showy, just demonstrations of a fired-up revivalist. But on a record, even a gospel record, listeners shouldn’t be so wrapped up in emotionalism and sensationalism that they tussle from hearing the shouting matches of the background singers, lead singers and a wordy leader running on an Energizer battery. Encore is a much needed improvement from The Transformation, but still needs the pressing of a mute button at times.




  • Release Date: 26 Jan 2010
  • Label: Blacksmoke/Worldwide
  • Producers: Terrence Vaughn, J Drew Sheard, Ayron Lewis
  • Track Favs: Bounce Back, You Are Here, Draw Me, The Greatest, Encore

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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