Karen Clark-Sheard: All In One

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

Family affair, more urban twists define latest project from highly-celebrated gospel vocalist

Figuratively speaking, Karen Clark-Sheard, the premier vocalist for the Grammy-award winning The Clark Sisters, has left a highly-indelible impact on some of R&B’s and gospel’s superstars. You easily hear her influence – her jazzy-trained riffs and trademark melismas – on the vocals of Faith Evans, Beyonce, Blu Cantrell, Mariah Carey and Missy Elliot. Still, Clark-Sheard is in a league of her own. Now at a seasoned fifty years old, her voice, a bit raspier from her young days fronting the Clark Sisters in the eighties, still sounds like a woman comfortable in her prime. You would have thought that a leading gospel artist of her stature, with so much influence, would have more than a handful of solo albums in her collection. When 1997’s Finally…Karen kicked off of her very first entry into being a solo act, a very promising career began to blossom. It established a healthy mix of urban-styled productions with her classic contemporary gospel style taken from portions of a live recording. Elektra picked her up and the upswing of notoriety worked in her favor. Still, none have come close to the unescapable brilliance of Finally…Karen.

Now on her fifth entry, this time on her own independent label Karew Records, Clark-Sheard attempts to bring all of what she’s familiar with including her churchy upbringing, neo-soul ballads while bringing in her urban collective with J Moss and J. Drew Sheard into All In One. It’s an album that feels more and more like an effort from her daughter Kierra Sheard, but not as bold and scattered out with unpredictable trippiness. The good thing about All In One is that Clark-Sheard isn’t a far-fetch from what you expect from her. “Prayed Up” is a electro-dominated, go-go track; a definite party starter with the Clark Sister magic. “Crazy Praise,” featuring a little more live instrumentation, thump and sassy horns, is just as engaging. When it kicks into overdrive, rocking into funky John P. Kee territory with a little Minneapolis synthy funk, the refrain becomes the proper breeding ground for an infectious performance from her. One of the better tracks and possibly the best gospel radio favorite, “Blessings” is blessed with a delicious bluesy groove and a highly-favored gospel drive on the vamp. On the ballad, “He Knows,” Clark-Sheard joins her sister, Dorinda Clark-Cole, on a satisfying encourager, although it’s precariously dipped into Auto-tune. Tracks like “Made a Choice” and “Good” are sure to give the gospel singer a little extra push into urban AC radio. Unfortunately some of the tracks fail to connect with memorable melodies or are too lethargic from busy arrangements.”What He Did” is doped up with J Moss loudness and orchestration while “Hold On” feels like a rehash of very familiar gospel lyrics and tricks, courtesy of J. Drew Sheard’s loud drums. Probably the last sign of gospel imitating older trends is how “Take Me,” although neatly designed, sounds like a cheap imitation of Mary J. Blige’s “Take Me As I Am.”

Depending on who you ask, All In One may just be her best work as of late. Even though she’s saving lots of money by working with her family and not relying on outside producers this time around, even co-writing half of the songs and spending far less on cover art imagery, it’s not a war cry of a stretch or a detour from her familiarness. Maybe with a few extra run-throughs, a better appreciation will develop for it. Thankfully, the album has two or three good singles to get pass gospel radio inspections. In the meantime, we still await for the perfect follow-up to Finally…Karen.

J MATTHEW COBB

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HIFI DETAILS

  • Release Date: 06 Apr 2010
  • Label: Karew
  • Producers: J. Drew Sheard, J Moss, Paul “PDA” Allen
  • Track Favs: Blessings, Prayed Up, Crazy Praise, He Knows, Good

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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