Last month, Perpetual Change presented the most recent interview with Rev. Roger Yolanda Mapes, who now has a new album out as well as a critically acclaimed off-Broadway show called Rev. Yolanda’s Old Time Gospel Hour. During that interview, mention was made that a review of the new album project would be forthcoming. Well — here it is.
The title, Rev. Yolanda’s Country Gospel Kirtan Vol. 1: God Is might be a bit misleading at first. While there is country music presented on both the album and in the show, a lot more territory is covered than just one genre. The “kirtan” part of the title refers to a form of call and response Yolanda utilizes a lot in her new music. The word “kirtan” has it’s roots in ancient Sanskrit and became a part of Hindu musical tradition. Kirtan can include speaking, music, dancing, gaps and silence, overall theatrics, and is usually under the direction of a leader.
Yolanda’s Vol.1: God Is starts off with the best example of that definition. Love And Light is an organ drenched, laid back, straight-up gospel song. In the middle, Yolanda says “I’m gonna preach now” and proceeds to do just that. “Are you breathin’?” she asks. “OK, then. God is with ya!”. Definitely sets the tone.
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The country music feel continues with Love Divine (country ballad with steel guitar); We Are Angels (very country and is a re-make of Yolanda’s song originally found on her 1999 album Yolanda And The Plastic Family, and recorded again on 2009’s House Of Joy); Let Things Be (very good light country rock with a mid-1970’s feel); and I Love Myself (another country rocker, although very vocal oriented, with the great line, “…I love myself, I forgive myself”).
The real surprises, the things I didn’t expect to hear, start with the third track, Sweet, Sweet Spirit, written by Doris Akers. It features a vocal duet between Rev. Yolanda and Rev. Chanda Rule. Rule’s voice is beautiful and easily compliments Yolanda’s. Robert Urban’s guitar work is also featured on this tune. This song riffs off of the well known Jesus Loves Me melody, but mixes country and light rock without taking anything away from the feel or meaning of the song. Ends with a choir/chorus.
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Rev. Yolanda reprises another tune from the Plastic Family album on the next track, Home. She stays with the light rock feeling, and overall gives it a mid-1970s feel.
There are three songs in which the East Indian influence of the kirtan is definitely in play. Free Your Mind is a very unusual mix of bluegrass banjo and Indian tabla-type percussion background. Vocally, the tune has a sort of New Age, drone-like hypnotic quality. This track is followed by You Are An Idea, which once again melds the East Indian influence with a bluegrass fiddle. The spiritual concept and lyrics of the song are something outside of a Western gospel tradition, but works well with the feel of the song. I couldn’t help but think of George Harrison while hearing this for the first time, and that’s a good thing.
The third song to use this mix of American bluegrass with East Indian music tradition is I Can See Peace. Great fiddle and mandolin work, and the vocals are pure bluegrass. This time, I felt the overall presentation of the tune was reminiscent of the soundtrack of O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? Again, that’s not a bad thing.
Yolanda does another remake of one of her older songs, Freedom, from the House Of Joy project. This time, though, it’s a dance track that would work in any club. It’s a lot more musical than most dance tunes, though, in that the harmonies are excellent. Yet another one of those great unexpected moments.
[mp3t track=”Freedom.mp3″ title=”Freedom clip” bold=”yes”]
Vol. 1: God Is closes with God Is, which definitely has an unusual feel. At first, the song starts as a dance tune, but develops quickly into a very strong chorus, again with an underlying bluegrass feel. This is another great example of a kirtan with call and response vocals which give it a sing-a-long quality. I wouldn’t doubt Yolanda milks this tune for all it’s worth during live performances. Also contains some Native American vocalizations, as well as some vocal craziness, which again makes it one of those tunes that’s really hard to categorize.
I have to say that it’s albums like Yolanda’s Vol. 1: God Is that make it hard for me as a reviewer to maintain my objectivity. I really like this project. During last month’s posted interview with Yolanda, I had asked her if she had sort of re-invented herself for this project. Her answer was that instead of a re-invention, she was finally becoming who she really was all along. And what’s unique about that statement is that you can hear it in her vocals. While Yolanda has a somewhat Southern growl/twang to her voice, it’s smoother, less forced, and comfortable sounding than I’ve heard on the aforementioned earlier projects. There’s a peace, even a sort of contentment, in her voice, that comes from knowing you’re exactly where you need to be. Can’t wait for Vol. 2.
(Author’s Note: All lead vocals on Rev. Yolanda’s Country Gospel Kirtan Vol. 1 God Is by Rev. Yolanda. Background vocals-Rev. Yolanda, Freddy Freeman, Jay Freeman, Rev. Chanda Rule, Robert Urban. Acoustic guitar by Rev. Yolanda and Freddy Freeman. All other instruments and samples-Freddy Freeman, except Robert Urban on Sweet, Sweet Spirit, and Geral Menke on Home, Love Divine, and We Are Angels. Produced by Freddy Freeman. For more information regarding Rev. Yolanda, check out her web site at www.yolanda.net, as well as YouTube, Linkedin, Myspace, Jango. CDs are also available through Amazon.com under the name Roger Anthony Yolanda Mapes.)
Supercharged by Kwanza Jones
Kwanza Jones describes herself as a “…gladiator in a thong.” In fact, my review copy actually came with a thong. (Thanks). Anyway, this album is nothing short of pure, adrenaline dance material. There’s nothing laid back about it. Of the album’s 10 tracks, it’s almost a difficult task to pick outstanding moments since they’re all club dance floor filling anthems, however there are a few that grab your attention better than others.
The album’s title cut, Supercharged, is a good balance between dance material, great vocals, and rap. The line, “I’m a gladiator in a thong” comes from this tunes.
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Vicious (with Big Rush, Ray Sytes, Denance), is musically interesting and a little more involved than most of the rest of the album. It’s very ego-centric, but in a sort of tongue-in-cheek way. Kwanza’s voice is very listenable and appealing, but the rap in the middle of this tune takes way from that quality somewhat.
The two really standout tracks are T-E-A-C-H-E-R, which has a definable melody that’s lacking in some of the other tunes, and the wonderful message tune, #Stophate. What makes this latter tune one of the best moments on the album is what it says. While it’s clearly danceable material, it also has something important to say. Lyrically, some of the better lines are:
Tired of the broken ways
Tired of the s**t they say
It’s been on too long
Gotta make it stop
Just tun it off
Call it what you will
Sugarcoat the bitter pill
I won’t swallow hate
Let’s let ‘em know it’s not okay
So stand up
Hold your heart out
Get up…put your anger down
And stick your hands up
It’s time we bring an end to the lies, the lies, the lies
It’s now or never, decide.
This one tune could be an anthem for the entirely of the GLBT spectrum.
Kwanza Jones wrote or co-wrote every tune on Supercharged. She is also executive producer, with the recording being produced by Luke Tozour. (www.kwanzajones.com, also on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.)
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K. Rose is a 19-year-old singer/songwriter, dancer who made her mark with her first single, Sleep When I’m Dead. Currently at work on her debut album, she has recently released a four song remix disc of Voi E A Me (You And I), which includes the version from the upcoming album, as well as mixes by KoKo, Enrry Senna, and Phil Romano. This is pure dance material, and the lady has a very beautiful voice. Hopefully, she’ll eventually get to do some material that shows off her vocal chops in a format that features only her without the distraction of the ubiquitous 4/4 beat. I’d love to hear just her — her vocals are that good. (www.kroseonline.com, also on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.)