Light Records (2012)
By Bob Marovich for The Black Gospel Blog.
Knowing how vocally and instrumentally explosive James Fortune & FIYA can be, I was fascinated to hear how Grace Gift, the ensemble’s first holiday release, would sound.
I was more than pleasantly surprised.
Fortune and the ensemble give the album of new and beloved Christmas songs an air of classicism, complete with strings and brass. The touch is so deft and the collection of songs so deliberately sequenced that the entire project sounds like the soundtrack of a stage production about the Nativity. Nowhere is this more evident than on Cheryl Fortune’s lovely “Mary’s Song,” a soliloquy about being chosen to give birth to the Son of God.
That doesn’t mean Grace Gift does not include its share of “havin’ church.” The high-energy medley, “Go Tell It/Wonderful Child,” gives the spiritual and gospel song, respectively, plenty of muscle power. Lisa Knowles, who also appears on Earnest Pugh’s current holiday disc, joins Shawn Mclemore on this track.
In keeping with the group’s m.o., Fortune punctuates the proceedings with declarations or pleadings, and FIYA responds with music. FIYA alternates between sweet and sanctified, but they are always an ideal foil for their leader’s bold exhortations. Also in keeping with FIYA projects, Grace Gift features several guest artists, including some who have gained wider recognition through their association with Fortune. They include Shawn Mclemore and Zacardi Cortez, who reprise their big hit, “I Believe,” (as “I Believe – Part 2”) to conclude the program. This version is not nearly as powerful as the original, but it also has to follow Isaac Carree and Minon Bolton’s effervescent and spot-on rendition of Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas.”
Grace Gift is a delightful Christmas album, made all the more appealing by the strong production Terence Vaughn and AyRon Lewis give it.