Using Old and New Testament stories to reinforce the need for a spiritual exodus from modern-day anxieties, Goshen, the latest album by GRAMMY Award-winning virtuoso Donald Lawrence and the Tri-City Singers, is the first big gospel release of 2019 and could well take its place among the best gospel albums of the year.
The world-renowned music trailblazer, songwriter, and producer has crafted another symphonic explosion of dazzling melodies and exuberant vocals on this newly-released album, which also celebrates a milestone 25th-anniversary reunion with the original Tri-City Singers since their acclaimed 1993 debut album.
Goshen, taken from references in Exodus of “God’s promised place” where one can find joy in the midst of troubled times, is a compendium of worship songs, declarations of personal empowerment, rages against the machine, and shouts of ultimate victory, through God, over personal pain.
Featuring fourteen tracks, the album delivers fresh narratives to promote spiritual renewal, healing, faith in God’s protection and more, to break free from whatever pains, trials, or fears we may have.
“I think of Goshen as a spiritual zip code,” Lawrence says, “and those who reside there succeed against all odds. If we have a Goshen mindset, we have a position of faith that God’s hand of protection is always around us.”
Speaking on the album’s title single, Goshen 432 HZ: “I wanted to tell the story of Exodus in a unique way,” Lawrence explains. “I didn’t want to focus necessarily on the Israelites’ departure, but the spiritual concept of Goshen. There were many years of plagues after the Exodus but Goshen was God’s protected place and those living there were oblivious (to the plagues) and prospered.
“The idea is that in these times of new plagues (gun violence, anger, hatred, fear), we need to pray that God’s Goshen follows us wherever we go, that our families and those connected to us will still experience supernatural peace and prosperity in these troubling times. This is a position of faith.”
Watch Goshen 432 HZ here:
What stands out immediately about this thematic project is how steeped it is in musical theater. Like Thomas Dorsey did ninety years ago, Lawrence employs theatrical techniques to tell the story. He studied musical theater in college and uses his learning to maximum impact on Goshen.
For example, the spotlight shines on the complex Let My People Go, on the toe-tapping beat of the title track, and on the cacophony of voices and samples of the Rev. C. L. Franklin lining out I Love the Lord, He Heard My Cry on He Heard My Cry.
Watch He Heard My Cry here:
Lawrence’s dramatic exhortations preceding many of the songs puts one in mind of the Reverend James Cleveland and his penchant for setting up a song with a sermonette. It’s a technique Cleveland likely learned from Eugene Smith of the Roberta Martin Singers who may, in turn, have learned it from the Reverend Glenn T. Settles of the Wings over Jordan Choir.
The lush, cascading harmonies emblematic of the Tri-City Singers are on full display during the melodic Jehovah Sabaoth (God of Angel Armies). The song is rendered in turns gently and demonstrably by lead singer Brittany Stewart. This austere and breathtakingly beautiful hymn oozes with the influence of songwriters Richard Smallwood, Andrae Crouch, and Kirk Franklin.
The array of gospel talent on Goshen makes it an all-star package. Each artist brings his or her top game, from the Murrills and Arnetta Murrill-Crooms—alumni of the Tri-City Singers—to Sheri Jones-Moffett, Jason Nelson, Lejeune Thompson, Blanche McAllister Dykes, and Le’Andria Johnson (her smoking lead on Deliver Me is the current single), among others. Jekalyn Carr revs up the onomatopoeia of the breathy worship ode, YHWH (The Sound of My Breathing). Sir the Baptist infuses elements of hip hop on He Heard My Cry.
NPR Tiny Desk champions Tank and the Bangas join the ensemble on Let My People Go, the album’s most explicitly political selection. It likens wage inequality, human trafficking, racial prejudice, police brutality, the corporate power elite’s mistreatment of its employees, and other forms of systematic oppression to how Pharaoh treated the Hebrew slaves. Everyone is equal under God, the ensemble sings, with the line “you cannot box with God” a sly reference to Alex Bradford’s gospel musical, Your Arms Too Short to Box with God.
Goshen is a majestic musical portrait of the struggle to break free from personal suffering in all of its manifestations, and an ode to the soul’s ultimate victory through holding on, with confidence, to God’s unchanging hands.
GOSHEN was produced by Donald Lawrence, Sir The Baptist, and Troy Taylor. Lawrence also plans to premiere Goshen Theatrical as a dance theatre piece later this year, which is music from the album live set to dance (modern, jazz, hip hop, Afrofunk).
Additional info from Journal of Gospel Music