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A Birthday Post! Highway to Heaven: September's Good Grooves
A quasi-deep dive into this month's Church of the Good Groove, a playlist I curate for SoulandJazz.com. Larnelle Harris, Stephanie Boosahda, Jessy Dixon & more!
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Birthdays always make me reflective—as does the season we’re shifting into. I turn 48 today, which is hard to believe. The world has changed so much and seemingly so quickly. I’m grateful I grew up in the era I did with so much melody and orchestration with singers and musicians committed to such grandeur. A decade or so again, I was playing something that was twenty years old for a friend and they said, “Wow! That melody is so not intuitive!” I realized in that moment how essential imagination and unpredictability are in making timeless music.
As I curated the latest #ChurchoftheGoodGroove playlist for SoulandJazz.com, I pulled out some deep cuts and some hits that have been staples in my life. I try to relay a really broad spectrum of the gospel sound…and I have to say that this month’s playlist is my favorite so far.
So here are a few highlights. Just click here to listen to the playlist.
Larnelle Harris—Give Me More Love In My Heart (1980)
Many remember Larnelle Harris for his dramatic duets with Sandi Patty like “More Than Wonderful” and “I’ve Just Seen Jesus,” and his easy listening ballads like “I Miss My Time With You” and “Greater Still.” I included his 1980 disco cut “Give Me More Love In My Heart,” which includes a not-so-subtle nod to the signature string line in Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough.” Harris’ move to the inspirational sound he’d become famous for was, he says, his choice. He told CCM in 1987,
“I know I’ve been criticized for not sounding Black enough, and in the past I’ve almost bought into that. One of my early albums, I tried sounding more like the contemporary Black singers, but it wasn’t me. I decided that I know who I am and what I am called to do.”
Stephanie Boosahda—Highway to Heaven (1981)
I first saw Stephanie Boosahada as a personality on Christian television as a child in the late 70s, but became a fan of her music with 1984’s Fearless to Follow, her last label release. In my teens, I got the albums that preceded it and fell in love with “Highway to Heaven” from her 1981 album I Know That I Know that reflects a side of Stephanie that we didn’t get to hear frequently enough. In a radio special promoting the album, she talked about her core influences.
“I listened to Dionne Warwick a lot in high school…I think that Black, soul music has influenced me a lot. I like rhythm and blues. That’s what I think my bag is, what I want to work into. Soul music has so much feeling and I like my guts to hang out in my songs. I want people to feel my heart and that’s why I like that style of music…because it’s expressive and open.”
Radiate—Jessy Dixon (1985)
Very few performers have covered as much musical territory as Jessy Dixon. From his early Savoy recordings which were traditional gospel to his late 70s/early 80s recordings for Light Records which cross-polinated contemporary gospel with inspirational music to his last chapter bringing the gospel sound to Bill Gaither’s Homecoming recordings, Jessy Dixon did it all.
His 1985 album, Silent Partner, produced by Dana Key of DeGarmo & Key, is one of the most interesting albums of his career—a project that blends soul, rock and pop and brought Jessy, front and center, into the 80s. “Radiate” calls Huey Lewis & The News’ “Heart of Rock and Roll” to mind, grinding with a serious 80s burn. Dixon told CCM in 1986 that working with Dana Key was an “instant marriage” and saw the album as being part of the cutting edge.
“The Christian stations are opening up to contemporary Christian rock music with the understanding that it’s the music which is important to the kids and adults. The radio stations are accepting this and working along with us more than ever before and that’s a very exciting thing.”
Nuana Dunlap with the Kentucky First Jurisdictional Mass Choir—Lift Him Up (2007)
Every #ChurchOfTheGoodGroove ends up with a suite of traditional gospel tracks. I pulled this lesser known track led by Nuana Dunlap of Bobby Jones & New Life. Many remember Nuana for her fiery Apostolic representation on Bobby Jones Gospel from 1989 to 1997.
For those in the Nashville and in surrounding areas, you’ll definitely want to join us here on October 16th for Yes Lord Radio’s Gospel Showcase.
We’ll be celebrating the 30th anniversary of their album, Bobby Jones Presents New Life…Bring It To Jesus, with a performance by that incarnation of New Life (Beverly Crawford, Nuana Dunlap, Francine Smith, Angela Primm with Gale Mayes in the late Emily Harris’ place) for the first time since 1996.
YOU DO NOT WANT TO MISS THIS! You can get tickets by clicking here.