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When is the contemporary style of gospel music not exclusively contemporary gospel music? Easy. When it’s played expertly by a pair of brothers raised in New Orleans’ profoundly spiritual churchgoing community and applied to a program of selections all considered traditional hymns in the New Orleans canon.
 

The Bemiss Brothers, Al and Burnell, come to this mix of church and showmanship by birthright, both having been raised in the church of their father, the Fifth African Baptist Church in New Orleans, led by Reverend Walter Bemiss. The brothers both developed strong musical skills in the church and later absorbed the tenets of pop music.
 

Al has played keyboards behind Johnnie Taylor, Candi Staton, and New Orleans’ own Clarence “Frogman” Henry; he also served as music director for the touring cast of “One Mo’ Time,” a musical revue conceived in New Orleans and based on old-time blues belters and African-American performance styles. Burnell, meanwhile, has contributed his stirring vocal solos to the New Orleans Sound Company, a popular R&B band, as well as to local churches in New Orleans and the surrounding area.
 

In their hands, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” a very old spiritual, is recast as a contemporary ballad that could easily be from a Broadway production, while “(We’ll Understand It Better) Bye and Bye,” set to an easy-loping beat and embellished by a smoking sax solo, could easily close the same show.
 

Other standouts include the uptempo, lively “Blessed Assurance” and “I Bowed on My Knees and Cried,” done as a solemn ballad. But singling out individual numbers does this CD a disservice, because it reveals both deep faith and musical virtuosity informed by a fresh vision on each and every inspired track.

   

 

 

THE MOMENT I BELIEVED

I AM HAPPY WITH JESUS ALONE

THE LAST MILE OF THE WAY

WHERE COULD I GO

HIS EYE IS ON THE SPARROW

THE LORD WILL MAKE A WAY

HE KNOWS HOW MUCH YOU CAN BEAR

BLESSED ASSURANCE

EVERYBODY WILL BE HAPPY OVER THERE

IN THE STRONG NAME OF JESUS

I BOWED ON MY KNEES AND CRIED HOLY

WE’LL UNDERSTAND IT BETTER BY AND BY

WHEN WE ALL GET TO HEAVEN

MY HEAVENLY FATHER WATCHES OVER ME

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