Marvin Sapp, Close | Album Review
Pastor Marvin Sapp delivers another well-rounded, uplifting, contemporary gospel album with ‘Close.’
Pastor Marvin Sapp is one of the big names in contemporary gospel music. He became bigger in the music industry when he did something rare – scored a hit on pop radio with “Never Would’ve Made It.” The hit propelled his album, Thirsty to gold status, a rarity beyond the likes of Kirk Franklin in gospel circles. Furthermore, his next album, Here I Am, debuted at no. 2 on the Billboard 200. A gospel album? Whoa! Sapp, returns with another spiritually uplifting album, Close.
“Safe in You”
“Safe in You” gets Close off to a superb start, with an extended, mysterious, celestial instrumental intro. While ‘ear candy’ and gospel music don’t usually reside within the same sentence, the production has some awesome moments. Marvin Sapp gets to work doing what he does best – praising the ‘Most High.’ Beginning with poise, eventually “Safe in You” percolates to something even grander and chocked full of the spirit.
“He Is” showcases the adventurous of gospel music. With the many preconceived notions of black gospel, “He Is” moves beyond the traditional, cliché script. No, Marvin Sapp hasn’t suddenly become Kirk Franklin or Tye Tribbett, but the funky, 70s-inspired sound is simply ‘irresistible.’ While the horn hits steal the show, the bass line has a claim to fame as well, prominently featured, anchoring things down. There’s also the message itself – that’s central.
From the jump, “Listen” sounds like a particular, controversial R&B artist. That’s because the said R. Kelly penned and contributes vocals. The timing of this particular collaboration is poor. Arguably, this overshadows the song and message. Still, “Listen” has many of the attributes that makes R. Kelly one of urban music’s elite. Furthermore, “Listen,” like “He Is,” brings contemporary gospel to the 10s – or at least the 00s (Happy People / U Saved me dropped in ’04).
Keeping things contemporary, Sapp is joined by Erica Campbell and Izze Williams on “You and Me Together.” Listen to Sapp’s albums of the past, and “You and Me Together” sounds starkly different. Maybe traditionalists won’t dig it, but for a more youthful audience, there will undoubtedly be mass appeal. The rhymes by Williams might be the biggest surprise. The chorus, performed by Campbell, is the biggest selling point.
“Kind God” fittingly slackens the pace. Furthermore, Sapp steps away from the pronounced urban contemporary cues that graced “Listen” and “You and Me Together.” This is reverent, soothing, and beautiful – at least for the first three minutes. The push after the three-minute mark is thoughtful. “Face to Face” continues to keep Close going strong, sounding like vintage Sapp. Maybe it isn’t the crème de la crème, but gives Sapp another terrific, inspired performance. The choral vocals, and kinder, gentler sounds stand out here.
While “Face to Face” is vintage, “Carried Me,” another record firmly in the Sapp wheelhouse, trumps it. The lyrics are built for times of tribulation, providing hope, inspiration, and peace. The melody is a selling point here – among the best of Close. Furthermore, Marvin Sapp reaches deeper here, truly making the listener feel the same, fiery spirit he feels and sings with. Adding to the excellent is the construction of the song – the form with the vamping, the harmonic progression, and the aforementioned melodic excellence. “All in Your Name” finds itself sandwiched in between two gems. Nonetheless, it has ample ‘favor.’ Rock solid gospel.
Sapp showcases a beautiful vocal tone throughout the course of “Close.” As the song progresses, the performance grows progressively more rousing, thanks to authentic, emotional lead vocals, backing choral vocals, and dynamic production. Gospel music is naturally filled with the spirit, meant to uplift its recipients, much like the minister at the church “fills up” the parishioners. “Close” packs the same punch, giving the listener the utmost hope and conviction to make it through life’s hardships and many tribulations. In that regard, “Close” is pitch perfect.
Following up a juggernaut is never easy. “Light the Way” has the arduous task of following the dynamic title track and crowning achievement of Close. It doesn’t supersede it by any means, but smartly embraces groove and energy, which goes a long way. Could “Close” have successfully closed? Yes, but the slick, funky “Light the Way” is enjoyable and ultimately well-performed.
There’s a debate about criticizing Christian and gospel music – how can you possibly say anything bad about musician’s doing God’s work? All that said, there’s no need to worry about the possibility of any glaring criticism of Marvin Sapp’s latest. Close gives the gospel veteran another well-rounded, welcome addition to his discography.
Gems: “Safe in You,” “He Is,” “Carried Me” & “Close”