Since beginning his career three decades ago, singer, songwriter, and virtuoso bassist Fred Hammond has racked up enough gospel hits to fill a church. His studio craftsmanship is full of infectious, uplifting melodies, expert arranging, slick production, and riveting performances. Given how well his vision translates on record, it's a wonder it took 17 long years for him to issue a new concert recording. Worship Journal was co-produced by Hammond with Calvin Rodgers, Philip Feaster, Lawrence Jones, and Lehman Gray. All vocals and instruments were captured live, though the horn charts were later overdubbed in the studio -- they weren't on the road. The songs are autobiographical, reflecting struggle, worry, and insecurity, but they are ultimately triumphant.
Check the massive groove in 'The Lord Is Good' with its mean bassline and guitar vamp. 'God Is My Refuge' holds drama in its intro as Hammond, supported by his chorus, allows his gorgeous tenor to express his need and commitment. The sweet sway and affirmation in 'Let Me Touch the Hem' is as much a plea as a statement of faith, relating the trial of a soul mired in darkness awaiting deliverance. 'John 3:16' is funky, with bright, compressed horns, a punchy bassline, and tight snares with syncopated breaks. The interplay between Hammond and his chorus is best here.
The honor of closer is reserved for charting single 'Father Jesus Spirit,' with its anthemic choruses and '80s-style R&B instrumentation: spiraling electric pianos, spiky synths, slapped, rumbling basslines, turntable scratches, and meaty guitars. Worship Journal delivers to its audience; after all this time, Hammond hasn't forgotten how to present a concert recording.
~ Thom Jurek.
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