Draped in Gospel style, as well as content, Azure McCall’s latest release falls safely into the category of inspirational music. Tunes like “Without a Song” and “Hello Love” leave no doubt that this is message music, something that even the bluesy tune “Change,” with its exasperatingly obvious motivational lyric, and the admittedly well-executed ballad “Not a Day Goes By” confirm.
Boasting powerful lungs, and a sincere, if bombastic, approach, McCall belts out tune after tune, hitting the right notes at the right time. If at times her convictions bubble over into an over-articulated approach, these moments might have worked to evoking local church music and social meetings. Unfortunately, the overall simplicity of the musical arrangements, compounded by a lack of interpretive self-reflection, keeps the album from achieving the promise latent in McCall’s vocal skill.
A secondary, but equally frustrating, aspect of The Gift is its cursory look at the deep connections between gospels, hymnals, and jazz. As artists like Larry Willis have shown, the jazz heritage has been indelibly marked by such music. However, unlike Willis’s Sanctuary, which documented this via contemplative, historically explorative, and musically challenging compositions, McCall’s hodgepodge of inconsistently executed tunes feels uninformed, barely skating over the surface of this profound terrain. This limited capacity for musical reflection becomes increasingly evident as the album progresses into soft rock-esque tunes like,“Mr. Mystery” and the overblown, drippy ballad “Time,” leaving the final result unsatisfying and distressingly plebian.