Praise At Your Own Risk
Michael Speaks has been to the other side and is back again. He started out singing in his father’s church and went on to release his debut project on an R&B label. His soul not satisfied, Speaks made his way back to Gospel and comes at us on Sony/Epic with a challenge for you to Praise at Your Own Risk.Producers: Michael Speaks, Warryn Campbell
album release date: November 2000
Raspy and hyper are words that come to mind in describing Speak’s vocal approach to his material. His 1995 R&B debut showed a strong John P. Kee influence (uncomfortable almost, as you never picked up the true sense of Speaks,
rather, only who his main influence was).
With time comes maturity however, and on this sophomore project, while maintaining an obvious Prince of Gospel vibe, he also succeeds in finding his own expression. Throughout the project, Speaks flexes his stacked vocal range, but rests most of the time in that rich lower register that brings to mind the tonal qualities R&B crooner Johnny Gill.
The ballads shine the most brilliantly. “Lord Of Life”, which Speaks wrote and arranged, is among the standout tracks. A sweet, harmonized melody over contemporary instrumentation come together for a strong testimonial. Featured here is Double AC (All About Christ), a choir founded by the artist. They can also be heard on “Praise Your Problems Away”, an equally eloquent ballad, packed with power. “All I Need” finishes out a trio of solid slow jams.
“Say A Prayer” goes for the jugular of those who criticize and gossip. He advises in the chorus, “Say a prayer for me, and keep on walking. Don’t talk about me, just pray for me.” Set atop the familiar melody of Jeff Lorber’s “Rain Dance”, this mid tempo melody flows nicely.
The very Mary Mary sounding “I Just Wanna (Dance Now)” is not a coincidence. Penned by the auspicious ladies along with producer Warryn Campbell, they define the swirling sound of the cut by lending a hand on background vocals, with Speaks adding his growly intonations over top.
And Speaks gets more mileage out of the Kee hit “Jesus Is Real”. A marvelous composition that will always get a warm welcome on this ezine, the song keeps its original structure but he spices it with his own flava. Imparting his own voice, Speaks keeps it fresh.
Rounding out the project are the title track (“Praise At Your Own Risk”), a funk-infused groove that dares you to do just that, and “Jump”, a contagious uptempo jam built on old-school soul band instrumentation.
Whoa!! We almost forgot to mention the groovy hidden track on the project. Don’t leave early, because you sure don’t want to be missing “Marvy Marv's Urban Mix” of “I Just Wanna Dance Now”.
reviewed by Melanie Clark and Stan North —
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Interview with Mary Mary