Yolanda Adams is the hottest singer in gospel today, but her new album, "Mountain High . . . Valley Low," could cross her over to an entirely different audience. It's not that Adams has compromised her commitment to Jesus, or made any accommodation in her bedrock faith; it's just that she's enlisted some savvy pop producers to modernize her sound and incorporate such inevitable influences as R&B, jazz and hip-hop.
Foremost are Minneapolis funkateers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who wrote, produced and perform on three tracks. While "Wherever You Are" grooves a little too smoothly, "Open My Heart" is world-weary in its supplication and assured in its cloud-dispelling confirmation--"Lord, I know that You're the only one who is able to pull me through." Jam and Lewis also provide spiritual succor in the feel-good gospel-funk closer, "Already Alright."
Pop producer Keith Thomas underscores Adams's quiet fervor on "The Things We Do," which addresses eternal consequences, as does "Time to Change," a hip-hop-flavored track in which Adams warns, "You gotta answer for yourself some day." The singer seldom resorts to overt fire-and-brimstone delivery, though she can swoop into the stratosphere to underscore a point. However, she is just as effective with a reflective inspirational ballad like "Fragile Heart," or the jubilant "Yeah," where she briefly questions her commitment before renewing it: "When I just stop and think of all that You've done for me/ how can I say anything but yeah yeah yeah!"
There are several miscues: the skittish "He'll Arrive (Coming Back)" wasted a duet encounter with R&B diva Kelly Price, while "That Name," a beautiful, very traditional gospel tune written and produced by Washington's Richard Smallwood, is overwhelmed by superfluous strings that eventually mute Adams's impassioned delivery. She does better with "Continual Praise," from the pen of Fred Hammond, and Kevin Bond's "In the Midst of It All," a trials-and-tribulations anthem that places Adams in rich counterpoint with a full chorus.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8171.)
Adams, who performs at Constitution Hall Saturday with Fred Hammond and Radical for Christ, Take 6, and Dawkins and Dawkins, is also represented by "The Best of Yolanda Adams," part of Verity's New Gospel Legends series. It collects 15 tracks from her five previous albums, ranging from the magnificent grace and power of "Through the Storm" and "The Battle Is the Lord's" to the determination of "Just a Prayer Away" and challenge of "Is Your All on the Altar?" to a splendid "Even Me," which starts off with subtle piano accompaniment and quietly builds to a fervent chorus-supported plea, "Bless me, protect me."
Hearing Adams's voice, you sense she's already been blessed.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8172.)
CAPTION: The hottest singer in gospel is aiming for a bigger congregation.