Moving Forward (EP)
(Music World Music)
Review by Peggy Oliver
When it comes to all those TV talent competitions where the winner is judged by America, being a runner-up, third placed or even lower does not constitute a death sentence in one’s career future. Most persons are aware by now that countless “American Idol” non-winners have carved prolific, if not at least steady, recording and concert platforms (i.e. Jennifer Hudson, Elliott Yamin). Representing the show “Sunday Best” – the gospel alternative to “Idol” – praise and worship leader Andrea Helms (the runner-up for Season Four to jazz/gospel stylist Amber Bullock) recently signed with Music World Music. The same applies to the fireball traditional vocalist from Season Three, Elder Goldwire Mclendon, who will be releasing his debut EP in April 2012. In an intriguing marketing strategy, Mclendon’s and Helms’ projects focus on all their “Sunday Best” performances, guided by top-of-the-line gospel producers.
Before hitting the “Sunday Best” stage, Helms always dreamed of fulfilling a career as an artist, citing Whitney Houston and Tramaine Hawkins as two of her main vocal role models. Her initial calling was in worship ministry after graduating from high school in 1992; serving alongside her father who was the Senior Pastor of an interracial congregation in Denton, Texas. With all the blessings bestowed upon her, Helms and her life challenges supposedly started at birth as doctors were predicting she would be a vegetable at best. Though she beat those odds, the battlefield caught up with Helms as she dealt with postpartum depression, which disrupted raising her young son for a short time. Naturally, she claims her health issues as her lifelong testimony and a teaching tool for those that are facing adversity.
With all that said, the EP Moving Forward is a more than appropriate introduction for Helms to the gospel music industry.
“The Heavens Are Telling (A Mighty God We Serve)” perfectly suits Helms’ strong gifts as a music ministry leader. The Donald Lawrence piece starts with a quiet spirit with organ accompaniment, eventually leading into Helm’s soprano and the choir’s explosive yet never over the top worship presence.
The popular southern gospel song, “Yesterday,” composed by legendary quartet vocalist George Yonce, was recently recorded by Mary Mary in a pseudo big band arrangement. In this version, Helms injects more of a gospel blues touch and delivers a solid performance despite the thin, auto tuned-enhanced background vocal arrangement.
Martha Munizzi’s signature song, “Because of Who You Are,” starts with promise. Unfortunately, Helms plays it too safe on most counts and the orchestration eventually loses its luster with way too much filler toward the end.
The title track re-teams Andrea with Amber Bullock in this Ricardo Sanchez piece that floats on a jazzy/gospel cushion. Despite their distinctive vocal textures, the duet purely connects on a technical and worship level.
“Encourage Yourself,” the Donald Lawrence & Tri-City Singers classic originally sung by Sheri Jones-Moffett, is yet another brilliant, motivating performance by Helms whose adlib abilities are equally compelling.
Plain and simple, Helms transforms Walter Hawkins’ “Changed” into her own personal unapologetic testimony of God’s mercy, deliverance and restoration.
Helms clearly identifies as being a straight-ahead worshipper as demonstrated on “I Love The Lord.” Though it might not be in the same ball park as Whitney Houston’s version of this Richard Smallwood composition from the movie “The Preacher’s Wife,” Helms’ interpretation is still credible.
In retrospect to all of the “Sunday Best” contestants’ recording bows – even Crystal Aikin’s and Jessica Reedy’s – Moving Forward stands out as the best of the bunch. This is due to producer H. “Doobie” Powell’s sensitivity to Helms’ vocal personality and strengths by utilizing organic orchestrations and a full choir on most tracks instead of resorting to the fast-food all-synthesized route. Sans the few minor dents (mostly with “Because of Who You Are”) Moving Forward proves Helms is moving solidly forward in the next chapter of ministry with flying colors and can never be deemed as just another runner-up.
Four out of five stars.
The Urban Music Scene