J.J. Hairston & Youthful Praise | After This

J.J. Hairston & Youthful Praise - After This

J.J. Hairston & Youthful Praise
After This
By Peggy Oliver

When I first stepped foot in church during the early sixties, my attention focused on the precious, riveting harmonies of the choir. It did not matter if the choir embodied a hymn, spiritual or the Psalms, this part of the weekly church service was my absolute favorite moment. As I started taking my relationship with Christ more seriously, choir ministries took on a slightly different meaning, equivocating more than just some pretty voices that have sheer technical skill. This is where we quickly fast forward to the urban contemporary era which started to evolve in the late sixties with the crossover sensation “Oh Happy Day” by The Edwin Hawkins Singers. From The Hawkins Singers, to John P. Kee & The New Life Community Choir to the left of center R&B/funk fueled Deitrick Haddon & The Voices of Unity, the spirit of “praise and worship” – or what many purists rave on dubbing as “anointed” – was the ultimate key to draw the congregation further into the Lord’s presence.

For all live praise and worship experiences, gospel and church choirs indubitably set the tone – whether handling the spotlight themselves, accompanying the soloist or interacting with their director. Choirs like Voices of Unity, Hezekiah Walker & The Love Fellowship Choir and Donald Lawrence & The Tri-City Singers are some of worship’s more recent movers and shakers that continue to deliver fulfilling live worship platforms. JJ Hairston & Youthful Praise (Y.P.), birthed out of the Cathedral of Praise in Bridgeport, Connecticut, can be added to that list without reservation.

With five recordings since 2001 and several radio-friendly hits (i.e. “Incredible God/Incredible Praise” and “Praise to The Rock”), Y.P. is one of urban contemporary choir’s most consistent ensembles that integrate many in-house soloists with industry veterans. In their seventeen years of ministry, Y.P. can always be counted on to administer praise and worship with fire yet graced with class. Despite the passing in 2010 of Y.P.’s co-director and co-founder Pastor Shawn Brown, the choir continues to carry its legacy under the full guidance of Hairston.

Originally entitled Praise, Thanks & Declaration, the latest project, After This, follows on a solid theme of accelerating hope and faith amidst the trails pertinent to today’s society. Though After This has its share of guests, Y.P. pulls plenty of vocal arsenals. The lively “Lord of All” is an appropriate opener decked out in seventies succulent soulful hooks complete with brass, horns and Latin-sprinkled piano fills. The immense energy shifts to another plane as Y.P.’s Tiffany Andrews Woodside drops effective turns on “My King. “The Victor” and “Grateful,” and the high-stepping traditional church praise of “Reap” showcases the vocal depth and breadth of Melissa Bell, Minion Bolton and Jennifer Johnson respectively, as they generate timely power and restraint. It can be risky balancing numerous leads, but Hairston’s arrangement of Eddie James’ “I Am” utilizes Woodrow Vereen, Sam Walker, Stephon Hawkins and Marc Britt’s impeccable vocal layering to elaborate upon the song’s sheer elegance.

There are still plenty of guests on hand whose vocal presences are just as satisfactory. Bishop Eric McDaniels leads the worship stratosphere on the infectious title track, giving glory right where it belongs: “There will be glory after this / There will be victory after this.” The pop-flavored “Love Like This” is fully enhanced by Tye Tribbett’s usual sizzling personality, sparking his sometimes vulnerable tenor harmonies that compliment Hairston’s baritone. LaShun Pace’s vocal confidence is always assured as she pulls out all the bluesy punches for “The Blood.”

After This was recorded at First Cathedral Church in Bloomfield, Connecticut, where Hairston served as minister of music. For the most part, Hairston, Y.P. and friends connect all the spiritual dots. If there are minor quibbles, the last two tracks fade out while the song is still far from over, always a downer when it comes to the live praise and worship experience.  Otherwise, After This further elevates Hairston & Y.P.’s excellence for urban contemporary choirs in this generation.

Four and three-quarter stars out of five.

Peggy Oliver
The Urban Music Scene