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Juanita Bynum & Jonathan Butler: Gospel Goes Classical

Guitarist Jonathan Butler’s hard-earned reputation as a solid smooth-jazz acoustic guitarist is well deserved. The guy can sing, too. But those who’ve witnessed his revivalist energy onstage know that preaching the Good Word is equally as important to him as laying down a groove. Now, Butler has followed a 2004 gospel release titled The Worship Project with an ambitious two-CD set with Juanita Bynum. Recorded live at the Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center in Birmingham, Ala., with the 60-piece Gospel Goes Classical Symphony Orchestra and 100-member choir conducted by Henry Panion III, the project is crammed with joyous vocal tunes, spoken-word spirituals and testimonials.

You won’t hear much of Butler’s sweet acoustic sounds here, unfortunately. Instead, he shares the spotlight with Bynum and sings his original songs “Falling in Love With Jesus,” “Don’t You Worry,” “Love Never Fails” and “We Need You Lord.” On the latter, as the chorus builds, Butler is truly in his element in a profoundly spiritual moment. Butler and Bynum share the stage on one tune, Bynum’s “I Don’t Mind Waiting,” which is unfortunate on a two-disc project. They go well together.

Bynum is the founder of Juanita Bynum Ministries in Waycross, Ga., and is self-described as a Bible teacher, prophet, psalmist, author and television personality. She’s also blessed with amazing vocal chops. Her latest solo CD reached No. 1 on Billboard’s gospel charts.

She sings with an evangelical fervor in a voice reminiscent of Gladys Knight, exhorting the crowd into whoops and cheers on an evening that was surely heaven-sent.

Originally Published