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Ramsey Lewis: With One Voice

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You gotta love a Ramsey Lewis CD that begins with “Oh Happy Day.” In fact, Lewis’ first gospel recording in his distinguished career is as uplifting as you’d expect. This live project was recorded at the J.W. James Memorial A.M.E. Church in Maywood, Ill. That is, by the way, where the Rev. Lucille L. Jackson–Lewis’ sister–is the copastor.

Hearing and appreciating the congregation’s reactions–lots of clapping and hoots–is one reason why this CD is so special. Lord have mercy, Christian and gospel music can be a sterile thing. But in Lewis’ hands it’s rollicking and joyful (“Sunday Strut”), reverential (“Bless Me (Prayer of Jabez))” and just plain beautiful (Lewis’ spare duet with Kevin Randolph on keys in “With One Voice”).

Lewis wrote half the tunes here, including the beautiful instrumental “Thoughts and Reflections.” He also gets two big, soulful, through-the-roof guest appearances from gospel vocalists Smokie Norful (“God Can Work It Out”) and Darius Brooks (“Healed Heart”). But the biggest guest appearance is from the more than 50 members of the J.W. James Memorial A.M.E. Church Combined Choir.

And you can throw away any preconceived notions you may have of a gospel CD when you hear “Keep the Spirit,” a joyful reggae tune. If you’re not a believer already, that song and this CD just may do it.