After The Clark Sisters’ long awaited 2007 reunion album Live… One Last Time, the sisters announced to the dismay of many that they were retiring. But it’s amazing what two weeks on top of the Billboard gospel charts, an in-demand tour schedule, and three Grammy wins can make you do. The overwhelming demand for The Clark Sisters reached such a fever pitch that the ladies soon rescinded their retirement and vowed to record together again.
Praise God that they are women of their word because The Clark Sisters’ new Family Christmas album is a satisfying 48 minutes to say the least. The new album released October 6, 2009 on Karew Records, the new label minted by Karen Clark Sheard and her husband Pastor John Drew Sheard.
With the backing of EMI Gospel, Karew Records opted to go big and invite the entire Clark/Moss clan to participate for the holidays. The live recorded CD features eight songs by The Clark Sisters, plus featured vocal turns from young breakout Kierra Sheard, gospel mainstay J. Moss, and his brother Bill Moss, Jr.
The Clark Sisters have come a long way since they recorded their first Christmas album New Dimensions of Christmas Carols as pre-teens over 30 years ago with their mother Dr. Mattie Moss Clark. Aside from the kitschy 70’s album cover, New Dimensions gives an insightful look into the fledgling gifts within some young girls that would metamorphose soon enough into an amazing talent shared between a group of strong women.
The first peak of Family Christmas arrives atop “Oh Come Emmanuel.” First recorded in 1978 on New Dimensions, its 2009 revisitation shows off the control and refinement The Clark Sisters have cultivated since their teen years. They pair a classical approach with their unique “Clark” flourishes, and elder sisters Jacky Cullum-Chisholm and Elbernita “Twinkie” Clark render impressive tenor and bass parts respectively. [Watch the exclusive live footage of “Oh Come Emmanuel” on BET.com.]
The sisters’ version of “Do You Hear What I Hear” takes flight with rich layers of live instrumentation. Twinkie Clark and Dorinda Clark Cole keep a reserved delivery for two verses, before Karen is called in to bring the vocal fireworks she’s best known for. After the climax, it glides to a rest, alight with piano glissandos and each sister sweetly improvising a capella.
Twinkie shows up and shows out on “Celebration,” which seems modeled after the Asaph Ward creation “Everything You Need Is Right Here” from her 2004 solo album Home Once Again. Except in this incarnation, it gets the benefit of having sisters Dorinda and Karen added to the mix.
I’m always impressed when anyone manages to make “Silent Night” exciting. It’s a pretty sleepy carol, but sister Jacky takes a confident lead on it with her mellow voice that sits well with her sisters’ tight harmonies.
“Beautiful Christmas” is another synergistic collaboration between Kierra Sheard and her producer/drummer brother J. Drew Sheard II. The two have teamed up on each of Kierra’s solo albums since her 2004 debut I Owe You. For “Beautiful Christmas,” Kierra anchors the lead vocals while stacks of her brother Drew’s succinctly produced background vocals mark the chorus.
J. Moss proudly introduces his brother Bill Moss, Jr. to render the majestic “We Are The Reason.” Bill’s confident baritone soars, undaunted by an arrangement that came straight from the handbook of TBN’s Praise The Lord. With such a distinct army of harps, horns, and choral members of “indeterminate” race, you could almost feel the presence of Paul & Jan Crouch in the room.
J comes back soon enough to for his own solo go. Appropriately enough for him, he choses to cover Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas.” Now, as a general rule: I detest all covers of “This Christmas.” Donny’s original is perfect in every way, shape, form, and fashion, and is heretofore declared sacred and untouchable with infractions to the aforementioned rule punishable by imprisonment, fine, and/or caning with no exceptions given or considered.
Once J. Moss squalls and runs his face off in the 90-second theatrical intro with only piano accompaniment, he succeeds in transforming the song into something else entirely. By the time he takes the song to church towards the end, he narrowly earns a pass from me. He’s lucky he can sing heaven down with that otherworldly voice of his. It’s a great performance, but tell him I said he’s on notice. Donny’s off limits from now on. “Don’t let it happen again, JAMES!!”
Of course, the absolute zenith of the album is the tongue-in-cheek cover of “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late),” sung in classic 50’s style a la the Andrews Sisters. Though the song is now a seasonal novelty, but when it was originally popularized by cartoon characters Alvin & The Chipmunks in 1958, it topped Billboard’s charts and won three Grammy awards. Here with The Clark Sisters, Karen plays the role of the misfit Alvin with raucous results. You have to hear it to believe it. If you can make it through these 3 minutes without laughing or smiling, then you have no soul!
Family Christmas is available nationwide, but if it’s not in stock in a music store near you, you can easily find it digitally on iTunes, Amazon, or Lala. For more information on The Clark Sisters group and solo efforts, visit www.theclarksisters.com.
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