December 30, 2010
Bob Marovich – The Black Gospel Blog
Not just any group, especially an emerging ensemble, can secure as major a gospel icon as Inez Andrews for its debut project.
But Just Friends is not just any group. First, keyboardist extraordinare Richard Gibbs, Inez’ son, is a member. Second, the Chicago-based gospel group includes Gus and Chuck Lacy, Janice Gilmore, and a host of other talented singers, along with bass work from Donald Alford, Jr. and a cameo appearance by Faith Howard.
The group’s aptly-titled debut album Fulfillment is superbly produced by Gus and Chuck Lacy. They maintain the perfect balance between the singers and musicians. Just Friends’ harmonies are strong, firm and rich, whether the group is engaged in P&W, such as on the brisk opening track, “I Will Praise and Worship You;” the soulful and smooth “Jehovah Jireh,” featuring Gus Lacy’s silky vocals; or the traditional-drenched cover of Thomas Whitfield’s paean to conversion and discipleship, “That’s When He Saved My Soul.”
Andrews contributes her no-nonsense delivery to “Living in a Place.” She describes Heaven as “God’s place where there is no sin.” She sings with a winsomeness that brings to mind Cassietta George’s depiction of the other shore on “Walk Around Heaven All Day.” Meanwhile, Faith Howard transforms “I Wait” from a conventional P&W song to an electrifying performance.
“Set This Place on Fire,” the group’s single and rallying cry, is a song with a CCM melody surrounded by snarling guitars. Regardless of the difference in musical style, the group’s well-tuned harmonies are ever-present.
The influence of the Hawkins Family comes through in Just Friends’ even-handed and contemporary sound that favors tonality over theatricality. No surprise, then, that the ensemble was chosen to participate in this year’s Edwin & Walter Hawkins Music & Arts Love Fellowship Conference. They also backed the Caravans for Albertina Walker’s funeral service.
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “I Will Praise and Worship You,” “That’s When He Saved My Soul,” “Living in a Place.”