God Don't Never Change
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Release Date
May 19, 2009
Label
Urban Inspirational/ Ent.

Sounds like … traditional black gospel songs played with bluesy swagger and rock 'n' roll intensity

At a glance … this celebration of black gospel songs rocks hard, and celebrates faith with grit and integrity

Ashley Cleveland's latest, God Don't Never Change, is described in its press release as a "celebration of vintage black gospel songs," but of course, like most genre signifiers, this one is only so useful. Yes, the traditional songs she performs here all have a rich history within the African-American community, and, with their themes of struggle and strife, many of them resonate with a particularly African-American point of view. That said, black gospel music is hardly the music of one particular demographic alone; it's as much the music of America as any other, a part of the very DNA of rock 'n' roll itself—a connection that Cleveland makes explicit.

Cleveland is a sensitive performer who knows just what to bring to a particular song or style of music, as was evident on 2005's Men and Angels Say, a collection of traditional hymns. These songs are, in some ways, the exact opposite of those, changing erudite poetry for simpler, gritty declarations of faith, and theological precision for nearly visceral expressions of real-life encounters with the Living God.

And as it turns out, that dovetails quite nicely with Cleveland's own style. For years, she's been an unsung hero within Christian music circles, slowly perfecting a gritty blues-rock style that falls somewhere between Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi—though on this album, she's rawer and more immediate than either of those artists. Joined by guitarist, producer, and husband Kenny Greenberg, Cleveland turns "You Got to Move" into a smoldering ...

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