Say Amen
by Ginny Owens

Two of contemporary Christian music's finest, Ashley Cleveland and Ginny Owens, have released a pair of albums that show deep appreciation for spiritual legacy and music history—with enthusiastic nods to black gospel, everything from field hollers to bluesy soul.

Cleveland's God Don't Never Change (Koch Records) runs the gamut from the mass choir gospel romp "Going to Heaven to Meet the King" (from a rare 45 lp by Mattie Moss Clark) to the slow build of "Joy Joy" (by the Edwin Hawkins Singers) to the blues-soaked "I'm Going to Live the Life I Sing About in My Song" (by the great Thomas Dorsey).

The album begins with the rousing "My God Called Me This Morning," an old field holler. It is one of several tracks showcasing the outstanding guitar work of Cleveland's husband, Kenny Greenberg, who also produced the album. The couple was inspired by an npr interview with gospel music expert Robert Darden, who played snippets of obscure recordings during the December 2007 broadcast. Afterward, Greenberg told his wife, "You need to make a record of that music. That's you." She agreed, and the result, with Cleveland's Grammy Award-winning, sandpaper-blues vocals at the core, is one of 2009's best albums.

Owens's Say Amen (independent) was born from a similar desire to extol the excellence of traditional hymns and spirituals. "I grew up on a steady diet of black gospel music," Owens says. "And it ain't scared to show up on this project." It sure ain't, especially on the Owens-penned title track and the stirring "Don't Ya Let Nobody Turn You Round," on which you'd swear you were listening to a black gospel veteran instead of a young white woman.

Owens, a pianist with a voice alternately silky ...

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