The Austin Chronicle

Live Shots

Reviewed by David Lynch, September 17, 1999, Music

In September 1981, Claudia Williams had a vision: praise the Lord with a world-class gospel choir. On a recent crescent-mooned Sunday evening, St. James Baptist Church's Minister of Music and her Voices of Christ celebrated that vision's 18th anniversary. After welcomes, prayers, and readings, Williams and the Voices took the stage at the state-of-the-art Praise Tabernacle sanctuary. VOC is a mixed choir of 17 accomplished sopranos, altos, and tenors backed by drum kit, keyboards, six-string bass, electric guitar, and Hammond B-3 -- the gospel organ of choice. The choir's sheer power was realized in the opening "This Is the Day the Lord Has Made." Dressed in resplendent, complementary attire sparkling like evening stars, the choir stood out amongst the finely dressed, three-quarters-full, all-ages crowd. After a moving "With My Whole Heart," keyboardist Luke Mercer Jr. came down from the band balcony to inject his soulful singing into "Really Want to Know You," periodically whipping the audience into a frenzy. The directress introduced the next piece as "an old song," subsequently leading a boiling version of "At the Table." The call-and-response number, fueled by another musician coming down from the band balcony to sing, gained steam, spilling out into the audience where Williams was able to simultaneously lead the choir, band, and the crowd. Such a fiery delivery could have finished their set, but next was Chester Baldwin's tight arrangement of "I Know It Was the Blood." Baldwin, minister of music for Mount Sinai Baptist Church, joined on stage, engaging in an impromptu duet with Mercer. Folks were up off their feet, clapping and singing along, with the Spirit descending upon several of the faithful. The closing song of praise easily proved that Williams and company, while visibly moved by the show of support and the power of the Word, could go all night long. But it was time for Houston's Nikki Ross, who punished the microphone with her brief but potent vocal cameo. The closing set came from the contemporary sounds of special guests Greg O'Quin N'Joyful Noyze of Dallas, a recent London opening act for gospel superstars Kirk Franklin and Nu Nation. But even with these talented additions to the program, the night was all about the Voices of Christ, 18 years and goin' strong. Williams' 1981 vision is today a vibrant reality. Praise the Lord!

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