Cutting straight to the chase, reviewing and evaluating gospel music is definitely a fine-line. While gospel is just another genre, it really isn’t like others – it’s different. Why is gospel different, and, why does gospel have to be treated with care compared to other genres? The reason is because of its purpose and its intent. The notion is that if one criticizes a gospel album – aka supposedly ‘criticizes a group of Christian artists doing God’s work and ministering to others’ – then they are ‘devilish’ and nonbelievers.
Is it fair that a there’s a school that believes that criticizing gospel music or its artists is indeed devilish – of course. The reason that it’s fair is because everyone is entitled to their own opinion, even if others find it objectionable. Furthermore, people may literally read ‘judging others’ as also judging their talents. Personally, the notion that gospel music should never be evaluated as other genres or that those criticizing are nonbelievers, is quite objectionable and fallacious.
Speaking as a Christian myself, I definitely respect what gospel artists do and their intents to save souls, bringing them to Christ. However, I personally don’t believe that everyone who gets up in church, picks up a mic, and sings a solo – or every gospel artist that drops an album – is an exceptional musician who has crafted an equally exceptional album. Perhaps is my own musicianship, through collegiate studies as well as experiences accompanying and director church choir.
Just because a gospel artist releases an album with the intent to minister and uplift others, doesn’t mean they’ve released a Tour de Force musically. Spiritually, they’ve accomplished their God-given task as a Christian to spread the word (which is likely much more important to them), but that doesn’t mean that the album or songs may be ‘great’ or ‘transcendent’ beyond their prudent messaging.
Here’s the thing. If gospel music is to be reviewed and evaluated, should it receive a different instrument of benchmarks to meet given its divine component? That is the fine-line referenced earlier. If gospel music is to be judged solely by messaging/intent, then most if not all gospel albums should be considered great, right? These means of encouragements should only be viewed whether or not they are uplifting and testimonial, correct? This disregards the scale that every other genre of music has, including classical music where many might consider one work to feature better orchestration and conception than another. Or what about one orchestra performing the work with better precision than others?
While the moral view of evaluating gospel music seems like the “right thing to do,” it’s also sort of like calling on everybody and his brother and sister to sing a selection in church. Sure, some of them are truly making that “joyful noise unto the Lord,” but others epically fail. YouTube has numerous examples of those who had great intent and messaging through their performances, but lacked the skill that other gospel singers were blessed with and developed technically. Hence, the moral view is too vague.
Gospel, like any other genre, deserves to be spoken of musically. After all, if the intent of gospel music is to praise God and save souls, shouldn’t the Most High receive our best work? Just because an album has a great message, doesn’t mean that it couldn’t have been enhanced even more. It doesn’t mean that every mass choir that performs the song does it the justice they could have, particularly if it is a cover. If that were the case, wouldn’t it be incredibly hard to match level of musicianship and innovation as Rev. James Cleveland or the irreplaceable Dr. Mattie Moss Clark?
If a gospel recording is live, if the genre is to be judge musically, what’s wrong with noting that the altos were pronouncedly flat or the soloist had some pitchy moments that took away from the performance ever so slightly? These are constructive criticisms that should make the listener aware of what a well-rounded performance sounds like and to make the respective performers improve upon their flaws the next time.
Regardless of messaging or otherwise, there is no perfect performance. Patting gospel on the back for its morality is by all means appropriate, but it is also appropriate to note the shortcomings for the sake of improvement and strengthening as a listener and as an artist. There is no one who is perfect, save for God.