ALBUM REVIEW: Awesome by Josiah Ruff

coverart(2)http://josiahruff.com/

Josiah Ruff is a singer, songwriter and producer, originally hailing from Central California. He started out in music at an early age, taking up piano and singing at only nine years old. At seventeen, he developed the strong Christian faith which is an important part of his music. He sees songs as ‘the sermons God gives me to inspire everyone’.

So far, Josiah has written and self produced six albums as well as numerous credits as a producer on several independent Gospel projects. While he sees his music as inspirational Gospel, he also has stylistic similarities with artists like Boys2Men and Brian McKnight. I would also compare him to great vocalists like Luther Vandross and Marvin Gaye, who also had a strong faith.

This album, Awesome, consists of twelve tracks. Some of them are surprisingly long, but always highly structured and never meandering. First track God Is Great is in fact the longest song at nearly six minutes, and provides an uplifting start to the album. It opens with a blaze of lead electric guitar and pumping brass. Josiah introduces the listener with a few warm words, before unleashing a great vocal performance that brought to mind Stevie Wonder. The song is built around the catchy title hook, backed up by a rich Gospel choir that becomes part of a nice call-and-response section with Josiah.

Because Of You is contrasting, a mid-tempo funk track with rich organ and fuzzy synth. Josiah gives another fine vocal performance, again aided by some fantastic gospel harmonies. The snappy drumming works in tandem with some superb bass playing that drives the whole track along. The chord progression is extremely well written, using complex jazzy chords that show Josiah’s musicality. This really comes to the fore during the middle section, where the chords take some unexpected turns before modulating to a different key. Truly excellent songwriting and arrangement.

The title track comes next and it’s a very strong affirmation of his Christian faith set to a mid tempo soul backing, with a laid back groove and some funky offbeat brass stabs. It’s another very well crafted song that features the staples of his sound, managing to live up to its title with ease. Fourth track Hallelujah is rather different, a slow ballad that begins with picked acoustic guitar and allows Josiah to sing in a more delicate manner at the upper part of his range. Another fine song and a nice change of pace.

Acoustic guitar features again in fifth track Praise The Way I Do, though it is used in a more rhythmic fashion as this song returns to the soul funk style heard earlier. The gospel vocal arrangement is particularly good on this one, reaching the top of their range towards the end. The bass playing is also often in the high register and helps to lift the music, the bassline high class as ever.

The sixth track Always is a slow paced piano ballad that you would normally expect to be a love song, but lyrically is about the strength of his faith. Josiah has an excellent voice for this kind of track and this is one of his finest vocal performances on the album. The lengthy high note he hits around the four minute mark is simply stunning singing.

Let Us Praise is straight back to the funk style and may be the funkiest track on the album. It features a raucous but very catchy brass arrangement that drives the whole track along and there’s a great guitar lick that underpins the music. As ever, Josiah takes the chords to some unexpected places and it modulates up two keys around the three minute mark which makes it even more uplifting. A real album highlight.

Dirty is another piano ballad though more jazzy than Always. Lyrically, it’s about wanting to be pure and facing up to our human weaknesses. It features a lot of spoken word dialogue along side the singing, in a similar way to Marvin Gaye on his classic What’s Going On album. Apart from the faith-based lyrics it could almost be a track by Boys2men.

In The Need Of Prayer is another slow track about turning to prayer when no other solution for your problems can be found. It’s a nice song at a meditative pace, with a loving and compassionate message. Tenth track Nothing To Fear opens with a lovely flourish of Spanish acoustic guitar then develops into another strong soul/funk song, with an inspiring lyric about conquering fears and doubts through faith. Some nice wah-wah guitar on this one, also.

The Savior Reigns is one of the most sophisticated songs with a real Latin jazz feel. The walking bass line and another breathtaking vocal arrangement are just two of the stand out elements, capped by a passionate, heartfelt lead vocal. The modulating harmonies at the end have to be heard to be believed! Twelfth and final track Worship closes the album, starting with piano and synth strings. Josiah lays down a tender and expressive vocal over this relatively sparse arrangement which allows his voice to truly shine. It’s a gentle and poignant way to finish a superb set of songs.

Overall, this is an extremely well written and arranged album that display Josiah’s abilities as a songwriter and producer, as well as a very fine vocalist. While his music is specifically aimed at inspiring those who share his faith, music is universal and anyone who simply likes listening to well crafted and performed soul, gospel and funk
music will find much to enjoy here.

 

Alex Faulkner

Verdict: 8.9 out of 10

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