ALBUM REVIEW: Possibilities by Mark A. Smith

Mark A. Smith is a songwriter/composer, vocalist and producer with a strong Christian faith element that forms the basis of his inspirational music. He has released many albums and a plethora of singles in the last couple of decades, releasing his debut solo album Ministry back in 2005. In 2020, he released The Collection, a compendium of songs that featured on his first three solo albums. 2021 saw the release of his 4th solo album, Mark & LaShonda, a musical tribute to his wife.

This album, Possibilities, is his fourth Gospel album and features guest appearances from Trip-C, Da Block Bishop, Joshua Williams, Byron Garner, Jay White, and MAS II. The album consists of 14 tracks and opens up with the uplifting All Things Are Possible.

As well as being the perfect showcase for Mark’s smooth and technically flawless lead vocals, it is full of rich vocal Gospel harmonies with a distinct jazzy tinge. You can hear the influence of the Jackson 5 as well as Stevie Wonder in the sophisticated RnB arrangement built around a crisp, punchy beat and highly melodic bass, reminiscent of the great James Jamerson. It’s about having faith in God when you’re facing hard times and the track notably features excerpts from sermons by Pastor Tim Sheets, Pastor Jason Anderson, and Pastor Gene James.

God Can Do Anything is just as positive and inspiring, this one a buoyant RnB/pop track with a cute children-sung chorus hook. It’s effervescent, summery vibe brought to mind the 90’s Shanice Classic I Love Your Smile and it’s another track produced to perfection. The simple hooks are juxtaposed against sophisticated, harmonically complex chord progressions and the contrast is very effective.

Third track AS Long As You’re Here shows Mark’s talent for writing ballads and this one sounds like it could be a Boys II Men track from the 90’s. Mark gives an emotive, heartfelt performance on this one, which is another faith song, but many will relate to it just as an expression of sincere love. Featuring a superb soaring string and brass arrangement, this song in particular captures Smith’s versatile talents.

Fear Not is set at a similar tempo though sung from a different perspective which gives it a strongly spiritual vibe and emotional power: “I am the one who made the heavens and the earth, yes I am the one who controls the entire universe…”. The arrangement is very well structured with a very effective modulation halfway through and sumptuous strings towards the end. Another deeply felt, exquisitely executed song that will provide great comfort to those who hear it when they need to.

Hold On is a change of style, a funky RnB track with an infectious groove and chorus. It also features a superb rap cameo from Joshua Williams, who delivers succinct and on point rhymes with charisma and conviction, a fine counterpoint to Mark’s mellifluous lead vocals and block harmonies.

Go & Tell Them is a lovely song mostly sung by Mark but also featuring some very fine vocals from his wife, LaShonda. The spiritual warmth of the song’s message shines through with lines like, “It makes no difference, the creed or colour, we are all sisters and brothers…”.

Comfort Me is another classy RnB ballad in 6/8 time with an uplifting theme about finding God’s guidance during one’s darkest moments. The sheer sophistication of the chord progressions, harmonies and dynamics brought to mind Prince at his very best. The elastic bassline and evocative Rhodes piano are other highlights of this excellent track.

No 1 Compares 2 U is interestingly spelt in a manner Prince used for some of his tracks, so it’s perhaps safe to say he’s a strong musical influence! This ebullient, soulful RnB/pop track is, for me, the album’s finest moment with its instantly infectious melody and funky, highly percussive groove. Filled with vocal and instrumental hooks, this surely deserves to be a single release.

The instantly memorable descending chord progression and finely crafted vocal melody of Treasure, augmented by tasteful stabs of brass, brought to mind Stevie Wonder once again. In particular, it has the joyous, faith-inspired vibe of Songs In The Key Of Life. It’s another track that contains a rap section, this time from MAS II. It’s another great cameo, giving the track a modern edge.

The mid-paced You Are is one of the album’s most heartfelt expressions of deep faith (“You’re my saviour, deliverer, provider, my healer”) while the irresistible finger-clicking pop of Joyful Joyful brings back that effusive energy.

As well as containing some wild musical twists and turns it features two other male vocal appearances, Jay White and Byron Garner. Jay has a classy Bruno Mars-style voice while Byron contributes a succinct but effective rap that adds a little more musically current flavour.

I’m Not Ashamed is built around an intricate, percussion-heavy rhythm which really cooks and lays the bedrock for more first rate vocal gymnastics and slickly delivered harmonies. Trip C takes the rap spotlight this time, laying down confidently delivered lines and providing the perfect contrast to the high end vocals.

The musical journey comes to its conclusion with the final two tracks which are both solo efforts, Heaven Is Not Far Away and For All You’ve Done. The first of these doesn’t flinch from portraying the state of the world as it is right now: “As I look around all I see is trouble, destruction everywhere and people don’t seem to care…”. But the promise of redemption means the message imparted is ultimately hugely positive and this is underlined by the album’s final song. It’s the album’s most mellow moment, full of rich, dense extended jazz chords which are incorporated into the musical tapestry with a Stevie Wonder level of skill. It’s a touching and humble expression of gratitude towards God that makes for a fitting finale.

Overall, this is a highly accomplished faith-inspired album from Mark A. Smith, a formidable singer, songwriter and producer. With an advanced level of musical understanding rooted in soul, jazz, RnB and Gospel, this is infused with some great cameos from rappers and fellow vocalists. While those of a Christian faith will connect to the songs the most, there’s a universal thread that runs through every track so there’s something for everyone. On this evidence, Mark A. Smith is surely the finest practitioner around in this genre.

VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

https://markasmithministry.com/

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