It is a classic scenario - artist meets muse and an unstoppable creative relationship is born. In this case, it is genius producer, Donald Lawrence meets legendary vocalist, Vanessa Bell Armstrong and the result is pure brilliance. The Experience is a back-to-basics, wonderfully musical album that harkens back to a time when Armstrong’s vocals reigned.
Armstrong’s history as a premiere vocalist in Gospel music is well known - a multiple Grammy Award nominee and Stellar Award winner, Armstrong was on the forefront of bringing R&B styling to modern contemporary Gospel. From her very first release, “Peace Be Still” in 1984 it was Armstrong’s relationship with the late great Thomas Whitfield that brought out the spectacular voice that Armstrong possesses. Fast forward to today and fans will hear how Lawrence brings out that x-factor quality in Armstrong that sets The Experience above the fray.
“If I have anything to do with it, I will always work with Donald … if you find a good thing you have to hang on to it,” Armstrong says laughingly. “There is no doubt that Donald Lawrence is the one . . . it’s more than just his musical genius, he was so humble and was attentive to what I needed, he made me feel so comfortable that I was relaxed and trusted him.”
The professor in Lawrence took a studious approach to the recording. “Before we ever set foot in a studio or started working together, Donald told me ‘I’ve listened to you, studied you, researched you . . . I got you. I want you to relax and give me the old Vanessa’ and just then, I felt like Thomas came back . . . Donald was able to capture me like Thomas did. I honestly have never been so relaxed and at ease as I was at the recording,” she explained.
The Experience is unerringly Gospel music - a powerful and musical collection of songs that all lift up the name of Jesus. It is back to the basics gospel music that offers praise, joy and inspiration. The CD is tried and true Vanessa Bell Armstrong. Recorded live in Chicago, Illinois, the heart of the album is church friendly signature Armstrong vocals coupled with tight musical production.
The album opens up with the classic Armstrong song “What’s He Done for Me,” which she delivers effortlessly and marvelously and proves to be both timely and timeless as she reaches a whole new audience with her past hits. Other favorites include “You Bring Out The Best in Me,” an amazing duet with Rance Allen; and ultra-soulful “Any Way You Bless Me.”
The first single, “Good News,” is definitively Gospel. “It is a song that is what we all really sing about which is the good news of Jesus Christ,” said Armstrong. “It talks about how we all go through our situations all week and when Sunday rolls around we hear the good news in church and it’s just what we need at the right time. Donald added the vamp . . . ‘prayer still works’ and that’s the core - prayer is what makes things right.”
“Donald told me that he envisioned what he wanted to do on this album a long time ago” explained Armstrong. “‘Good News’ was actually an old Aretha Franklin song that Lawrence heard and kept for years for me. He said he wanted to hold on to it until he had the opportunity to work with me.”
Other highlights include “The Greatest Power” a commanding praise anthem and “Help,” a pretty R&B styled ballad that Armstrong emotionally connects. “I thought about my son (who has multiple sclerosis) and how he doesn’t know what else to do but say God help me . . . it is also a song that is appropriate for right now. A lot people have lost things – financially - and are just crying out to God for help.”
Armstrong penned a special tribute for her son “I Will Praise You,” a small praise song with a soft acoustic guitar that simply says “through my heartache, through my storm it’s you whom I adore.” “I was inspired by my son who is going through so much . . . his body is being ravaged by the illness, but his spirit is so strong. He can’t stand up but he still praises God; he’s heartbroken but is still saying I adore you Jesus.”
The title, The Experience, came out of a conversation with Lawrence. “Donald had really taken the time to study my life and understand the things I had been through. He said it’s been a real experience for you . . . and I thought that’s what we should name the album - it’s my experience; my story. The message I wanted people to hear most of all is that prayer and praise are the only way out. The Experience is about experiencing God to find that joy and peace.”