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Charles Laster II & Silvia Pratesi

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  • sounni_ali
    By Mark Kirby, MusicDish e-Journal Whether you call it praise music or New Jack gospel, this genre is most often a classic case of preaching to the choir,
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2008
      By Mark Kirby, MusicDish e-Journal

      Whether you call it praise music or New Jack gospel, this genre is
      most often a classic case of "preaching to the choir," with song
      lyrics lifted artlessly from the King James bible and histrionic music
      calculated to "reach out and touch somebody's hand." Dear god.
      Luckily, Charles Laster II and Silvia Pratesi don't make this mistake
      on their new record Journey of Life. Their songs reference salvation,
      heaven, and living the Christian life but, like secular soul music,
      have an uplifting universality. Those of us who aren't Christian -
      agnostics, Muslims, those whose spirituality can't be pigeonholed -
      can still understand the positive spirituality that is the wellspring
      of Laster and Pratesi's music, and still get our groove on. Laster,
      who composed the excellent lyrics, and Pratesi, who created most of
      the music with a seamless combination of live musicians and samples,
      remind us how gospel and rhythm and blues gave birth to soul music in
      the early sixties and how a new kind of soul is still possible.

      It is also possible to have, in this era of the run-on CD (dude, you
      really don't have to fill up every second of a 74-minute CD-R) and the
      random iPod mix, a record that has a theme and takes the listener on a
      ride. "Journey of Life" does just that in a way that reminds one of
      Stevie Wonder's work in the early '70s, and with a melting pot of
      influences that are forged into a personal style, at once familiar and
      quite different.

      The first cuts have a rock and dance music flavor, but are rooted on
      old soul music. The title cut starts with sampled strings, and a drum
      beat by David Heddon that is all about Motown and Philly soul. The
      vocal melody has a perfect simplicity in tune with the song's message,
      sung over expansive keyboard chords: "Life is a journey filled with so
      many things / It can bring some pain it will be some rain / don't be
      afraid to explore it... just imagine far past everyday comprehension /
      ...have a little faith." This song is an overture for the entire
      record, and is comprised of snippets of the different styles Laster
      and Pratesi draw from. This song is a journey in itself: the vocals
      soar with smooth complexity one minute, then break down to a gospel
      stomp, with funky percussion and a nasty drum line the next. Fuzz
      guitars by Brett Farkas and wailing synths from Laster enter strongly
      then glide down into a quiet ballad-ish section, followed by a smooth
      chorus. The following song "I Believe" comes on with hard-hitting rock
      funk, featuring a fat bass line, scratchy wah-wah guitar and blaring
      brass. It then goes into a jazz influenced section with muscular
      vocals by Laster and, throwing in another left field element, a verse
      of speed rap. The song ends with a coda of B.B. King-style blues guitar.

      This album is based on the idea of change and spiritual growth and
      revelation. From the opening song, the journey goes through faith ("I
      Believe") to questioning ("In My Mind") then the moment of revelation
      ("Wrong To Right"). Stylistically the music reflects the emotions of
      the songs, going from intense and strident rock to pensive
      Latin-tinged ballad to a sparse Neptunes-style electro pop groove.

      This flow leads to the show stopping apex of the album "Eternal
      Dancing." This song describes the party that awaits in the promised
      land of Christian heaven where there will be dancing and joyous
      experience. This is sure more appealing than the vague heaven told of
      by dour TV preachers, where "you will sit at the table by the left
      hand of god" while angels play celestial trumpets, blah, blah,
      boooring. Now dancing in a land of eternal love with others,
      especially women, and celebrating oneness on the dance floor? That's a
      heaven you can feel: "This life is filled with history / living in
      rhapsody / there are even mysteries / I know that you agree / One day
      we'll have this dance / and it will never end / we'll step from side
      to side everybody will be vibing / life in paradise / I can't wait it
      will be nice... When we walk through heaven's doors... and see the
      faces of those we love / dance to the eternal groove..."

      Adding to the music and enjoyment thereof is Laster's complete lack of
      braggadocio, insincerity, and underlying cynicism that plagues pop
      music and the evangelical movement in equal nasty chunks. His
      positivity, mad skills and music, music that is not dumbed down to
      appeal to and manipulate the "masses," are a thousand times more
      effective in spreading and celebrating the gospel than some fire and
      brimstone huckster ranting on TV. Journey to Life is a modern
      evocation of the spirit expressed in the bible passage Psalm 95:1 that
      states "O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise
      to the rock of our salvation."

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