Virtue Appreciation Post IV: Free
[Originally posted on my old Message in the Music blog, October 5, 2007]
Even with three good albums behind them, I believe Virtue’s opus is their fourth album, Free.
Free is a declaration.
I believe every artist or group has a moment when their talent, artistry, and purpose culminate and catapult them to a new level. On their now-defunct website, virtuegirls.com, they alluded to things going awry personally and professionally for them, and I’m sure personnel changes and lackluster support from their former label, Verity, contributed to this new sense of defiance and liberation: “I’m free! Do you wanna be free?”
Whatever was holding them back before was clearly moved out of the way for the recording of this album, because these ladies kill the vocals, and the production is at this point both the most whimsical and contemporary. Incidentally, the weakest song, “Free,” really doesn’t matter, because even the weak songs on this album are good. What makes “Free” mediocre is not the vocals per se, but the funky (in a bad way) production and arrangement that included screechy notes and whizzies. The ladies of Virtue wrote adequate lyrics about desiring to be free and letting go of situations, but they never detail what exactly their getting free from besides nebulous “insecurity” and self-esteem issues. However, Virtue’s message of freedom is well-intentioned and easily forgivable.
And fortunately, that’s all the bad I can say about this album, because a great majority of it is stellar.
The opening track, “Only God’s in This,” definitely has a Destiny’s Child vibe, from the intricate vocal arrangement to the thumping bass. This song has a real chill feel to it that eases Virtue into the realm of sanctified coolness, strong and sassy, but still holy. This number glides effortlessly into “Healin’” and “Jesus Paid the Ransom,” both written and produced by Ryan Leslie (New Edition, Beyonce, Cassie). Let me tell you, Leslie’s hypnotic “Casio” beats never sounded better. Both songs induce a sense of urgency and propulsive movement. While “Healin’” deals with general societal malaise, “Jesus Paid” exudes urban sensibility without sacrificing Christian orthodoxy. It surprises me that Leslie wrote such starkly religious lyrics considering he works mostly with secular artists. I mean, “Me and U,” is not talking about one’s relationship with Jesus.
J. Moss and PAJAM contribute to another three of my favorites, “Thankful,” “You’ll Win if You Try,” and “He’s Able.” I was struck by the simplicity in the message and quirky production of “Thankful”. It has a fresh, off-beat appeal that leaves you in a state of reverie. The lyrics of “YWIYT” hint at the American Idol phenomenon and the idea that one must be “discovered” by the media or recording industry in order to “make it.” In typical Moss style, the lyrical content, though sincere, contained a jumble of mixed metaphors and odd phrasings (“Hope is not an injury, but your healing). The vocals tend to be a bit shrill (poor mixing?) so you might want to turn the volume down on this one.
“He’s Able,” is another great song, and it makes me wonder why this wasn’t made a single. In fact, the only single I’m aware of is “You Just Be You,” a cute acoustic ditty penned by Virtue, but an odd choice to send out to gospel radio, considering the scene has been dominated by more choral groups and ensembles with a more traditional or praise and worship sound. It’s no wonder why this album didn’t blow up like it should have. There was a bevy of great songs, some of them very “churchy” (which I discuss further down), to choose from that would have made more of an impact on the radio. It’s almost like Verity wanted them to fail so they would have an excuse to drop Virtue altogether—which they eventually did. But I digress…
Another gem is “Everything Will Be Alright.” I read another review where the reviewer said this song sounded dated, but I really have no clue what she’s talking about. Yeah, it has a bit of an ’80s feel, but I thought that was on purpose. Honestly, the song ministered to me, so to each his own.
However, Virtue truly shines on their praise and worship songs, “Lord, I Lift My Hands,” “Worthy,” “Open Arms,” and “Nothing Else I Can Do.” Honestly, I didn’t think these ladies had it in them. They sing so powerfully and with so much passion, I was pleasantly shocked and wondered why they never displayed such vocal prowess in their previous work.
The ladies let loose and really give God their all, especially on the “Nothing Else I Can Do.” The song starts out low and contemplative, then crescendos into a Holy Ghost revival: “There’s nothing else I can do, but give it all to Him!/ I’m gonna give my problems to the Lord, and leave them there/ There’s nothing else I can do!” The attitude of total surrender really grips the listener and encourages him or her to cast your cares upon Him, because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).
Overall, I would highly recommend this album. It is chock-full of good songs that will speak to your heart and make you get up and dance. Get it!
TRULY VIRTUOUS AND FREE!
[Originally posted on Amazon.com, August 22, 2003]
I would give this CD 10 stars if I could! This is by far the best Virtue album to date. Words cannot express how much I love this group, their music, and their ministry. They have a uniquely special way of creating current, danceable music without compromising the Gospel message.
- “Only God’s In This” — Great song. The vocal arrangement is a la Destiny’s Child.
- “Healin’ “– This sound is about how only God can bring true spiritual and emotional healing.
- “Jesus Paid The Ransom” — A wonderful testimony to how only the blood of Jesus can wash away guilt and shame.
- “Free” — This hard-hitting number is all about our freedom in Christ. Take off the shackles and dance!
- “Thankful” — This is a smooth and mellow song written and produced by J. Moss. It tells us to not take God’s gifts for granted. Be thankful for the simple things and remember every good thing comes from God.
- “You’ll Win If You Try” — If you are discouraged at all in any area of your life, this song will minister to you. Don’t give up!
- “Lord, I Lift My Hands” — Get ready to worship. Lift your hands and give God the praise. This song will really bring you into His presence.
- “Worthy” — Again, get ready to worship. Virtue delivers another powerful, worshipful ballad that will have you praising God.
- “Interlude-You Just Be You” — This is cute. It features Heather encouraging her niece (and the listener) to accept yourself as God’s special creation. Don’t compare yourself to others. Love who God made you to be.
- “You Just Be You” — This is a song they wrote and it has a pleasant acoustic vibe and an encouraging message.
- “He’s Able” — PAJAM is at it again delivering us the bouncing beats, reminding us that God is able to bring us through whatever situation we are in.
- ‘Everything Will Be Alright”– Awesome. You really get to hear Ebony on this song. The song has a nice groove.
- “Open Arms” — This song is sung from God’s perspective, which is something I believe Virtue does exceptionally well. For anyone who feels like he or she is distant from God, remember, He is waiting for your return with open arms.
- “Nothing Else Will Do” — This brings you back to church. When the enemy is harassing you, and your life seems out of hand, and your friends are nowhere to be found, you need God to fix it. Nothing else will do.
- “You Just Be You” (Bonus Remix)– Though I love the whole album, this is my favorite song. It has a great beat and the lyrics are slightly changed in this upbeat remix. Don’t compare yourself to others or wear a disguise, you just be you.