Fred Hammond / Fred Hammond & Radical for Christ

Purpose by Design

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Gospel with a slick pop hip-hop sheen. This album by the former Winans member is a dramatic snapshot of the genre as it enters the new millennium--which is to say that it appropriates a number of highly secular stylistic elements. If you weren't paying attention to the lyrics, you'd be excused for thinking you were hearing an En Vogue record.

In any case, Fred Hammond is a powerful singer and songwriter (and on several cuts, a monster bass player), and the album is eclectic in the best kind of way. There's a first-rate update of Sam Cooke's "Jesus Be a Fence Around Me" (originally a hit for the Soul Stirrers), while Hammond's "Press" is a sly piece of '70s funk (think the Ohio Players singing for the Lord). The album's best moments, however, are the slower ballads; "Give Me a Clean Heart" is a vocal showcase for Hammond, with a melody that could have been written by Christopher Cross (!), and "You Are the Living Word" is a dramatic choral workout that comes the closest to traditional gospel.

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