Vanessa Bell Armstrong

Walking Miracle

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Vanessa Bell Armstrong's Walking Miracle is a comeback in every sense of the term. After a series of career setbacks and health issues that nearly silenced her for good, the singer got back up, dusted herself off, and signed with EMI Gospel to revitalize her career. But don't let the label association misguide you: Walking Miracle is best described as an urban AC disc with strong contemporary R&B elements, not unlike the material the songstress recorded during her much-maligned Jive years, except unabashedly spiritual in content. For proof, look no further than the sultry, Rodney Jerkins-produced title track to realize this: it has "slow jam" written all over it. Gospel's own Smokie Norful and Cedric Thompson oversee the two churchier cuts ("So Good to Me," "Wait"), but these are by no means representative of Walking Miracle, as the disc has more in common with Bell Armstrong's would-be crossover past than her schooling at the feet of COGIC matriarch Mattie Moss Clark. Regardless, the late Clark Sisters' mother would still be proud, particularly when Bell Armstrong channels her pedigree in songs like "Seasons," "Watch Me," and "Fall in Love Again," all of which bear a strong resemblance to the slicker side of Karen Clark-Sheard and even Kierra "KiKi" Sheard. For a songbird in her fifties, she really nails the style -- a stylish, stylized urban blend that she owns with the confidence and aplomb of Aretha and Patti LaBelle. Bell Armstrong sounds so good and soulful at it, in fact, that had she done away with the gospel stuff -- whose only purpose, really, is to have something to pitch to gospel radio -- the disc would be the comeback of the year. As it stands, Walking Miracle is just a comeback -- a very good one, at that, but one that still needs a little extra to really push it over the top.

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