Grace and Mercy

Jonathan Butler

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Grace and Mercy Review

by Jonathan Widran

Like evangelistic sax great Kirk Whalum, versatile vocalist/guitarist Jonathan Butler has drawn upon his success in contemporary urban jazz to create opportunities in the realm of worship and gospel music. The South African-born artist launched this phase of his career with 2004's The Worship Project and has since anchored his live jazz performances with the crowd-pleasing "Brand New Day" and "Falling in Love with Jesus." While tracks like the title tune "Grace and Mercy," "You're All That I Need," and "Who Is Like the Lord" are rousing, choir-filled, R&B-driven call and response church tunes, the crux of what Butler is going for on this dynamic and heartfelt set is his simple but emotional exhortation on the passionate reflective ballad "Moments of Worship" to "Lift those hands…give glory to God." At one point he asks, "Do you feel the anointing in this place?" The listener is given a moment to mull over the answer, but it's hard not to declare "yes" once the singer riffs on his essential chant "Be Glorified" and segues into other worshipful phrases that showcase his power and range. It's not a jazz record per se, but Butler uses such moments to share his knack for vocal improvisation. Fans who are not so fond of typical gospel music can enjoy less "churchy" expressions, like the elegant, orchestrally enhanced power ballad (and lead single) "I Stand On Your Word." Butler, who has been a Christian since 19, is clearly aiming at the spiritually minded segment of his vast audience, hoping to offer encouragement as he shares experiences of his trials and the way his faith has helped him. But as always, there's also something for his more secular-minded fans to enjoy.

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