With the abundant talent on Playing Games, the debut disc from Raymond & Co., it is hard to believe that it took almost a decade for this British R&B-gospel group to secure a recording contract and release an album. After years of gaining experience and developing a dedicated following in the U.K., Raymond & Co. were finally able to sign with Integrity Music and deliver Playing Games, a groovin' urban gospel set full of exciting performances and skillful songwriting that could easily cross over into secular territory. Front-loading the album with three of the best tracks -- "Since I Found You," "Playing Games," and "No Limits" -- Raymond & Co. immediately set a standard of quality that is maintained throughout the entire disc. Vocalists Lisa Allen and Gillian Nembhard lead the way through "Since I Found You," a percolating midtempo track that is reminiscent of Timbaland's work with Missy Elliot. Featuring harmonies as tight as Destiny's Child or En Vogue, Allen, Nembhard, and Janine Dyer flawlessly drive the song forward and right into the hook-laden chorus of "Playing Games." Group founder Isaiah-Raymond Dyer takes a turn at lead vocals during "No Limits," in which the rhythmic counterpoint of a swinging melody over a straight, stomping beat provides a jittery, excited foundation for the forceful chorus. Although the group's best moments are in the danceable numbers like "Everything," their expertise in balladry is also apparent in numbers like the Christopher Gordon-led "Crazy Faith" or the Prince-ly "Changes." The album is mostly written or co-written by Isaiah-Raymond, which helps to account for the disc's consistent feel and sound, but at a lengthy 18 tracks, some editing could have been done to create a tighter set that would leave the listener wanting more. Instead, by the last few tracks the songs begin to lose distinction and start blending into one another; and when Isaiah-Raymond announces on the final track, "Well, we've come to the end of this album," it's almost a relief. But even with the overly generous selection of songs, Playing Games heralds the arrival of an important new talent on the contemporary gospel scene. Almost ten years in the making, Raymond & Co. has issued an inspirational musical statement about their patience, persistence, and commitment to faith.
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AllMusic Review by Aaron Latham
feat: Gillian Nembhard
feat: Christopher Gordon