Richard Smallwood / Vision

Promises

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AllMusic Review by

Heartbroken after his mother died in 2005, the usually prolific Richard Smallwood spent the next four years without writing a song. Promises -- and once you hear the album, that’s a layered choice of a title -- is the conceptual result of Smallwood emerging from these dark times, with an uplifting outlook on both life and death. This album-long conversation with God begins with a dramatic, Hollywood-like intro, swerves into classic gospel-choir territory, and then travels across many musical genres. Highlight “Mender” nostalgically incorporates some New Jack Swing, while “Praying for Peace” chills out smooth jazz style with special guest vocalist Lalah Hathaway. Longtime fans of the man’s work with the choir should check “Trust Me,” which comes with a fascinating arrangement where voices seem to sway back and forth. In the end, Smallwood’s return is as poignant as expected, but that he was able to innovate and evolve with such a heavy heart is stunning.

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