Smokie Norful has been one of popular music's great success
stories of 2002. The tidal wave of critical and popular acclaim he has
generated with his gold-selling debut album, I Need You Now, and its
title song which has become an almost instant classic-for-the-ages continues
unabated, even as EMI Gospel Music proudly announces the release of
Smokie's highly anticipated new release, Nothing Without You.
Smokie, the son of an African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E)
minister, grew up surrounded by the best of both Gospel and the sweet
soul music of the time, today claiming a wide range of artists from
Daryl Coley and Vanessa Bell Armstrong to Donnie Hathaway and Stevie
Wonder as important influences in his musical life.
As early as the age of two, Smokie had begun to pick out
melodies on the piano, and by the time he was four he was playing and
singing in his father's church. Smokie spent the first 14 years of his
life in Muskogee, Oklahoma, where he performed in A.M.E. churches throughout
the area. His recording debut came at the tender age of 10, when he
was asked to be a featured artist on a custom album by a regional music
By the time his family moved to a new church in Pine Bluff,
Arkansas, in his mid-teens, Smokie was a musical fixture in the church,
and was also developing into a talented young songwriter.
Smokie's parents realized and nurtured his musical gifts
from an early age, with years of private musical instruction. Choir
and musical productions had also been a major part of his high school
experience. Nonetheless, Smokie entered the University of Arkansas as
a history major, spending the first four years after his graduation
as a high school history teacher.
"You can chase after success and recognition all
you want," says Smokie, "but the truth is that unless God
ordains it, it really doesn't matter. My goal has always just been to
see people blessed by the music God gives me, and that's happened beyond
anything I ever imagined. It has been a pretty amazing couple of years,
but I feel very much at peace. I believe that the same God that did
all this on the first go-round can do it on the second go-round as well."
Still at home musically in what he describes as an "urban/inspirational"
pocket, Smokie stretches into some serious good-time funk, R&B,
stirring songs of praise and worship, pop balladry, and down-home blues.
But whatever the song, format, or genre, his one-of-a-kind vocal prowess
-- from sweet and silky to edgy and urban --remains pure and unmistakably
"The church has been and always will be my home base,"
Smokie says, "not just in terms of supporters, but in where I draw
my own strength and spiritual renewal. At the same time, it's important
to me to reach out beyond those walls. I don't want to be "There
are a lot of influences and people in this world that try to give us
false answers and phony solutions to life situations," Smokie explains.
"But once you get to know the Lord, and His Word, the truth becomes
revealed, and you know too much about Him to be deceived."
With I Need You Now, currently on top of the Billboard
Gospel catalog chart and its follow-up EP, the No.1 Limited Edition,
still on the Gospel Top 40 chart, Smokie is more than a success. I Need
You Now spent an impressive two years on the magazine's Gospel Top 40
chart, and the single of the same name is still perched in the Top 10
of the recurrent mainstream R&B chart. He has become a true phenomenon.
And while nothing without You promises to only extend and expand his
recognition even further, the ever-gracious, good-natured Smokie sees
his meteoric rise to fame from a very humble and down-to-earth perspective.
Stylistically, Norful is as comfortable in wailing his
smooth tenor over infectious blends of rhythm and synths (and there's
plenty of that on this project), as he is at sitting behind the piano,
eyes closed, head raised to heaven in awe, pouring personal praise to
Jesus Christ in soaring ballad while his fingers spin a splendid glory
of praise on the keyboard.
If you've got your pen handy, you can put a star beside
tracks one through ten inclusive. Yes, every single song on the project
beckons your finger to touch that repeat button.
Writing or co-writing the majority of the album's 11 songs,
and enlisting the production assistance of some of Gospel and R&B's
biggest hit-makers -- including jazz great, George Duke, Percy Bady,
Tommy Sims, and Victor & Cedric Caldwell -- Smokie fully delivers on
the promise portended by I Need You Now, even surpassing that already
"Can't Nobody" and "Power" are hooky,
high-octane, horn-driven proclamations of encouragement drawn from trust
in the pervasive power of the Almighty in every facet of His creation.
"Worthy" puts a contemporary, melodic spin on rocking, Sunday-morning
traditional Gospel, while "I Know The Lord Will Make A Way"
delivers the Good News.
The showcase ballad, "God Is Able," is an unforgettable
anthem and affirmation of faith, eliciting a soul-stirring performance
from Smokie that renders it a worthy successor to -- and even extension
of -- "I Need You Now."
"That is literally the continuation of the testimony
of `I Need You Now,'" says Smokie. "My wife Carla and I had
been told by the doctor that medical complications would prevent us
from ever having children, and yet our son, Tré, was born during the
sessions for the first album, and was the inspiration for `I Need You
Now.' He was our miracle child. Then a little over a year later, Carla
found out she was expecting again, and we had our son Ashton in early
2004, who inspired `God Is Able.' He was another miracle in our lives."
On I Need You Now, the seasoned singer / songwriter /
instrumentalist makes his solo debut on EMI Gospel with a finessed flair
and distinctiveness of style that instantly captivates from the get
go. Artistry is firmly stamped all over this disc. Combine that with
the evident gift that Norful has for ushering us into worship, and it's
clear that Gospel has found a real treasure.
The Midwest-reared artist has written for a diverse ranges
of artists, including Marvin Sapp, Dottie Peoples, The Tommies and Shirley
Murdock; his songs are often make the album highlight reel. Suffice
it to say that I Need You Now is chock full of memorable songs.
"I Understand" opens with an easy pop/R&B groove,
gradually building to a rousing choral Gospel crescendo. "In the
Middle" is a God-to-man expression of His abiding presence in the lives
of His children that rides atop a gentle acoustic guitar and percussion.
The tender and touching "Nothing Without You"
was originally written by Smokie in the late 1990s upon his and Carla's
marriage, and first performed by Smokie
at the couple's wedding reception,
beautifully expressing the divine love of both a husband for his wife,
and a man for his God.
"Continuous Grace" is a smooth, soulful expression
of gratitude to God. "Healing in His Tears" is both a delicate
and dramatic depiction of the ultimate sacrifice of the Savior, while
"I Know Too Much About Him" is a strong statement of the certainty
of God's truth.
Smokie's career path took another turn in 1998 when he
felt God calling him into the ministry, and he relocated to suburban
Chicago pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree from Garrett Theological
Seminary. But his mind and heart had never strayed far from the music
that had been born in his bones. Throughout college, he had been the
worship leader for the youth department of his local church choir and
had assembled and led a 100-voice community choir in Pine Bluff.
Upon ordination, Smokie accepted an assistant pastorate
at Rock of Ages Baptist Church in Chicago, where he came to the attention
of Joanne Brunson, leader of Gospel's famed Thompson Community Choir,
who asked him to sing a song on the choir's upcoming album, Real. Smokie
agreed, contributing one of his original numbers, and his career as
a major-label artist had begun.
Since the release of I Need You Now, Smokie has maintained
an almost non-stop touring schedule, singing and ministering across
America, though he has still made it a priority to keep his role as
husband and father first and foremost in his life. As he surveys his
life from a platform he once only dreamed of achieving, Smokie's highest
goals remained remarkably unaffected by the trappings of fame and the
acclaim of man.
"One thing that keeps me very balanced and humble,"
he says with a laugh, "is that when I'm home I'm changing diapers,
--taking out the trash, and looking after the house. I'm not 'The Smokie
Norful, Gospel recording artist.' I'm just 'Daddy,' and 'Honey.'
And I wouldn't have it any other way. God has truly blessed us. That's
what inspires me, and that, more than anything, is what I want to share
in my music."
"If anything I ever say, or sing, or do, just gives
somebody hope and encouragement that they can make it, and that God
is faithful and able, I'll feel like I've accomplished my mission."
On the heels of his first Grammy award for Nothing Without
You, the chart-topping follow-up to his debut release, I Need You Now,
EMI Gospel recording artist Smokie Norful has been nominated for two
GMA Music Awards (formerly Dove Awards), for "Contemporary Gospel Recorded
Song of the Year" ("In the Middle") and "Contemporary Gospel Album of
the Year (Nothing Without You);" as well as an NAACP Image Award for
"Outstanding Gospel Artist." The 36th Annual GMA Music Awards take place
on April 13 in Nashville. The 36th Annual NAACP Image Awards will be
broadcast on Friday, March 25 on FOX.
Norful received a Grammy award for "Best Contemporary
Soul Gospel Album," and his itinerary during Grammy Week included a
performance at a first-ever Grammy gospel event produced by the National
Academy of Recording Arts and Science (NARAS). On Thursday, February
10, the Grammy Salute to Gospel Music During his time in Los Angeles,
Norful also shared his knowledge and experience with young people working
on a special NARAS-coordinated recording project at the Capitol Recording
Studios in Hollywood.
"Same Old Sad Song" has Norful wistfully singing of his
hope that the world will abandon its familiar song of woe and opt instead
for the new song that Jesus brings us. The tender harmonica and guitars
from Derek "DOA" Allen puts just the right touch of reflection to the
ode. The included remix wraps a urban, nearly quiet storm cloak over
the song, with Vangoss adding her backing vocals.
Picture Courtesy of Smokie Norful's Website
A neosoul vibe comes through on "Somethin' Somethin'".
Norful turns his voice inside out to tell that Jesus is still the name,
and there's somethin' about that Man. He detours vocally to impart
a very definite brashness of color to his voice
on this DOA track that
persists in rocking a steady acoustic rhythm throughout.
Norful is also preparing for the his first DVD. Filmed
in Hi-Definition with 5.1 Surround Sound, the Nothing Without You DVD
features live concert performances, in-depth interviews, an introduction
of Norful's new artist discovery, Darrel Petties and Strength & Praise,
plus a bonus feature of the singer's popular "I Need You Now" video.
The work that's earned Norful his Grammy Award and his
NAACP nod, Nothing Without You, spent five consecutive weeks in the
#1 position on Billboard's Gospel Chart and remains in the top three.
The album's latest single, "I Understand," has climbed to number two
on the R&R Gospel chart and has an anticipated urban impact date of
March 28. The CD has spun two singles -- "I Understand" and "Can't Nobody"
-- that quickly shot into the R&R Top 40. With this powerful follow
up to his gold-selling debut, I Need You Now, Norful has firmly established
himself as a singer and songwriter to watch.
On the urban jam "It's All About You", Norful wisely keeps
the focus on vocals, delivering some fantastically fashioned inflections
and vocal nuances, a mix of falsetto and near-growl musings that displays
his range. Backing vocals from the group Focus easily squeeze the hook-driven,
descending chorus into memory. Antonio Dixon plays the track and co-produces.
Other songs on I Need You Now include "Still Say Thank
You", which has the Denver Inspirational Voices adding their mass sounds
to the mid-tempo praise. There's a touch of traditional Gospel on "Praise
Him", produced by Logan Reynolds. Freddie Flewelyn's bass, Doc Powell's
guitar and Michael Neuble's drums ensure a rousing ride.
"Psalm 64" deserves attention, with the biblical poem
spoken by Reverend W.R. Norful, Sr. while his son surrounds it then
expands upon the words with echoes of tender vocalization, stacked harmonies
and expressive piano chording.
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