Smokie Norful - ChristianMusic.com

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Life's Changing: Smokie Norful's 2006 Album Release

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 director.

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 Smokie.

"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."

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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 landmark work.

"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.

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` Photo Courtesy of Smokie Norful's Website

"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.

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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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