When the chemistry is just right between an artist and producer in the recording studio, the results usually please the public’s ears. Though the artist generally receives the glory (or the blame) on the final product, a reliable producer’s vision through the orchestrations, song selection and choosing supporting musicians is the key to enhancing or subtracting from an artist’s strongest suits. One producer who has earned the trust of urban superstars like Phil Perry and smooth jazz group The Rippingtons, is Magic Mendez. An important force behind the boards since the ‘90s, Mendez has long dropped silky soul dance and funk jams with quiet storm backdrops as a signature sound, usually produced under the moniker Magic Muzik.
But, it is Mendez’s connection with the Vocal Group Hall of Famers, The Whispers, where Mendez’s sound fully blossomed into a successful long-term relationship that has endured to this day, one that included producing “For Thou Art With Me” off the group’s 2009 gospel project, Thankful. For vocalist Marilyn Maxwell on her introductory release, I Won’t Let Go of My Faith, Mendez returns to tailor his production magic on six tracks. Along with The Whisper’s Wallace “Scotty” Scott, this time behind the boards as well, Mendez proves just how much good producers can make all the difference in a project’s creative success.
Maxwell's recording debut delivers a solid plate of traditional and contemporary gospel, dipped in Mendez's bag of urban flavors. I Won’t Let Go of My Faith launches with the Dorothy Lee Coates’ composed, southern soul fried opening title track, echoing an era where female quartets like The Caravans ruled. With Maxwell exercising her vocal power and dexterity on the old-school flavored R&B ballad, "How Great is God," Mendez’s productions work in those funky, Whispers-esqe grooves for "He's Gonna Show Up" and wholly supports Maxwell’s listener engagement on the testimonial, "I Won't Complain."
Besides Mendez’s contributions on I Won’t Let Go of My Faith, there are two tracks of special interest co-produced by Wallace Scott. “Tell Me” completely radiates with Scott’s soothing soulful voice framing Maxwell's bluesy punctuations. One of Clara Ward’s signature pieces, “How I Got Over,” recorded notably by Ward, The Blind Boys of Alabama and Aretha (Franklin), resonates just as clearly in Maxwell’s understated interpretation of this compelling spiritual.
Maxwell’s inviting vocal performances are never to be underestimated throughout I Won’t Let Go of My Faith. But, it’s Mendez and Scott’s behind-the-scenes intuition that breathes soulful sophistication into the gospel project and fully compliments Maxwell’s talents. Despite the minor blemish with “More than Enough,” which suffers from slightly stale arrangements, Mendez, Scott and Maxwell’s strong chemistry throughout I Won’t Let Go of My Faith cannot be overlooked. It, in fact, made all the difference. Highly Recommended.
By Peggy Oliver