On her website, Gospel music icon Lynda Randle shares this mission statement: "I know that God has definitely placed a call upon my life to help tear down the walls between the races that have been built over the years and in their place build bridges." While she's done work toward that mission on past releases, her aim seems more pointed with her latest record, Pilgrim Journey, where Randle highlights songs from artists dating back to the '60s and the Civil Rights movement. This record also marks a slight stylistic change for her. Produced by Cindy Morgan, the arrangements are stripped down and somber, feeling less like a big production at a large church and more like a revival meeting at a small chapel in the country. These different elements combined form an album that has depth and power.
The album opens with an introductory track that connects to various interlude tracks sprinkled throughout the record, all of which tease the closer, "Oh Lord." These smaller tracks help build a somber mood while interweaving a connective tissue through the album. In many ways, Pilgrim Journey is a constant cry to God for help and strength and these interludes (culminating in "Oh Lord") drive that home. The only problem with the tracks is their brevity, sometimes ending just before feeling satisfying enough for a break between the fuller songs. Overall, though, this is a minor quibble.
The first full track we get is a cover of the traditional spiritual, "I Want Jesus to Walk with Me." This haunting hymn of rugged faith is served beautifully by an appearance from Tommy Sims, whose lower register on the third stanza contrasts well with Randle's vocals when she belts out the final verse. "My Feet May Be Tired," on the surface, seems like another expression of weary faith, but when you begin looking into where the song comes from, you'll find it has roots in the Civil Rights movement, being a quote from Mother Pollard during the Montgomery bus boycott. Another song that has a similar story is the "Motherless Child Medley." I had heard the tune before but was unaware that its origins stretch back to the days of slavery in America and was picked up once again during the Civil Rights movement.
The other tracks on Pilgrim Journey also toy with the theme of trials, hope, and faith. "Oh Lord" encapsulates that sense of trial and anguish; Randle's cover of "Give Me Jesus" showcases the faith to the soft waltz of a country rhythm; and "Plenty Good Room" reminds the listener of a higher heavenly hope. With all the connections here to African American spirituals and the Civil Rights movement, one may think the album is more niche than accessible. This is not true. You can listen to this record and connect to it without even knowing the history behind the songs. These are tracks that capture the tension of the Christian life (or our "pilgrim journey"), both the hard times and the good. Spirituals, coming from places of hardship while ultimately expressing hope, offer a realistic expression of worship. The historical connections of these songs only help to add depth.
Is Pilgrim Journey perhaps Lynda Randle's most ambitious work? I'd dare say so. Its layers are wonderfully stacked and it introduces listeners who are likely unfamiliar with most of these tracks (like a certain reviewer) and invites them into an experience they probably would not have had otherwise. It does exactly what Randle is aiming for in her ministry: building a bridge so that unity in Christ -- even between races -- can be a reality. With stellar production and arrangements, as well as haunting hymns of pain and faith, Pilgrim Journey is an album worth listening to on repeat.- Review date: 2/10/22, written by John Underdown of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Lynda Randle Ministries
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