“…Voices ought not be measured by how pretty they are. Instead they matter only if they convince you that they are telling the truth.” – Sam Cooke

It is often said that the glory days of the singer/songwriter are gone. In an era where many artists over-index solely on the singing or the songwriting, the sentiment is easily believable. But every so often an artist appears on the creative scene to challenge whatever notion or label is put upon their generation – one such artist is celebrated songwriter and singer, Darius Paulk. With influences that include luminaries like Stevie Wonder, Walter Hawkins, Edwin Hawkins, Thomas Whitfield, Rudolph Stanfield, Donald Lawrence and more recent standouts like Tasha Cobbs and Preashea Hilliard, it is no surprise he succeeds as both an impactful composer and astute vocalist. Having written some of the most of meaningful and powerful gospel songs of the last decade, Darius isn’t putting down his pen and paper but finally carrying them with him to centerstage with his debut release Strong.

Paulk credits the legendary Maurice Culpepper – and a serendipitous mix of coincidence and necessity, with giving him his start in music ministry. Darius attended a service one evening and the worship leader was late, so Culpepper asked him to sing a song. From that night on and after recognizing Paulk’s gifts, he began to mentor him and assigned him a diverse musical discography to study in order to hone his craft. “I still go back to those records anytime I’m stuck creatively,” Darius acknowledges.

Before recording Strong, Paulk was – and still is – a highly sought after songwriter for some of gospel music’s biggest artists, most notably VaShawn Mitchell and the 2010 mega-hit “Nobody Greater.” Darius still finds it surreal to have written a song that has touched so many people, but that was just the beginning. He later composed songs for Jason Nelson (“So In Love”) and Tamela Mann (“Through It All”) and many others. Despite all of this success, like many other creative souls, Paulk considered changing paths. He penned Marvin Sapp’s “Deeper” at a time when he thought he wanted to abandon writing. “I was in a very interesting place,” Darius recalls. “I thought I didn’t want to do this anymore and while leading worship at church one day, the words just started coming. None of it was pre-written,” he remembers fondly. Thankfully, Paulk didn’t quit, but instead pushed forward to record and release Strong.

Darius describes Strong as more than a collection of songs, but a testimony to artistic integrity and perseverance. “I wanted to make a record that was true to who I am and something that I, nor God would be ashamed of,” says Paulk. But Darius didn’t just want to create an offering that focused on musicality and was light on substance or vice versa; he fought for both. He continues, “As spiritual as this record is, it’s also musical. But don’t miss what the songs are saying getting caught up in the music!”

Strong starts with a spiritually rousing spoken-word introduction by Pastor Juandolyn Stokes. Next, Darius delights listeners with “Name Of Our God,” an up-tempo urban praise and worship tune that appropriately sets the stage for Strong’s musical journey. Paulk keeps the praise level high with the hand-clapping yet groovy “Psalm 62.” Packed with sophisticated musical changes and complex harmonies, the song positively pushes the boundaries of contemporary worship material.

Strong then moves to more contemplative fare with the worshipful “Strong Name.” Darius, has led worship for House of Hope Atlanta (E. Dewey Smith, Pastor) for the last six years, and “Strong Name” heralds all the power available to us in the name of God and showcases the distinct sensibilities of a seasoned worship leader.

Strong skillfully transitions back to a praise party with the fun and bouncy “Alright.” It will prove impossible for anyone to stay still while listening to this song, complete with musical elements and funky grooves made popular by classic artists like Prince and Morris Day & The Time. “IGRTH” (“It’s Getting Ready to Happen”) follows with a praise break for the ages. Paulk doesn’t shy away from elements of the African American Church tradition. These elements that are arguably losing their commonality with current shifts in culture give the project a refreshing feel.

Although Strong is a decidedly contemporary gospel project, Darius takes creative leaps throughout while remaining true to the genre. In “On and On,” Paulk cleverly ventures into the musical worlds of pop and country with a unique and reverent authenticity. Darius masterfully follows up the guitar laden track with emotional Hammond organ riffs in an ode to more traditional gospel sounds contained in “I Made It.” Next, “There” offers a modernized take on classic soul music as Paulk thankfully declares to God, “You’ve been right there!” The song is so strong that it naturally reprises and features towering vocals from Sunday Best’s Zebulon Ellis, who further elevates the tune.

Known for composing profound corporate worship songs, Darius makes good on his reputation with Strong’s anthemic “He Is God.” Paulk pulls out all the stops vocally and musically to seal the deal and remind listeners of God’s power and greatness as the selection serves as the perfect closer.

Strong delivers as a gospel album that is both creative and sacred and no matter your preference in musical style, Darius Paulk has the verses and the voice that matters to convince the world he is indeed telling the truth.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLYdedxa1AY[/embedyt]