Why this woman doesn’t simply own
the Gospel recording industry? Can anyone explain this to me?
As a passionate, anointed and extraordinarily gifted singer,
songwriter and praise minister, Kim Burrell simply has no
parallel. This is a woman who funks as hard and as legitimately
no-hold-barred as she praises. Church Folk may turn their noses
up at her hard-charging and at times overly-complex mind-bending
brews of jazz fusion and hard-driving funk, but when this woman
gets to praising God and exhorting, the earnestness of her
invocation cannot be questioned. “I ain’t worried ‘bout no
recording,” she snapped at her producers from the stage, “I
ain’t worried ‘bout no video. I just want the Lord to have His
way.” And she does. Kim Burrell Live In Concert, Burrell’s epic
2000 recording, was simply not done proper justice in its CD
release. If ever a concert demanded a double-disc set, to allow
for the full-length unwinding of this bone-crushing, exhaustive
melee of praise and worship, this was it. Whether you’ve heard
this disc or not, whether you believe it or not, Live… is a
Gospel landmark, one of the most daringly progressive, edgy
performances ever captured for posterity. Burrell simply melts
the fabric off the walls of the late Gilbert E. Patterson’s
Temple of Deliverance COGIC in Memphis, as she and an amazingly
talented cast of clowns and apparent street thugs gang-banged
their way through more than two hours of ear-splitting,
jaw-dropping funkified science, with Burrell invoking the Holy
Spirit in every single note.
Live… was the follow-up to 1998’s heavily jazz-influenced Everlasting Life, and the two albums cemented Sister Burrell as an industry leader and heavyweight, a power play and huge draw wherever she appeared. We couldn’t wait to see what would come next from this amazing woman, but wait we did. Year after year after agonizing year. Nine long, dreary years of sitting through Tye Tribett’s noisy, empty-calorie circus act and Fred Hammond’s hit-or-mostly-miss rehashes of the same five chords and Kirk Franklin’s phoned-in crib death meandering. Where, Lord, is this woman and that… that *sound*… that transformative newness that breaks all the rules and turns everything upside down? How much longer must we wander here in the wilderness?! Where on earth is Kim Burrell?!
Nine years later and now married with children, Kim reemerged without her hip-hop label, Tommy Boy, which I believe was instrumental in ushering her sound to our local Best Buy as Kim’s progressive edge may have been and likely was way too much for Gospel labels to handle. This is the only explanation I can imagine for why no other Gospel label picked her up after tommy Boy folded, though AllMusic.Com reports Burrell was briefly signed to Elektra but released no albums. Burrell reemerged in 2009 on what appears to be a homemade label, Shanachie Records, with No Ways Tired, a lukewarm offering of Gospel standards set to jazz rhythms with really bad cover art. I practically had a stroke. I mean, I’d waited so long. Burrell followed that in 2011 with The Love Album, a demo-sounding mix of jazzy easy-listening, including an embarrassing and painful cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s classic Love's Holiday that I just wish she hadn’t.
I’m perplexed. This was a sister poised to dominate the industry in a way no one, not even Kirk Franklin, had managed to do. Why did she vanish for nine years? Why has her subsequent output not measured up—not even come close—to the exotic brilliance of Everlasting Life or the atomic mushroom cloud of Kim Burrell Live? Where did our sister go and what happened to her signature sound along that journey?
Wikipedia lists Burrell as leading Love & Liberty Fellowship Pentecostal Overcoming Holy Church (say that three times fast), saddling Sister Burrell with the unwieldy., ungracious and wholly ridiculous title of, "Senior Eldress/Overseer-Bishop." This Nonsense With Titles always gives me pause to wonder how insecure someone must be to constantly insist on elevating themselves with ever grander and more ridiculous titles, and if someone that insecure should be leading people. What title did Jesus have? He frequently referred to Himself as the "Son of Man," but not as a liturgical template or office. He was, simply, "Jesus," though many of His followers called him "teacher" out of respect for His amazing gifts and knowledge. The rest of this mess, all of this Catholic hierarchy, was invented by man and has no place in the Kingdom of Heaven. Acknowledging God's Man or God's Woman by the work they do, Evangelist So-And-So or Reverend This-And-That, certainly displays reverence to God, but the ongoing trend of pastors not being satisfied with the title "pastor" makes fools of everyone. I've opened a satellite church in a storefront across town, therefore I must be a bishop! This is foolishness and vanity and evaporates the confidence of people who know better. I have no way of knowing who created Sister Burrell's Wiki page, as she is listed simply as "pastor" on her ministry website, but I do wonder if the wacky title is any hint of what may be ultimately responsible for Burrell's disjointed career trajectory
Still sought-after and still a major draw, even for secular
artists, Sister Burrell continues to command our attention,
respect and praise, while I am sure I am not alone in scratching
my head in bewilderment at what she now does when she is at the
helm of a solo project. 2000’s Kim Burrell Live In Concert
nevertheless remains a groundbreaking and deeply moving concert
event. With Tommy Boy Records now long gone, I do not know if
the CD and video are still in print. If they are on iTunes or
what have you, you should not hesitate to purchase both. The
video is far superior to the CD, although the CD mix sounds much
better. The video, however, does not compromise the worship
experience in order to cram x-number of songs onto a single
disc. To really get the full experience, hunt down the video,
which I have only seen on VHS. Then sit back and marvel at the
antics, the humor and the sheer power of the anointing that
somehow makes this undisciplined gang of musicians—chewing gum
and clowning incessantly—seem okay as we become swept up in the
What follows is what I wrote about this experience at the time.