Review Summary: Unity by Darrell Kelley, overall an impressive album from a man intended to help others find the path to a more spiritual life.
Darrell Kelley’s new album titled Unity is another solid release in this prolific artist’s short career. A man of God who has taken his career interests and intertwined them with music and preaching the gospel and turned them into businesses that help others find the path to a more spiritual life. Unity is simply the latest of many consistent messages all designed to illuminate the pathway to God based spiritual development. If you look at the titles alone you can see the pathway start to emerge. The first track is Unity itself; it is the exhortation to open your mind to the concepts of co-existence with all of God’s children. Set to a propulsive steady beat the words and music combine and start feeding off each other in a pleasing way that makes the listener be drawn in and feel welcome.
The affirmation continues with the song Be Great. You cannot hear that enough in life as a person. Setting your sights on greatness is a twofold blessing. The first being, you just might achieve it and have a success that was beyond the limits of your own imagination. The second being, even if you do not achieve greatness you will have picked up the skills and habits in life to achieve the status of “very good” in life. Now I do not know about you, but I think “very good” is a fine neighborhood to live in. Musically it has the seductive feel of hip hop and the female vocals and keyboards create a lush palette for the words of encouragement. The album then moves into the controversial with the track Money And Power. It is another bumping hip-hop flavored track that addresses the real human game of going out and trying to establish your identity through the pursuit of money and power. Darrell Kelley notes the obvious fact that if the man himself is corrupt then the pursuit of power usually leads to the twin lanes of destruction and evil. Accompanied by a very professional looking music video Kelley seems to be using his money for good to spread the message.
Apparently, Darrell’s spirituality gives him the strength and courage to address the controversial NFL kneeling brouhaha. Again, treading the fine line between Gospel, rap, and hip-hop to speak about the player’s right to express their feelings in any forum in the land of free speech. It is one of Kelley’s more negative songs though. He could have approached it from the much more inclusive side that looks at all aspects of the situation. He has chosen to take a stand and there are some that may find it courageous. Standing up and fighting for what you believe is fine, if what you believe in is ultimately righteous and does not create great conflict or animosity towards our neighbors. Kneeling to bow your head in prayer not protest is the best way for a Christian to go.
Focus finds the artist getting back to a more positive and less divisive message. Again with music based on a standard electronic drumbeat he gives words of encouragement to those who may be disaffected by the failure of their chosen endeavors in life. Finely auto-tuned vocals used in the Kanye West style gives the track a contemporary feel that makes the words of encouragement go down easy. Come Over finds Kelley mining the more secular contemporary love song that is a welcome respite at this point in the albums running order. Every good preacher knows that you must address the Adams and Eves in the congregation and this track does it with dignity and a splash of sultry. Darrell is saying that you do not always have to come running when an Eve calls. The best love between woman and man is from a foundation of friendship and married family. It can be hard for some to resist, but you do get points for trying. The swirling middle eighth of this song is one of the more mesmerizing parts of this album.
Sorry is a highlight on this record with Darrell reaching back to the styles of the best of the great soul performances of artists like Stevie Wonder, The Dramatics or the Chi-Lites, with childlike playful background vocals turns based around a basic but effective keyboard pattern. It gives me a slight throwback feeling to a song like Sly Stone’s Everyday People and that songs playful recitation. Or maybe the song Hard Lick Life is more current a reference. The mood starts darkening as the album goes one. The Storm Is Coming, is the black cloud hovering in the horizon while sunshine still warms your face. There is a line from the church world that says “Your arms are too short to box with God”. This song is almost the same kind of metaphor, a reminder that the end is coming down the road and you want to have your spiritual house in order. That can act as an umbrella for your soul to keep you dry, warm and happy when you go to enter God’s kingdom at the time you are called.
As the author of the Book of UWGEAM, which is an acronym for God of the world, God of all Gods, God of everything, God of anything including all humanity, Kelley brings the basic principles to most of the songs on Unity. This song is the clearest expression of it. It actually name checks the book’s title and devotes itself to staying within the parameters set out in his book. The chanted chorus of the words Until the End of Time is one of the albums strongest and catchiest musical hooks. The album ends warmly on a high note with Call His Name. The mix-up of some different musical touches like the acoustic guitar and the dance club hand claps takes this song and elevates it above the past couple of songs on the track list. It gives some needed nuance and change in the musical bedrock of the production. The background music adds a nice sense of urgency that goes with the duet male female vocals. There is also the nice touch of the ripping lead guitar runs that walks the album to its conclusion. Overall an impressive album by a fledgling artist that bears watching in the future.