The CD release of Richie Stephens’ new Gospel Album ‘God is on my Side’ set a new trend as far as album releases go. Firstly, it was held at the New York offices of PR Company Ruder Finn and secondly, it was a community sponsored event. As Host Irwine Clare mentioned, long gone are the days when record companies promote and launch reggae albums. So now it is time for the community to come together and promote their own. It was certainly a collaborative effort with food and decorations provided by Junior “Nakisaki’ Lynn, Maxine “GMax” Greaves and Ruder Finn staff with dj sounds provided by Irie Jams Wayne “Oxtail” Jackson and Chris the Dubmaster.
Front and center, Richard Anthony Stephens -not Richard Frederick Freeman Stephenson- as appeared on the Congressional citation presented by Ms. Veronica Beckford, the administrator for Queens Congressman – Gregory Meeks. Richie had the audience in fits of laughter when he corrected the erroneous moniker, glibly adding that he had no idea who the person named in the citation was! Continuing in the vein of recipient of several lifetime achievement awards for 2012 Richie humbly accepted the citation while being lauded by fellow-artists Ed Robinson, Courtney Panton, Derrick Barnett, Laury Webb, Lady Ann and Erup who were all spotted in the crowd honoring Jamaica Tourist Board’s Brand Ambassador.
Danny Browne, producer, friend and confidant to the man of the hour spoke poignantly of the tragic death of Richie’s son, musician Copper Kat, senselessly gunned down in 2011. That life-changing event spawned the mega hit collaboration with Germany’s reggae artist Gentleman – “Live your Life” and the featured gospel album “God is on my Side” which was completed in record time and followed hotly on the heels of three successive presently unreleased albums. Stephenson spoke of his need to release a gospel album as a tribute to God who he says was the only one who could comfort him during his loss; the album is also an answer to what he sees as unbridled lawlessness not just in the dancehall, but the wider community and is his gift to an anxious and eager public waiting to receive some balm to soothe troubled souls. He spoke of his encouragement that the songs on the album connect with those who have relayed to him their own experiences of loss and hopelessness.
Clad all in black and wearing a jacket with trim in the colors of the Jamaican flag, Richie blessed the audience with some of the tracks from the new album. Rousing excerpts from The Gospel Medley, with energetic participation from an appreciative audience, the hauntingly beautiful A Change is Gonna Come (the Sam Cook adaptation) and a solo version of his collaboration with upcoming dancehall sensation Konshens (that saw him ably filling in for the DJ) of The Lord’s Prayer the mini concert certainly led to a rush of cd purchases from those in attendance – myself included. Richie performed the track Why Me Lord a cappella after a glitch with the cd player, but the message and lyrics were in no way diminished by the lack of melody.
Richie Stephens sings praise and worship on this 12 track VP Records/Pot of Gold gospel album which is set to dancehall beats. The display of emotion, passion and delivery on the tracks shows that God is definitely on his side. I’m sure the cd will become a staple in many homes not just in the Caribbean community – but across the world.