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HEZEKIAH WALKER & LFC SOULED OUT Hezekiah Walker & LFC have amassed such a rapport with worshippers and performance ensembles that his rousing, heartfelt compositions have become synonymous with Sunday morning. It’s difficult to have church and not include at least one of his songs in the set list. SOULED OUT, Walker’s long-awaited 13th recording, is set to advance his calling to keep alive the choir tradition, a mission the GRAMMY®- and Stellar-winning choirmaster has upheld victoriously for more than 20 years, even as gospel music itself has shifted to more contemporary expressions of praise. “We’re trying to keep choirs alive,” Walker says. “Everyone’s trying to do away with choirs, but you can’t delete choirs.

As long as there’s a church, there’s always going to be a choir.” But Walker’s mission goes a step further. Mindful that it is in these trying times when the souls of God’s people are most tested, the pastor wants for SOULED OUT to serve as a reminder that now, more than ever, is the time to give one’s all for the Lord’s cause. “In this day and age —with high gas prices, the mortgage crisis, job problems, the economy—a lot of times that can really hold people back from giving themselves to God and to the church,” he says. “We decided that regardless of what we go through, we’re still going to remain souled out.” It sounds like a snappy catchphrase, but Walker is serious about it, adding “what I’m trying to communicate to everyone is that we have really made up in our minds that there’s no turning back. We’re going all the way with this Jesus thing.”

A transplant of Brooklyn’s notorious Fort Greene projects, Walker had a good life growing up, thanks to a mother who encouraged his passion for choir-based gospel music in spite of the tumult surrounding him. It was then, when he was barely 8 years old, that his love affair with gospel began. “I remember listening to some of the music my mother was playing and it brought tears to my eyes,” Walker recalls. “I made up my mind from that point on that I was going to sing music that was going to touch people like that. (more) Hezekiah Walker & LFC/2 “I was the odd man out,” he continues. “There was so much stuff to get into in those projects, but music kept me occupied. I got so involved with it that I wouldn’t let myself get involved with anything else.” Walker never looked back. By the time he was 14, and without any formal musical training, he was already leading a choir of his own at a local congregation and learning the ropes of creating songs and arrangements that strike a chord in hearts of people from all walks of life.

It wasn’t long until Walker became a heavyweight of gospel music in his own right, scoring a bevy of best-selling releases recorded stateside and abroad, all of which have made appearances on Billboard’s gospel charts, including 1994’s Live in Atlanta at Morehouse College and 2001’s Love Is Live!, both of which snagged GRAMMY® trophies for Best Gospel Album by Choir or Chorus. At the song level, the church-at-large has sung the praises of Hezekiah Walker for almost two decades, rising to its feet with such classics and anthems as “I’ll Make It;” “Oh Lord We Praise You;” “We Made It;” “Second Chance;” “How Much We Can Bear;” “Clean Inside;” “Power Belongs to God;” “Jesus Is My Help;” “99 ½;” “I’ll Fly Away;” “Let’s Dance;” “I Need You to Survive;” “Faithful Is Our God;” and “Lift Him Up” among many others. SOULED OUT is bound to expand on this remarkable heritage. Recorded in the Bensalem, Pennsylvania location of his Love Fellowship Tabernacle and produced by fellow Grammy winner Donald Lawrence (The Clark Sisters, the Tri-City Singers), SOULED OUT is the next logical step in Walker’s career, adding a fresh batch of songs to a repertoire that’s already one of the most cherished in all of gospel music.

At the top of the list of future hits-in-the-making stands the melodically rich “God Favored Me,” a masterpiece Walker says the church needs to hear. “That’s the story of my life and the story of most people’s lives—that the favor of the Lord is on our side,” he says. “Because of God’s favor, we have reached heights unknown and undreamed of. That’s going to be the message for the church.” Lawrence’s master touch elevates the appeal of the classically rendered “It Shall Come to Pass,” an affecting ballad like only Walker and his capable ensemble know how to lead; it’s one of those encouraging pieces that have become staples in the choirmaster’s catalog. “O Give Thanks” isn’t too far behind in the parade. It’s a potent, harmonic treat that serves as the throwback jam of SOULED OUT, a traditional timepiece that continues to assert Walker means business when it comes to Sunday morning. It’s a bit of a departure for Walker and his LFC gang, but they excel at making their own the cooler than cool “Keep Moving On,” a mid-tempo groovefest that is sure to captivate and move even the staunchest, pew-bound churchgoer.

Just as funky is the energetic “All of My Help,” a no-holds-barred praise workout inspired by the Psalms. (more) Hezekiah Walker & LFC/3 With an accessible sound that Walker says will resonate with audiences on both sides of the gospel and Christian music divide, “Moving Forward” is an anthem that empowers the saints to declare victory over their life’s circumstances: “I’m not going back / I’m moving ahead / I’m here to declare to You my past is over / In You all things are made new / Surrendered my life to Christ / I’m moving…I’m moving forward.” At the center of the recording lies the high-powered title track, an up-and-up hand-clapper in the vein of recent Walker barnburners such as “Hold Out” and “It’s More Than That.” “We say ‘sold out,’ but it’s coming from the soul,” Walker adds. “That’s where the music comes from. That’s where the lyrics come from. We belong to God completely—mind, body, and soul.” Another highlight is the waltz-like, almost romantic “There’s No Way I Could Live Without You,” a song of thanksgiving and adoration that also works as a choral acknowledgment of the many blessings God has bestowed on the life of the famed choir.

When not leading his blockbuster ensemble or splitting his time pastoring churches in New York and Pennsylvania, Walker gets behind a microphone of a different sort: he’s a radio host on New York’s 1190 WLIB, imparting hope and encouragement to anyone with ears to hear, especially those outside the four walls of the church. Partly inspired by these new avenues for spreading the Word, SOULED OUT is the next chapter in the Walker’s music ministry. In the end, his calling transcends his lifelong drive to keep the choir tradition alive; for him, the new album is more about upholding the Gospel than a particular brand of gospel. “I realized that I’d been limiting the world to the circle that I’m accustomed to,” Walker says. “The Lord has been teaching me that the world is much bigger. There’s a lot of people who have not yet heard Hezekiah Walker—that haven’t even heard the Gospel. The Lord is putting me in places where I can really bring the Gospel to those who haven’t heard it.”

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