For three amazing decades, singer/songwriter/producer/musician Fred Hammond has been a Gospel music arbiter, consistently pushing the genre into to new melodic territory. The Detroit native ascended from bass-playing sideman for The Winans; to founding member of the trendsetting sextet Commissioned; to creating the further renowned ensemble Radical for Christ, to becoming a highly influential solo artist and producer in his own right. Unforgettable songs such as “Blessed;” “No Weapon; “King of Glory;” “Celebrate (He Lives);” “Let the Praise Begin” and more have lifted the spirits of millions both cross-culturally and cross-generationally. His 1998 release Pages of Life: Chapters 1 & 2 is a double platinum-seller and his award wins over the years have recognized his excellence in all areas upfront (Best Male Vocalist, Best Album and Best Song) as well as behind the scenes (for songwriting and producing). He is a multiple Stellar and Dove Award winner and his last CD, Free to Worship (2006), netted him his first Grammy for Best Contemporary R&B Gospel Album. His new CD, LOVE UNSTOPPABLE, finds Fred in a powerfully persuasive mode.
From traditional gospel to funk, acoustic rock and even a cappella pieces, Fred Hammond’s new 15-song set pulls from a sprawling musical palette to mold his musical messages. “I just knew this album was going to have love somewhere in the title,” he states. “My spirit is in a love place again…like two albums ago when I released Somethin’ ‘Bout Love. At first I thought the title was going to be The Love Event. Then I encountered a friend who was trying to encourage me through a tough time. She came by The Warehouse, saw the challenges I was facing and told me, ‘When a man has a dream, he is unstoppable.” That was a powerful statement. It led me to reflect on how God’s love for us all is unstoppable. Right then, I knew I had my title.”
LOVE UNSTOPPABLE is filled with many remarkable moments, including the opening “Prelude” which features his son reciting a heartfelt prayer and his daughter singing beautifully, closely following in her fathers footsteps. This leads into the galvanizing opening number “Awesome God” which is certain to light the fire of praise under any audience. “I’ve been studying my audiences,” Hammond shares, “and they love simple hooks that they can sing along to. ‘Awesome God’ is a lot like my song ‘Glory to Glory’ with the joyful repetition in the chorus. We just have folks shouting out, ‘God-God-God-God!” Similarly, the hand-clappin’, high energy first single, “They That Wait,” is a dizzyingly melodic and marvelous song of faith team-up with gospel great John P. Kee. Fred has been test performing this number prior to the album release to great response. Hammond programmed the more traditional “Find No Fault” early in the sequence (track #4) to assure fans that though he is eclectic in his musicality, he still has a deep appreciation for the foundation on which it all began. “Sometimes, people expect gospel to be gospel,” he shares. “I like writing new songs that feel like something you’ve been singing all your life.
Back in the day, one thing the old saints would say is ‘Through it all I find no fault in him.’ They were paraphrasing Pilate from Jesus’ trial when he said, ‘I find no fault in this just man.’” But Hammond could not resist slipping in a little Caribbean twist at the end – a revisionist through and through. The universal Fred Hammond vibe prevails in the acoustic feel good “Nobody Like You” and especially the wrap-around warmth of “Best Thing That Ever Happened,” sure to be a fan favorite. Then there is the balmy Brazilian feel of “Thoughts of Love” on which Hammond seems to channel his inner Cassandra Wilson (the sultry jazz singer). “I could easily do a whole Latin album based on how I feel about that music,” Fred confesses. “That song is a tribute to all my Latin brothers and sisters – all live instrumentation like Santana or something. Down the line I plan to even record something in Spanish.”
On a more soulful note is the deep backbeat R&B groove of “Take My Hand,” a song that has a fittingly strong back story. “When you have a public life, you often find that you have to keep up a strong front even when you’re going through a hard time. My pastor’s family was recently going through an issue and I’ve never seen his wife so broken... That same week, one of my best friends lost her grandfather, who was like a father to her. She’s usually reserved but I saw her broken, too. So I wrote ‘Take My Hand’ for them. I’d just been in that seat when my Mom passed a year and a half ago. Sometimes you don’t have the strength for a whole lot of praise and worship. You just have enough to say, ‘Lord, take my hand and walk with me on this one.’ One thing is certain, every year there will be loss, trials and issues. This song says, ‘Lord, I’m at my lowest point. If you don’t pull me through, I’m not going to make it.’”
LOVE UNSTOPPABLE boasts several more profoundly introspective selections, one of which dates back 20 years ago: the a cappella interlude “I Need You Right Away.” “I wrote that in 1989, a time when I didn’t have any money but a wife and child to care for. Our house was raggedy and I had made some bad business decisions. I was standing in my kitchen one day and what you hear on ‘I Need You Right Away’ just poured out of me. But The Lord would not let me put that song out until now. I kept thinking I was going to ‘finish’ the song, but it wouldn’t happen. This year, God said, ‘Just put that what you sang that day out. It is perfect as it is.’ So now it’s an interlude that leads into ‘Best Thing That Ever Happened.’” Deepest of all of Fred Hammond’s latest offerings is the confessional “Lost in You Again,” a song that proves even someone with as much praise and love to share as Mr. Hammond still questions the fervor of his faith. “’Lost in You Again’ is probably the most special song of the album – my personal testimony of the last ten years of my life. My musicians Calvin and Philip sent me some tracks and I gravitated to this mid-tempo track. The music grabbed me and I immediately started writing it. Some songs take hours. This one just flew out. I didn’t even have a pen. I just grabbed my iPhone, went to the memo page and started singing into it.
I sang about how we as Christians are always searching and the how stuff we find isn’t always the stuff we want. ‘I found all the heartache, the pain, the drama and the shame / My search won’t end until I’m lost in you again.’” “Sometimes we get really cynical after life has done a job on us,” Hammond continues. “While I was writing that song, one of my life-long friends came to hang out with me for the weekend – and the song came to life during this visit. After sitting and talking and catching up on all the years gone by, we went to church. He had on some clothes he probably wore the last time I saw him 20 years ago, but just as pressed and clean as can be. He got in church and when the word of God started, he got so enthralled that he jumped out in the middle aisle and ran across the church like he’d been going there for years! Even though he has had major life issue challenges, he’s always had an energetic love for God. It brought tears to my eyes, because it’s so easy to let life’s issues wear you down to where it affects your worship. I know that after great losses and very difficult periods in my life, sometimes it feels like my own energy has been beaten out of me.
Without even knowing it, my friend made me realize how much I want that kind of expressive worship back. The other person who always had great fervor for God was Pop Winans – from when I was with the group into his old age, he never changed. So ‘Lost in You Again,’ is really saying that I sure could use some of what he’s got. I think we all can.” Closing his powerful latest masterwork with the gentle pair of “Thank You” and “Lord How I Love You,” followed by the big funk of the party time closer “You Make Me Happy,” Fred Hammond covers the full spectrum of emotions God-fearing folks are experiencing at this critical time in history. “It is my hope that these songs touch people, because I know many who are hurting and confused. Along with the big songs, I wanted much of this album to have to have an intimate, introspective look. I think people truly need that energy right now.”