Smokie Norful

With seven years in gospel music, Smokie Norful is a Grammy, Dove, and Stellar award winner, a Billboard chart-topper, a two-time gold-selling artist, and a crossover star responsible for the smash hit “I Need You Now.”

Norful’s most recent project is Smokie Norful Live, his fourth EMI Gospel outing and first-ever live recording. Created before a crowd of more than 2,000 at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts in Memphis, Tennessee, the album is in many ways a family affair, as many of the onstage musicians and sidemen are fellow worshippers with Norful at Victory Cathedral Worship Center, the church he founded. One participant is project co-producer Jason Tyson, Norful’s longtime music director on the road, as well as a minister of music at Victory Cathedral.

From the celebratory strains of opener “He’s Gonna Come Through,” created with gospel collaborator Tye Tribbett, the album is an extension of what Norful already does so well. Without taking a breath, Norful brings the funk with the call-and-response “I Will Bless the Lord,” an up-tempo praise anthem that would sound equally at home at church or on gospel airwaves. Once the audience has been ushered into an atmosphere of praise, Norful lays the Sunday-morning spirit on thick in the arresting first single, “Justified,” a track that serves as a primer for the type of artist he is: a pastor and a singer.

Those who prefer Norful’s tender, balladeer side will relish the prayerful “Dear God,” in which the singer sits at the piano and looks back on his life. This show-stopping moment is highly reminiscent of previous Norful favorites like “Run Til I Finish,” “God is Able,” and the career-defining “I Need You Now.” Another cornerstone of the project is Norful’s knockout cover of “Jesus Is Love” by Lionel Richie and the Commodores, a duet with R&B songstress and label mate Heather Headley, who also included the song in her own EMI Gospel debut, Audience of One.

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Jessye Norman