For almost twenty years Cassandra O’Neal has been serving the Lord through Praise & Worship ministries and other capacities to reach out to God’s people. It is no wonder that her heart and soul is filled with His love and freely bursts forth. Music is an excellent avenue to reach people and O’Neal has a fantastic gift both vocally and lyrically. As the first artist signed to Platinum Vybe Recordings, her debut album Life Songs is a formidable beginning to their roster.
The opening track features O’Neal’s mentor, Bishop Phillip Davis delivering a personal, tender message expounding upon the abundance of the Lord. The choir in the background adds accents along with triangle and finger snapping that continue to thank God. There is no fire and brimstone in this message, only a rising, fulfilling energy that fills the listener with hope and peace. O’Neal delivers her own sermon in “No Matter” which begins as a soul bearing ballad with the celestial background choir background before O’Neal comes to the fore with high octane pointed questions and considerations. Another personal tune on Life Songs is “Jeremiah 29:11,” a tender uplifting song taken straight from the Old Testament book about one of the most dejected prophets. The quiet, mellow introduction with minimal accompaniment sets a lovely mood for O’Neal to deliver Gods fulfilling message.
A more straight ahead gospel tune devoid of any spoken preaching is “God is So Good.” This ballad gentle sways with its meditative repetitiveness and is unfortunately marred by the quiet solo in the middle of the song that lacks a tonal center. Another vocal calamity is Civilla Martin and Charles Gabriel’s traditional “Eye on the Sparrow.” The song is free form with O’Neal and keyboards with a Fender Rhodes sounding patch. Together they sort of hold their own, but when guest vocalist Charlise Preister joins the mix the tune goes south with its lack of structure.
O’Neal delivers a killer vocal performance on the first single “Incredible” despite a few annoyances. Her spirit-filled leads are confidently well-executed as she bounces off the notes. The hook is catchy but features a heavy dose of vocal effects that almost give the tune a Radio Disney quality. This is not helped by the cheeky male vocalist who opens the tune thumping on the mic asking, “Is this thing on?” and then lending his free styling midway through the song.
The keyboards take on a bizarre, funky, slinky sound with a more relaxed backbeat reminiscent of Aaliyah’s “Try Again” in “Running Back to You.” In “Soulful Thanks” the prominent keyboard opening could easily fit on the soundtrack to a science fiction / action adventure flick. The call and response between the lead vocals and choir is very good and the vocal breaks are tight but the keyboard is immensely distracting.
O’Neal belts out some remarkable high notes in “Give Up the Praise” that hardly sound pinched or strained but her prowess is overshadowed by the heavy, mushy synthesizer. In “Yes He Loves Me” the chill, grooving R&B vibe is broken by the obnoxious synthesized brass downbeats. O’Neal’s sweet vocals sound like a stroll in the park but the keyboards sound awful and out of place.
“I’m In Love” is a finely crafted tune with a fun, jumpy melody and a mid-tempo dance beat. It has the endearing qualities of a happy pop tune with contemporary, accessible lyrics that an ignorant person might mistakenly think was written about a mortal beloved, not Jesus. The blend between the lead vocals, choir and organ is excellent.
O’Neal’s Life Songs is a blessed recording, truly enjoyable and would be made more so if the keyboards took a backseat in the mix.
Review by Kelly O’Neil
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)