2020 has been crazy, so I told myself I was going to take the rest of the year off from blogging. I had every intention of doing that...but then Rich Tolbert, Jr.’s debut album dropped, and I just had to write about it.
|Rich Tolbert, Jr. - Never Be Defeated (2020)|
This was the most highly anticipated album of the year, as far as I’m concerned. I follow Tolbert on Instagram, and he’s been teasing snippets of these songs for months. I needed more, so I scoured the Internet for live performances to tide me over. Thanks to YouTube, Instagram, and the handful of times I’ve seen Tolbert live, I already knew a few of these songs before the record was even released. Thankfully, the wait is over. Never Be Defeated, the live album, is here! I’ve played it from start to finish every day for the past three weeks, and each time, I hear something I didn’t notice before. This project is a spectacular debut. Get it here.
Track 1 is “Crown Him (All Hail the Power Hymn).” This is Tolbert’s take on the classic hymn, “All Hail The Power of Jesus’ Name.” It begins with Tolbert’s soft but powerful lead:
All hail the pow'r of Jesus' Name!
Let angels prostrate fall;
Bring forth the royal diadem,
And crown Him Lord of all!
And then his singers, collectively known as Campfire Movement, sing with one voice, “Crown Him, Lord...” they eventually split into parts and modulate into a crescendo of sound that stirs the spirit and shows the listener that they are not your average choir. What an opener...and an appropriate nod to Bronx, NY native Tolbert’s COGIC roots.
Track 2 is “He’s in Control.” If you need a reminder that nothing catches God by surprise, if you’re struggling to trust His sovereignty, you need this song in your library. This one is especially fitting given the current state of our world. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, “We will sing hallelujah to Jehovah! Hallelujah to our God!” If this song doesn’t restore your faith and make you dance, play it a second time. You’ll probably want to replay it, anyway. I know I did.
Track 3 and 4 are the sweet spot on the album for me. “I’m Alive” and its reprise have been ministering to my heart literally every day for the past three weeks. I wake up singing:
God knows the plans
He has for me
He knows the thoughts
He thinks toward me
And nothing is an accident
I’m alive because there’s more!
It’s the perfect way to start the day in and on purpose, anticipating the “more” that lies ahead. Particularly, though, the “He didn’t let me die” portion really sets me off. I’ll save my personal “I’m Alive” story for another post, but hearing Tolbert’s testimony and the inspiration behind this song is enough to make you take off running. Check it out below:
"I'm Alive" is one of those songs that seems simple until you let it marinate. It's so good, it needs a reprise. Judging by the outbursts of "Hallelujah!" and "Glory!" in track 4, this song resonated with a lot of people. It seems to be generating a lot of buzz on social media as well. It would've been hard to condense all of that anointing into one track.
Next up is another favorite of mine: Track 5, “Isn’t He Beautiful.” This up-tempo track features Dante Bowe of Bethel Music, and it’s impossible to sit still while listening to it. I’ve been waiting for the album version of this song since I first heard Tolbert and Bowe sing it at City of Praise Family Ministries in July of 2019. I found myself leaping as they led us in exaltation of Jesus:
Be lifted high!
King of Heaven
All creation testifies
That You’re Jehovah
The Lord Most High!
These simple, repetitious lyrics get listeners excited as we think about what it’ll feel like to look upon His face:
He’s got the eyes like fire
And the hair like wool
He’s got the feet like brass
Oh, isn’t He beautiful?!
He is beautiful indeed.
“Isn’t He Beautiful” fades into the project’s second feature, “Get The Glory” with The Walls Group’s Darrel Walls. It begins with lyrics that empower:
In Jesus Christ, there’s no defeat
Against all odds, there’s only victory
In everything, He gets the glory
He’ll get the glory
He’ll get the glory
Somehow He’ll always
He’ll always get the glory
Tolbert uses this track to encourage and uplift, reminding us that no matter what a situation looks like, God will find a way to use it for His glory. In fact, the next track, a reprise to “Get The Glory” is entitled “He’ll Find A Way.” The whole song is a tag team of Tolbert and Walls repeating, “He’ll find a way, way, somehow.” Bring your shouting shoes for this one, too. And don’t listen to it while driving. It goes from 0 to 100 real quick. You’ve been warned.
The next song on the record, entitled “Jesus,” opens with a voice that I was introduced to posthumously: That of Thomas “TC” Clay. Clay, who passed away unexpectedly 4 years ago, was a phenomenal psalmist whose voice was an atmosphere all its own. His sound was literally other-worldly, and I’m convinced that the melody heard in Heaven is sweeter because he’s in the choir. His legacy lives on through his son, Tahir, who is featured on “Jesus.” Tahir not only looks like his father, but sounds like him, too.
After a sample of Thomas Clay’s unmistakable sound, Tolbert picks up where he left off—literally and figuratively—eventually passing the mic to then 9-year-old Tahir (now 10), whom he affectionately calls his nephew. Tahir’s continuous belting of “Jesus!” induces instant chills. This kid is definitely one to watch, and he will undoubtedly flourish under Tolbert’s musical wing.
Track 9 is a familiar one if you’re a fan of J.J. Hairston and Youthful Praise. It’s Tolbert’s solo version of “Miracle Worker,” a song he wrote and was featured on for Hairston’s project of the same name, released in 2019. The duet version was a Dove Award-nominated, chart-topping hit. It made an explosive resurgence earlier this year on the Stellar Awards with yet another version that featured Hairston, Tolbert, and vocal powerhouse Kierra Sheard. Music connoisseurs know that no one can sing a song quite like the person who originally wrote it, and this is certainly true for Tolbert’s solo version. This song is a powerful reassurance that God is and always will be the “God of miracles, signs, and wonders!”
Tracks 10 and 11 are the album title track, “Never Be Defeated” and its reprise. Earlier this year, I wrote about why this is my “stomp-on-the-devil’s head” song for 2020. In that post, I also said that Rich Tolbert, Jr. was one to watch. Both of those statements are still true. When you listen to the Never Be Defeated album in its entirety, you’ll be reminded that a man named Jesus sits on the throne. You’ll rest assured that He’s in control and still in the miracle-working business. You’ll see that His face and His ways are beautiful, and even when you don’t understand, you’ll trust Him to find a way to get the glory out of situations that seem impossible. By the time the last note is played, you’ll know that you have a purpose, that He’s kept you alive because there’s more in store. And because He is the greatest power, you’ll rise up and never be defeated. With a praise on your lips and joy in your soul, you’ll crown Him Lord of all. As you listen to this album, if He hasn’t already, the Jesus in your headphones and speakers will make His way into your heart, and soon everyone will want to know who He is. That is, after all, the ultimate goal.