Perhaps the most interesting story in modern Gospel music over the past few years has been the emergence from nowhere of Smokie Norful. Virtually unheard of when he released his debut album, I Need You Now, in early 2002, Norful became Billboard Magazine's #1 Gospel Artist of 2003 and also won the coveted 2003 Stellar Awards for both Best Male Vocalist and Best New Artist.
Norful was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, the son of Reverend W. R. Norful. Nicknamed "Smokie" after a deceased family friend, he attended the University of Arkansas, where he majored in History, following which he taught high school for several years before traveling to Chicago to attend Garrett Theological Seminary. In the late 90s he began writing for a number of Gospel artists, including Shirley Murdock and Dottie Peoples, and planned to independently record and release his first solo album, a process that ended up taking four years.
Norful was signed by EMI Gospel and released his debut, the sleeper hit I Need You Now, in 2002. While ultimately a smash, the album began slowly, adding station after station in both the Gospel and Urban Adult Contemporary markets, and finally topped the Gospel charts over a year after its release. Musically, the disc was not revolutionary. It covered the crossover Gospel/Soul ground successfully mined over the past few years by several artists, and stylistically bore perhaps the most similarities to Yolanda Adams' 2000 crossover breakthrough, Mountain High...Valley Low. But while Norful's music was not as radically funky as Gospel material being released by artists such as Tonex or Deitrick Haddon, it developed a following because Norful simply covered the fairly familiar Gospel/Soul territory very very well.
I Need You Now kicks off in high gear with "It's All About You." With a pulsating beat and Antonio Dixon's Chris Jasper-style electronic keyboard out in front, Norful created a joyful dance number about faith and gratitude that became one of 2002's most infectious songs of any genre. It was followed by the album's centerpiece title cut, a piano-laden ballad dominated by Norful's clear, plaintive voice. It became a staple on both Gospel and UAC radio for most of 2003, and was really a marvelous contrast to much of what was playing on Urban radio. Much of the remainder of the album solidly covers familiar Gospel territory, but with a few standouts: "Same Old Sad Song" is a weary, moving ballad that features Norful's lament of world problems over the sound of a forlorn harmonica, and "Psalm 64, " with its spoken-word intro by Smokie's father, brings a quiet, mellow close to the album.
McBush tries to lie his way out of it
Sen. John McCain's comment from last year that he doesn't understand economics "as well as he should" has dogged him all the way to South America today during a foreign trip meant to burnish his standing as a presidential candidate ready to be a world leader.
The Republican senator from Arizona smiled as he denied he ever dissed his understanding of economics and said he was "more experienced than my opponent."
The Republican presidential candidate made his comments during an exclusive interview from Cartagena, Colombia, with "Good Morning America's" Robin Roberts, who asked McCain why he went abroad when the No