Producer: Jeff Collins
Record Label: Sonlite Records/Crossroads Music Group
When my family & I were making a true effort to be bonafide Southern Gospel singers, we’d often ask our songwriter friends for songs. My father would always say, “Now, don’t send us those B-level songs and hold on to the good stuff for the big dogs.” One writer jumped right back and said, “Now Deon, there are no B-level songs to us. Each and every song is the best song we’ve ever written.” That sentiment has stayed with me, both as a songwriter and a music critic.
Take one listen to Kenna Turner West’s mainline debut, A Reason For Hope, and it’s apparent that Kenna has the same feelings as a songwriter. West has made a name for herself for the last 20+ years as a hit maker. She a consummate commercial writer who has written for some of the best including Karen Peck & New River (“Revival,” “Finish Well”), Brian Free & Assurance (“Say Amen”), Triumphant Quartet (“Even Me”) and album cuts from Jason Crabb, The Isaacs, Lady A’s Hillary Scott, The Martins, Michael English, and hundreds more. She’s been awarded dozens of times in various forms including GMA Dove Awards and is a three-time recipient of Songwriter of the Year (Professional) in our own Absolutely Gospel Music Awards.
A Reason For Hope is West’s debut release on a national scale, and you won’t find a single one of those “hits” from other artists on this Sonlite Records recording. In fact, the 10 songs found on this recording could easily be listed among the strongest of her career. The recording kicks off with the country-tinged “Our God Is Good” which is a cross between a Jim & Melissa Brady single and Jeff & Sheri Easter concert favorite. “I’m Not Who I Was” has touches of the progressive-meets-Black Gospel feel of Sisters’s recordings. “Calling All Prodigals,” the debut single, is a sweeping song with an epic track that could be found in the latest choral collection at your church.
The title cut is another modern country tune that could sit well on a Southern Gospel playlist. Fans of progressive artists like Karen Peck & New River, Brian Free & Assurance, or Bowling Sisters will find a lot to like here. “This Is My Story” and “Pray On” finalize the recording with finesse and are a beautiful conclusion to a strong recording.
It wouldn’t do this reviewer any good if Kenna’s vocals weren’t brought up. As strong as a writer as Kenna is, her vocal prowess is just as impressive. She’s not the screaming soprano of a Kim Hopper or gutsy alto of a Libbi Stuffle, but she’s got an impressive range that recalls a fuller more confidence Amy Grant. Even more than that, West has the ability to interpret the lyrics like none other. West stands toe to toe with some of the best – including Joyce Martin Sanders or Kim Ruppe Sheffield. Perhaps it’s due to West singing her own songs, but the emotional weight of each song is felt with each and every word sung. This is no more apparent than on “There Is No Condemnation.” This song’s gorgeous melody and unmatched lyrics are lifted to gold status by Kenna’s subtle approach in her vocals. Well done, Kenna!
West’s debut for Sonlite Records proves why she’s such a respected songwriter in this industry. Hopefully, radio and promoters will pick up on the talent that is Kenna Turner West, and she gets the audience she deserves.