Analysis of “Can’t Turn Back,” by Charles Jenkins and Fellowship Chicago.
Billboard Top 30 Gospel, week of April 27, 2019. Number 10 on the charts.
-- Dr. Barry C. Johnson, Sr.
Let’s have some fun! “Can’t Turn Back,” by Charles Jenkins and Fellowship Chicago (“Live at the ‘Ship”), is an exciting selection that ranked Number 10 in Billboard Top 30 Gospel for the week of April 27th. Embodied in a fantastic video, the music is delivered in a classic black and white venue reminiscent of the 2006 movie “Idlewild,” featuring Andre’ Benjamin, Big Boi, Terrence Howard, and Paula Patton, and directed by Bryan Butler. The “Can’t Turn Back” video mimics Idlewild’s large music ballroom scene. I like the freshness of the genre and don’t view it as a “copycat” rip-off of the movie. We inspire and learn from each other; and Jenkins does a masterful job of exhibiting the goal of a praise service!
The style is based on traditional blues-jazz idioms that are plentiful within the Gospel genre and harken back to the transition from the late 1960’s Golden Age of Gospel to the Contemporary Period that became solid during the 70s. We can compare Jenkins’s “Can’t Turn Back” to the “Old Landmark” selection featured in the Blues Brothers movie of 1980, which (in the church worship scene) featured James Brown and Chaka Khan. I applaud Jenkins’s production of “Can’t Turn Back” because it is quite large and consists of many components that contribute to the success of the video: The Big Band (with brassy and reedy horns), an awesome rhythm section, and an incredible trumpet solo, each of which complements the other. This is traditional gospel at its finest; and my hope is that its use of blues-jazz is not rejected by those that feel Gospel should not be mingled with or sullied by other-worldly genres. Throughout the years, Gospel music owes its appeal to adaptation and inspiration from many other genres.
The key of “Can’t Turn Back” in YouTube, which is accurate due to its digital format, is g-flat minor. The form or architecture is quite simple: Following a short introduction, the selection begins with the first verse in the tonic key, which moves to a IV–V-i (through VI-VII) transition to end the verse. The second verse is a drive section that grooves in the key of g-flat minor but proceeds to the IV–V-i structure that also ends this verse. Following is a breakout or ad. lib. section that fully displays the traditional gospel i-V-i progression and drive in the tonic key. Next, a band breakout lands on a fully-diminished 7 chord that eventually moves to the dominant of d-flat major, which takes us back to the tonic of g-flat minor to continue the drive. The aforementioned trumpet solo (at 1:38) is featured in this section. The composition continues the drive, which features the title’s keywords, “Can’t Turn Back,” accompanied by ad. libs. by lead vocalist. The drive is repeated for effect, and the background ‘oohs’ and participating audience offer an uplifting special effect. The selection ends on a G-flat major chord instead of the minor chord, which is traditional when in a minor key. Called a Picardy 3rd, the ending minor chord would be too weak as a final chord of the song
Both personally and professionally, I rate “Can’t Turn Back” an excellent production with a dazzling display of worship excitement. The key phrases are “Can’t turn back,” “Waiting on God to blow my mind,” and “I’ve got God on my side.” Some of the audience scenes may look perceived and choreographed, but the participants are nonetheless having fun. The video inspiration and presentation of dancers is also excellent! In the future, I hope to perform this with our Southern Star Mass Choir and Dance Team. It is a big production and will take some effort, but we can do it!
This selection can definitely work for your choir or praise team because it is within the range of a normal choir. The sopranos do not exceed the D-flat above c2; the altos, the A above middle C; and the tenors, the G-flat above middle C. The lead vocalist is obviously a tenor but could be an alto or a full-range soprano. My prayer is that – due to the efforts of Charles Jenkins and Fellowship Chicago (whether through this video or performed in some fashion in our individual churches) – a soul will be saved or given back to the Lord. Can’t turn back! Amen.