Tasha Cobbs Leonard, one of contemporary gospel music’s foremost worship-leading singer-songwriters, has recorded previous albums in a studio setting and in church, with the fervent, live participation of a congregation, but in many ways Royalty: Live at the Ryman is different from anything else in her catalog. Drawing on her Southern roots as a Georgia-based minister-musician, she chose as her latest recording venue a historic Nashville auditorium that once served as a house of worship and the home of the Grand Ole Opry. With her producer (and husband) Kenneth Leonard, she fleshes out arrangements of her new songs that nod to the setting with subtle country textures layered into her handsome full-band sound.
The original plan was to record in front of a sold-out audience, but since the 2020 pandemic made that impossible, Cobbs Leonard proceeded to capture a very live-feeling performance from that stage, in front of empty pews. A mandolin line can be heard threading through the triumphant opening number, “You’re Gonna Get the Glory”; a banjo figure lends syncopation to the lumbering groove of the final track, “Release the Sound”; and the Nashville family band We The Kingdom join in the anthemic “God So Loved”—all signs of her stylistically stretching out, but the album also plays to her familiar strengths. The swelling title track testifies to a spiritual sense of self-worth; “You Must Break,” a surging number with guest vocals from Kierra Sheard, has an emphatic liberatory message, and Cobbs Leonard builds to fiery, full-throated improvisation throughout.