Thursday, July 28, 2016
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: VARIOUS - THE ROOTS OF GOSPEL MUSIC
Like all that vintage-styled soul music you've been hearing lately? All you folks digging Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones and Leon Bridges and so many more great acts out there might want to remember where it all came from. It's called soul because it came from gospel music, as opposed to r'n'b. In the mid-50s gospel groups and singers were becoming pretty big stars in the U.S., but there was an even bigger prize out there, the pop charts. It was frowned upon to sing secular music, but eventually many of the stars, most notably Sam Cooke, crossed over. Once the barrier was broken, the genre of soul was born, and even the great Aretha Franklin, daughter of the famous Rev. C.L. Franklin, crossed over.
But there were hold-outs, incredible singers who refused to stop singing songs of praise. And while the soul stars eclipsed them in fame (and riches), there was still a pretty solid touring and record sales industry through into the 70's. Many of those famous names at one point ended up on the famous Detroit label HOB. Formed out of a beauty parlour (House of Beauty), owner Carmen Murphy was such a fan of the music, she paid for recordings, and soon attracted the biggest names of the genre: Clara Ward, Claude Jeter, Albertina Walker, The Swan Silvertones, The Mighty Clouds of Joy, The Five Blind Boys of Alabama, and even the mighty Rev. Franklin himself.
Gospel's day as a leading music faded, and the HOB catalog was sold several times. Now it rests with the Sonorous Records label, which is doing a good job of keeping the legacy going, at least in the Christian music world. This set is a sort of primer for the HOB artists, a 24-track, two-disc set. It's obvious this isn't a major label; there are no liner notes, not even composer credits. And HOB didn't ever have the prime cuts of these artists. The musicians supporting the acts are often third-tier journeymen or perhaps rookies, the best players having gone to the pop world. There are frustrating early fade-outs on a couple of cuts, and despite the "deluxe edition" title, the discs are only just above 30 minutes.
What is here is, quite simply, an incredible group of singers. The times were changing, but these performers were still masters. When they sang their songs of praise, they really did lift their voices loud and clear. The Harmonizing Four are a joy, close-knit and dynamic. Shirley Caesar shines on three cuts, recorded at the start of her career, which is still going strong. The more vintage acts such as Jeter and Ward show just how powerful that church music was, while Albertina Walker and Rev. James Cleveland prove what has been said for decades, the best voices come from the church.