Posts Tagged ‘Gospel’

The Blind Boys of Alabama: Go Tell It on the Mountain

Monday, November 21st, 2016

blindboysofalabama_gotellitonthemountainExpanded reissue of guest-filled 2003 Christmas album

Founded in 1939 and turned into a professional group six years later, it took more than fifty years for these gospel legends to record a Christmas album. Released in 2003, the album was third in a string of four Grammy-winning albums in four years, including Spirit of the Century, Higher Ground and There Will Be a Light. The album includes guests leading every track but the first and last, ranging from soul singer Solomon Burke, singer-songwriters Tom Waits and Shelby Lynne, to jazz vocalist Les McCann and funkmaster George Clinton. The wide range of guests lends the album a lot of variety, though in a few spots, such as Chrissie Hynde and Richard Thompson’s “In the Bleak Midwinter,” it mostly obscures title group.

There’s no losing sight of the group as they provide Aaron Neville an intricate a cappella backing for “Joy to the World,” provide harmony backing to Meshell Ndegeocello’s “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” and add lively interplay to Mavis Staples’ “Born in Bethlehem.” One might lament how the cavalcade of guest stars cuts into the Blind Boys’ opportunities to sing lead, but the selection of guests and their interaction with the group and house band (John Medeski on keyboards, Duke Robillard on guitar, Danny Thompson on bass and Michael Jerome on drums) yields some nice moments. If you’re expecting a Blind Boys gospel Christmas album, you’ll be disappointed, but if you take this album as part of the group’s Grammy era artistic expansion, there’s much to like.

Omnivore’s 2016 reissue retains the a cappella rendition of “My Lord What a Morning” that was recorded for the 2004 CD reissue, and adds a pair of live tracks drawn from a contemporaneous holiday concert at New York’s Beacon Theater. The latter includes the title track and a closing rendition of “Amazing Grace” sung (as it was on Higher Ground) to the melody of “House of the Rising Sun.” The 12-page booklet includes photos and musicians’ credits, and Davin Seay’s liner notes add career context for the album and anecdotes about how the group, their guests and producers worked together in the studio. The album’s soulful productions and gospel backings will complement any holiday gathering and raise everyone’s spirits! [©2016 Hyperbolium]

The Blind Boys of Alabama’s Home Page

Various Artists: Feel Like Going Home – The Songs of Charlie Rich

Saturday, November 12th, 2016

various_feellikegoinghomeA tribute to Charlie Rich’s Sun-era songwriting

Though Charlie Rich found his greatest fame as a Nashville country crooner for Epic, the soul of his music was born in Memphis. Rich’s smooth countrypolitan ballads topped the charts in the mid-70s, but it was in fact a departure from the jazz, blues, rockabilly, gospel and soul flavors of his earlier work. And it’s those earlier flavors that are revisited here, as thirteen artists – including Charlie Rich, Jr. – perform songs written and performed by Rich during his years as an artist, sideman and songwriter for Sun and Phillips International.

In addition to the well-known “Lonely Weekends” (given a bluesy treatment by Jim Lauderdale) and “Who Will the Next Fool Be” (sung with sultry southern soul by Holli Mosley), the set includes non-charting singles and B-sides. Highlights include the Malpass Brothers’ crooned “Caught in the Middle,” Juliet Simmons Dinallo’s hot rockabilly “Whirlwind,” Johnny Hoy’s wailing “Don’t Put No Headstone On My Grave,” Keith Sykes’ snakebit “Everything I Do Is Wrong,” and Kevin Connolly’s heartfelt closing title song.

The sessions were held primarily in the same post-Sun Sam Phillips Recording studio that hosted Rich for the originals, and the collection has been released on the same Phillips International label. You can find Rich’s original sides on the single disc The Complete Singles Plus: The Sun Years 1958-1963, or the deeper box sets Lonely Weekends: The Sun Years, 1958-1962 and The Complete Sun Masters, but these new takes are a treat, as Rich’s early work informs new generations of musicians with his unique blend of country, blues, rock, soul, gospel and jazz. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

The Blind Boys of Alabama: Higher Ground

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

blindboysofalabama_highergroundExpanded reissue of 2002 follow-up to gospel-soul breakthrough

On the follow-up to their groundbreaking Spirit of the Century, the Blind Boys of Alabama reached even wider for material, and picked up Robert Randolph & the Family Band and Ben Harper as backing musicians. Working again with producers John Chelew and Chris Goldsmith, this isn’t as surprising as the preceding volume, but affirms the direction to be a solid artistic statement, rather than just a commercial diversion. The group explores both traditional gospel material and the soul music that it inspired, the latter stretching from titles by Curtis Mayfield and Aretha Franklin to Prince, Jimmy Cliff and Funkadelic. The electric band creates busier backings than were heard on Spirit of the Century, and they’re not nearly as sympathetic to the vocals. Omnivore’s 2016 reissue augments the original twelve tracks with seven contemporaneous live performances recorded at KCRW’s Los Angeles studio; there’s also an eight-page booklet with new liner notes by Davin Seay. This is a nice upgrade to an adventurous follow-on, but you’ll want to start with Spirit of the Century. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

The Blind Boys of Alabama’s Home Page

The Blind Boys of Alabama: Spirit of the Century

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

blindboysofalabama_spiritofthecenturyA gospel-soul classic gets a terrific upgrade

When initially released in 2001, this Grammy-winning album showed the long-running Blind Boys of Alabama had plenty of artistry left in the tank. In addition to their superb vocals and keen choice of traditional and contemporary songs (including material from the Rolling Stones, Tom Waits and Ben Harper, plus “Amazing Grace” sung to the melody of “House of the Rising Sun”), their resonance with David Lindley, John Hammond, Charlie Musselwhite and other assembled players is stunning. Producers John Chelew and Chris Goldsmith struck a balance between singers, instrumentalists and material that evokes the group’s vocal heritage and brings their sound into the twenty-first century. Omnivore’s 2016 reissue augments the original twelve tracks with seven contemporaneous live performances recorded at New York City’s Bottom Line with the record’s band; there’s also an eight-page booklet with new liner notes by Davin Seay. This is a terrific upgrade to a gospel-soul classic. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

The Blind Boys of Alabama’s Home Page

Marley’s Ghost: The Woodstock Sessions

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

marleysghost_thewoodstocksessionsVeteran roots group records in Woodstock with Larry Campbell

Thirty years into their career, Marley’s Ghost is like a well-worn leather jacket. You can admire their tenure intellectually, but up-close, with your ears, you can’t help but be moved by the effortless music their tenure has produced. The band’s breadth, interpersonal chemistry and instrumental skills create performance from the seemingly simpler act of music making. “Seemingly,” because it’s anything but simple for skills to be so completely second nature. With Larry Campbell as producer and recording in Levon Helm’s Woodstock studio, the group leaned heavily on a connoisseur’s selection of traditional material that includes titles written by the Delmores (“Field Hand Man”) and made famous by the Stanleys (“Stone Walls and Steel Bars”), Bill Monroe (“In the Pines”) and Carter Family (“The Storms Are on the Ocean”). The harmonies flow easily from blues to bluegrass to country to Cajun, and in “Run on for a Long Time,” to gospel. The album closes with the fiddle tune “Uncle Joe,” leaving listeners dancing to this journey through American roots music. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Marley’s Ghost’s Home Page

Josh White: Josh at Midnight

Monday, September 5th, 2016

JoshWhite_JoshAtMidnightJosh White’s 1956 folk-blues classic returns to vinyl in grand fashion

By the time Josh White began recording for Elektra in 1955, he’d reached heights that few other African-American entertainers had attained. He’d become a recording, concert and radio star, a civil rights activist and confident of FDR, and appeared in mainstream and avant garde films. But he’d also run afoul of both the left and the right by voluntarily testifying in front of the HUAC, ending up blacklisted (officially by the right, unofficially by the left) and unable to make a living in the US. But Jac Holzman bucked both sides of the political spectrum and offered White an opportunity to record for his fledgling Elektra label, releasing The Story of John Henry… A Musical Narrative as a double 10-inch album and 12-inch LP.

The following year saw the release of Josh at Midnight, an album that helped restore White’s career and boosted Elektra’s commercial fortunes. Recorded in mono with a single mic (a classic Telefunken U-47), the sound is spontaneous, lively and crisp. White is backed by bassist Al Hall and baritone vocalist Sam Gary as he works through material drawn largely from the public domain. Many of these songs were, or became, favorites of the folk revival, but even the most well-known are fresh in White’s hands. The material ranges from the sacred (“Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dyin’ Bed” “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho”) to the profane (“St. James Infirmary” “Jelly Jelly!”), with several humorous stops in between.

Ramseur’s reissue was supervised by Jac Holzman, prepared by Bruce Botnick and mastered by Bernie Grundman. The front cover reproduces the original, but with Ramseur’s logo slotted in place of Elektra’s. The back cover includes new liner notes by Holzman and song notes by Kenneth S. Goldstein, and the record labels mimic the look and color of Elektra’s. It’s a shame this vinyl-only release leaves those in the digital world with inferior MP3s, or a CD or two-fer of unknown provenance, but LP, MP3 or CD, this is an absolute classic, and a must-have for anyone whose original (or thrift-store) copy has been worn out from repeated play. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Ramseur Records’ Home Page

Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys: The Complete Jessup Recordings Plus!

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

RalphStanleyAndTheClinchMountainBoys_TheCompleteJessupRecordingsPlusRare Ralph Stanley albums, plus a third from Whitley and Skaggs

By the time Ralph Stanley released Michigan Bluegrass on the independent Jessup label in 1971, he was well into establishing the second phase of his career. A twenty year run as half the Stanley Brothers had ended with the passing of his older brother Carter in 1966, but barely missing a beat, he reincarnated the Clinch Mountain Boys, continued to release records for King, and added releases on Rebel, Jalyn and Jessup. His connection with the latter was brief, comprising just two albums recorded in five weeks in 1971, and released in ‘71 and ‘73. The albums were previously reissued as Echoes of the Stanley Brothers, but are augmented here by ten additional tracks drawn from Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs’ contemporaneous Tribute to the Stanley Brothers.

Whitley and Skaggs were backed by the Clinch Mountain Boys for their album, and after being invited to join the group, the album was reissued under Ralph Stanley’s name. This 2-CD set opens with ten of the tribute album’s twelve tracks (omitting “White Dove” and “The Angels Are Singing Tonight”), with, according to the Colin Escott’s well-researched liner notes, Stanley leaving the banjo parts to Roy Lee Centers. Whitley and Skaggs delved deep into the Stanley Brothers catalog, showing off the encyclopedic knowledge that had originally caught Ralph Stanley’s ear. The songs of loss, longing and loneliness are highlighted by an unusual murder-suicide in “Little Glass of Wine.” The stereo production is clean and spacious, with the fiddle, mandolin, guitar and bass crisply arrayed around the tight, sorrowful lead harmonies.

In the summer of 1971, after a live outing and a pair of albums for Rebel, Stanley took his band into Jessup’s Jackson, Michigan studio. The first of his two Jessup albums features a trove of then-new material, including a pair of socially conscious songs by Gene Duty. “Let’s Keep Old Glory Waving” is straightforwardly prideful, but the opening “Are You Proud of America” digs deeper with its questioning of those who question America. Wendy Smith contributed “River Underground,” a murder ballad in which the protagonist ends up haunted by guilt rather than jailed or dead. Joyce Morris’ “Another Song, Another Drink” gains an extra shade of sadness in the retrospective light of lead vocalist Keith Whitley’s untimely death, and the album’s instrumentals, “Hulla Gull” and “Buckwheat,” highlight the band’s musical talent.

Five weeks later, the group was back in Jessup’s studio to record an album of gospel material drawn from the Stanley Brothers catalog. In addition to traditional material given the Stanley treatment, the songs include Ruby Rakes’ “Wings of Angels” and J.L. Frank and Pee Wee King’s “My Main Trail is Yet to Come.” The former looks forward to heavenly salvation, while the latter finds a condemned man awaiting his eternal sentence. The vocals are at turns forlorn and praiseful as they essay family, faith, loss and sorrow, mourning those who’ve passed and anticipating reunion in the hereafter. Stanley said that vocalist Roy Lee Centers “had the gift,” and it’s in full evidence here amid the revitalized group. Real Gone’s 2-CD set is a real treat for fans of bluegrass, gospel and the Stanley Brothers. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

Dr. Ralph Stanley’s Home Page

John David Souther: Black Rose

Friday, February 12th, 2016

JohnDavidSouther_BlackRoseJ.D. Souther’s 1976 sophomore solo album reissued with bonuses

After releasing his 1972 self-titled debut (which has been concurrently reissued with seven bonus tracks), J.D. Souther joined with Chris Hillman and Richie Furay to release two albums as the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band. So it wasn’t until 1976 that he returned with this second solo album, produced by the red hot Peter Asher, and featuring performances from Lowell George, Joe Walsh, Waddy Wachtel, Jim Keltner and Andrew Gold, Linda Ronstadt, David Crosby, Art Garfunkel, Don Henley, Glenn Frey and other luminaries. The album is more refined and musically expansive than the debut, and Souther sounds more assured as he lets his songs unfold and reach beyond a singer-songwriter style.

Souther draws upon an expanded set of musical roots and allows himself to linger, as on the gospel-tinged vocal coda of “If You Have Crying Eyes.” Souther and Asher let the performance build to a crescendo and then wind down with emotional vocalizing atop the backing of Asher, Gold and Ronstadt. The musicianship is more sophisticated as well, with the opening “Banging My Head Against the Moon” taking on an island tone as the rhythm guitar, drums and Paul Stallworth’s bass provide intricate accompaniment. By 1976 Asher was hitting full stride as a producer, with seminal albums by James Taylor, Tony Joe White and Linda Ronstadt under his belt, and he helps Souther draw something deeper from his music.

Comparing the demo of “Silver Blue” to the album track, the song’s despairing, open-ended questions become more nuanced, and Stanley Clark’s beautiful double bass adds a duet voice. The recording is a textbook example of how instrumentation can reinforce and amplify a song’s tone, as does Donald Byrd’s flugelhorn on the late night “Midnight Prowl.” David Campbell’s arrangement of cello and flute on “Faithless Love” isn’t as surprising, but provides interesting contrast to Souther’s blue, crooned notes, and strings also add drama to “Doors Swing Open.” The latter’s wariness of hollow relationships weaves into Souther’s pessimistic tapestry of romantic turmoil, unrequited love and lost partners, culminating in the title song’s funereal symbol.

The album didn’t launch any singles onto the chart, though “Simple Man, Simple Dreams,” blossomed into a Ronstadt title song and inspired the title of her autobiography. But even with only limited commercial success (charting at #85), the album was a fuller expression of Souther’s music than was the debut, and remains a high point of his catalog. Omnivore’s 2016 reissue adds five demos, a live version of “Faithless Love,” and “Cheek to Cheek” from Lowell George’s Thanks I’ll Eat it Here. The demos highlight songs recorded earlier (by Ronstadt and Souther-Hillman-Furay) and later (by Souther), which are worth hearing, but don’t expound upon the album itself. Buy this for the original ten tracks, enjoy an under-heralded mid-70s classic, and get bonus tracks in the bargain. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

J.D. Souther’s Home Page

Jackie DeShannon: All the Love – The Lost Atlantic Recordings

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

JackieDeShannon_AllTheLoveLost 1973 sessions with Tom Dowd and Van Morrison

As a songwriter, Jackie DeShannon had tremendous success throughout the 1960s, but it wasn’t until she recorded 1969’s “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” that she found fame with her own material. But despite the song’s commercial success, the following year’s To Be Free would be her last for Imperial, and after a brief stop at Capitol for 1972’s Songs, producer Jerry Wexler landed her for his Atlantic label. Her two albums, Jackie and Your Baby is a Lady, included both original material and covers, and though artistically satisfying, neither achieved much sales and DeShannon moved on to a short stay at Columbia as her recording career wound down.

Lost in the transition was an album made for Atlantic, but never released. Recorded in 1973 with producer Tom Dowd at the fabled Sound City and Criteria studios, the sessions were a distinct change from Jackie’s strong Memphis flavors. Gone were the backing chorus, strings and the heavier horn charts, and in was a smaller group sound highlighted by a wider choice of material that spanned folk, pop, soul and gospel. In addition to four new DeShannon originals (co-written with Jorge Calderon, a multi-instrumentalist who would famously collaborate with Warren Zevon), the album included well-selected covers of Dylan, Alan O’Day, Christine McVie and others.

With the album in the can and awaiting release, DeShannon did some additional recording with Van Morrison in his home studio. Those sessions yielded four more tracks (15-18 here), of which the Morrison original “Sweet Sixteen” was released as a single, with the Dowd-produced “Speak Out to Me” as the B-side. When the single failing to chart, Atlantic shelved the entire year’s output, and DeShannon eventually began work on her next album. Six of the Dowd tracks (1-3 and 5-7 here), and all four Morrison productions, eventually appeared on Rhino’s 2007 reissue Jackie… Plus, but the rest of the Dowd-produced material remained in the vault until now.

Why Atlantic scrapped the album is unclear. The material is excellent, DeShannon’s performances are strong and Dowd’s production provides soulful support. Perhaps it was the album’s broad reach that gave Atlantic second thoughts, though there are several tracks upon which they could have hung their promotion. DeShannon’s organ-backed take on “Drift Away” was beaten to the market by Dobie Gray’s hit, but “Hydra,” “Grand Canyon Blues” and the album’s superb cover of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” could have found some love on FM. Sadly, the set’s unlisted nineteenth track – a Coke commercial – was probably it’s most heavily broadcast. Real Gone’s done DeShannon’s fans a solid with this anthology, and augmented the ’73 sessions with a 12-page booklet that includes detailed liner note from Joe Marchese. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Jackie DeShannon’s Home Page

Leo Bud Welch: I Don’t Prefer No Blues

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

LeoBudWelch_IDontPreferNoBluesYou’re never too old to sing the blues

82-year-old Leo Welch is sure making up for lost time. After releasing his gospel-infused debut, Sabougla Voices, he’s back with a sophomore effort. The common saw of younger artists — that you have twenty-something years to make your first record, and only one to make your second — doesn’t really apply here; there’s no way Welch could have spent eighty-one years of pent-up music on a single debut album. In this second trip to the studio, he expands into secular themes and more straight forward electric blues, with excellent support from Jimbo Mathus, Matt Patton, Bronson Tew, Eric Carlton, Stu Cole and Sharde Thomas. His original material (apparently all titles but King Louie Bankston’s hypnotic “Girl in the Holler”) include the down-tempo lament of the opening “Poor Boy,” the buzzing woe of “Goin’ Down Slow,” the tipsy soul “Too Much Wine,” and the frantic “I Don’t Know Her Name.” Welch’s singing is raw and vital, and he’s got a knack for crafting lyrical hooks whose repetition make sure you get the point. The band provides flexible support, getting low down and gritty as needed, and rocking when the spirit strikes. Records like this are typically the province of crate digging, so it’s still surprising to find one that’s new. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Leo Bud Welch’s Home Page