Max Roach with the J.C. White Singers: Were You There When They Crucified My Lord
From Lift Every Voice and Sing (Atlantic, 1971)
Gil Scott-Heron/Brian Jackson: Peace Go With You Brother
From Winter In America (Strata-East, 1974)
When I was in Duke the other month, Mark Anthony Neal was telling me about this Max Roach and J.C. White Singers album and how powerful it was, especially the hymnal, “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord.” Unfortunately, it’s not the easiest album to track down – it’s been out of print on CD for a while – so it took some footwork (read: eBay + patience) to track down the LP but *whistle* was it worth the wait.
Let’s just first say that the sound of the song runs deep and for good reason: this is a Joel Dorn production, which is perhaps why – even though I had never heard the song before – it sounded familiar, like a lost Headless Heroes song. J.C. White has such a powerful, resonant voice on the song; the music has a slow, measured power to it too, of course, but it’s White’s vocals that brings the song down upon you. But wait toward the end, when the full chorus comes in and the song’s emotional state changes from morose to uplifting – it’s stunning.
For whatever reason, listening to this, I kept thinking about Gil Scott-Heron – stylistically, there’s some clear similarities – and it motivated me to pull out one of my favorite albums by him, Winter In America (almost certainly the most successful Strata-East title ever). “Peace Go With You My Brother” begins the album and it sets a tone that, like the Roach/White song, tells you, “this is some serious sh–, listen up.” Musically, the texture of the song benefits so richly from the use of electric piano (I’m assuming Rhodes here, given the flange effect). The song sounds marshmallow mellow on one hand but when you listen to what Heron is singing about, there’s a abiding darkness that seeps into the otherwise soft musical fabric.
This pair of songs is best heard beginning with a deep breath. Then dive in.
Ok, with that said though, I still wanted to bring the energy level up and the perfect fit, especially with the gospel/spiritual-edge of “Were You There” would be to end this post with a little Joubert Singers:
The Joubert Singers: Stand on the Word
From 7″ (Next Plateau, 1985)
I first discovered this through Murphy’s Law and not having heard a lot of gospel disco, I wasn’t sure what to expect but good god (appropriately enough), this song is – no blasphemy intended – f—ing incredible. According to discogs.com: “”Stand On The Word” was first ever recorded live in the First Baptist Church in Crown Heights, NYC, in 1982. Soon after the church pressed up a couple of hundred copies for the congregation,” upon which, it was discovered by local DJs at places like Garage, The Loft, etc. and ended up getting a promo-release on Next Plateau (on both 12″ and 7″). There’s some disagreement over who actually remixed the song – there’s a bootleg 12″ you can find that credits Larry Levan but the actual record nods to Tony Humphries so go figure. Either way, it’s just great.
I played this at Boogaloo[L.A.] and apparently, someone actually knelt to the floor and gave thanks at the song’s completion. I kind of get that feeling too with it.