I’ve been meaning to write up the Religious Souls for about 4.5 years and the only reason I took this long was partially because I was hoping (now and then) to find a way to reissue their records (alas, I’m poorly equipped and a couple of the labels I initially approached took pass). But should tell you how much I think this group is fascinating. Song for song, the Religious Souls (aka the Kingcannon family) are, in my book, one of the best gospel soul groups to have ever been recorded. It’s not like other gospel albums where there’s one or two soul or funk songs interspersed with more traditional gospel styles; every cut on their albums is seeped in R&B/funk aesthetics, with incredibly rich arrangements and a real gift for falsetto vocals. If it wasn’t for the relatively poor recording/engineering quality (and obscurity) of their first two albums, I have no doubt these would be stone-cold classics. As it is, they’re barely known about as it is (though apparently, my man Lyrics Born knows about ’em).
I had the great privilege to interview Bishop Reggie Kingcannon, who was one of the core of the group and got some of the story behind the group. They began originally in the late ’60s and early ’70s, one of the many groups likely inspired by the success of the Jackson 5 (though they rocked seven in their clan). However, before they had a chance to record, David Kingcannon (who played guitar) had a “calling” to join the ministry, seemingly ending their record ambitions.
Though not originally from the Colorado area, they ended up Denver when patriarch Rev. Earl Kingcannon took over as pastor of the Pentecostal Faith Temple Church of God In Christ in Denver and when the family performed in concert there, they came to the attention of Brother Al, self-billed “America’s #1 Gospel DJ” who broadcast on at least four stations: KBRN (Denver), WSUM (Cleveland), WHKK (Cincinnati) and WPFB (Middleton, OH) and he convinced the group to let him exec produce their debut album, Sinner Man.
9 of the 10 songs on their debut were written by members of the Kingcannon family and they recorded the LP at Music Plant Studios in Denver and I’m assuming Brother Al took it back to Cincinnati where he had it pressed at the custom plant, Artist’s Recording Company. As you can hear on the two songs I picked off, the arrangements and vocals are superlative; their content might have been gospel but at their musical core, this was a soul group, through and through. According to Reggie Kingcannon, the group’s drummer, it was the family’s matriarch, Willa, who did much of the music, with daughter Sarah handling the female lead and sons Reggie and David handling male leads (plus sister Lavern on the bass guitar and I’m assuming the 7th family member, Betty, was on background).
Somewhere in that midst, they recorded their second album, Change Me Lord, this time for JCL (Jesus Christ is Lord) Records, in Henderson, TN, home to Clyde Beavers’ Beaverwood Studios. Unfortunately, their second album suffers from two distinct problems. First of all, the engineering was terrible; you can tell from how the vocals are mic-ed and how unbalanced the mix is (if you listen hard, you can hear the organ in the back of “Life Is a Vapor” and I can’t believe they intended to bury it that far back in the mix). Second, the pressing was also low, which means that in order to get the recording loud enough to listen to, you have crank the volume up and that bring its own problems, especially when digitizing from vinyl. Yet, despite all that, the same musical strengths of their first album are still all here.
Unity came out in the mid-80s, by which time, the group had decided to ditch the Religious Souls’ moniker and instead just record under their own name. They had at least one album during this era, Unity, much of which is kind of schlocky ’80s pop/rock but the first two songs on the album still had some of that old magic, just updated with more “modern” production.
Should have shared this with ya’ll years ago but better late than never. Enjoy.