Wednesday, March 03, 2010

posted by O.W.

Religious Souls: The Condition the World Is In
Rich Man
From Sinner Man (Artist's Recording, 197?)

Religious Souls: Jesus People
Life Is A Vapor
From Change Me Lord (JCL, 197?)

The Kingcannon Family: Jesus Is Mine
Our Father's Children
From Unity (Arroyo, 1985)

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.

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

posted by O.W.

Eddie Robinson: God's Love Song
Absolutely Beautiful
From You In My Life (Ren Unlimited, 197?)

It's not all about the funk. This Eddie Robinson LP is a stunningly smooth, mellow and soulful gospel album, filled with electric piano and Robinson's own dulcet croons (oh yeah baby, let's get down and...pray). And then there's this very simple edit I put together:

The Art Reynolds Singers: Down Here Lord/How Did It Feel?
From Tellin' It LIke It Is (Capitol, 1966)

This album - a hit on the gospel circuit in its day - is best known for "Jesus Is Just Alright" but the two songs that drew my attention were the slower, dramatic "Down Here Lord" and the more upbeat, uptempo "How Did It Feel?" both of which benefitted from that strong choral presence. However, something about the arrangement in both songs sound so much alike that I figured I'd just combine them into one and the end result, in my humble opinion, works quite well.

On a similar tip is this tune:

Sterling Glass and the Metropolitan Singers: Thank You Lord
From Jesus Never Fail (Glori, 1973)

Straight out of Waterbury, CT, Glass and the Metropolitan Singers offer up a beautifully arranged and executed song here. That pianist is straight killing it (uh, in a spiritual way). Interestingly, this album got reissued in the mid-80s on Nashboro; I wonder if it was a decent seller in its time.


I just wrote up the 3 Titans' "College" as a Song of the Day for NPR.

And my latest blog post for Fania is on Ricardo Ray's "Lookie Lookie" and the origins of Latin boogaloo.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

posted by O.W.

The Violinaires: Groovin' With Jesus
Put Your Hand in the Hand
From Groovin' With Jesus (197?)

One of the best known gospel funk songs out there is the appropriate titled "Groovin' With Jesus" by the venerable Violinaires. This Detroit-founded group has a long, deep history - Wilson Pickett was once a member and the Rolling Stones apparently wrote for them. This comes out of their early '70s catalog (and if you've ever perused the gospel section at a record store, you know how prolific they could be) and they're very clearly experimenting with some secular flavor. Frankly, I have yet a hear anything even remotely on this level, at least in terms of how well it kicks that '70s funk sound. Humble Pie and the Lifesavas knew the real.

I included a second song off the same that you would have assumed might kick a little break based on experience but no. Yet, this is probably one of the best versions of the song I've ever heard. Despite the opening drum break on other versions, they tend to slide in campy country rock and the Violinaires keep their version quite soulful throughout.

Rev. Carlton Coleman: Rockgospeltime Pt. 2
From Rock Gospel Time (Brunswick, 1970)

Coleman is probably best known in soul circles for having worked with James Brown on the novelty cut, "The Boo Boo Song". By 1970, longer "King Coleman" but Rev. Carlton Coleman, was on Brunswick and recorded one of the more eclectic albums for that label (which is saying a lot). That LP was a mix of long (and I do mean long) monologues about Coleman's unique "Rock Gospel Time" philosophies with a few really funky cuts, among them "Share It" and this mostly instrumental jam, "Rockgospeltime Pt. 2"

The William Singers: He Lifted Me
From He Lifted Me (Checker, 1973)

Thought I'd finish off with another Checker release (the studio seemed to be encouraging these kind of gospel-meets-funk fusions), this one from the William Singers. I think it's safe to say this cut, in particular, borrows heavily from Chicago's dense music scene with a classic funky blues riff powering the cut.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Naomi Shelton And The Gospel Queens: What Have You Done
From What Have You Done, My Brother? (Daptone, 2009)

Daptone's latest release by Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens, out Tuesday, May 26, is a little bit Sam Cooke, a lot '60s soul, and all in servitude to the Lord. “What Have You Done, My Brother” is such a fine record. Lyrically, it's all gospel but numerous tracks sound straight out of the '60s soul bin. While that may sound foolish knowing it's a Daptone record, credit Cliff Driver and the various Dap-Kings members that play on this record for really giving it a nice soundbed. Also, credit the Gospel Queens - Edna Johnson, Bobbie Jean Gant, and Cynthia Langston - as they really enliven the call-and-response with Shelton.

Driver, the musical director of the group, is a pianist who has backed numerous soul legends such as the R and B of R&B... Ruth Brown, Solomon Burke, and even had a stint in Latin music working with the Johnny Ortega Band. If you recognize the lead vocalist, it's because she appeared on the Desco 45 “41st St. Breakdown” by Naomi Davis and the Knights of Forty First Street and on The Sugarman Three's “Promised Land.”

The album was culled mainly from sessions in the summer of 2007 with some even predating that. The title track is the most secular of the material and has a distinct Daptone sound, which may be the reason why it was chosen as the lead single. Elsewhere “I'll Take The Long Road” and “I Need You To Hold My Hand” really dig deep into the gospel roots and are the two showcases on the album. The former leads with the same guitar lick as Cooke's “That's Where It's At” and is a slow gospel burner. Shelton sings with passion about walking side-by-side on her journey to redemption.

While she's not the firecracker that Sharon Jones is, Naomi exudes a confidence that more than makes up for the lack of sass. After all, who says you have to have attitude to make a good album? With the opening chords on “What Is This,” which resemble the opening of Cooke classic “A Change Is Gonna Come” (which is also the album closer), you get a sense that you'll be on a long but righteous road of glory. If you have a set of headphones for your walk, be sure to bring this album with you.

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Saturday, April 04, 2009

posted by O.W.

(As part of our 5th year anniversary, we're revisiting 20 key songs. This post was originally published on August 28, 2006).

Mighty Voices of Wonder: I Thank the Lord
From 7" (Revival, 197?). Also on Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal

(New comments:) On my recent NY trip, I picked this 7" up at Big City and not only did it mean the end of a nearly three year wait, the timing couldn't have been better.

To explain: this was the one single off the excellent Good God! compilation I really wanted; I just loved the sound of it and at the time, it didn't even dawn on me that the Mighty Voices of Wonder were covering Sam and Dave's big hit, "I Thank You." I just thought it was a sick gospel funk tune with a bangin' intro. Turns's a cover (so you know that'll score bonus points with me).

But more recently, I also realized that this 7" was recored at Double U Studios in Ecorse, MI, the focus of that incredible Downriver Revival comp I reviewed for NPR the other month. That just made the single all the more special and when I flipped through a stack of 45s at Big City and saw it sitting there, I just stared for a moment to make sure it really was it and then promptly said: I'll take this.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

posted by Eric Luecking

Bobby Cook & The Explosions: Untitled Jam
From Local Customs: Downriver Revival (Numero, 2009)

Shirley Ann Lee: How Can I Lose
From Local Customs: Downriver Revival (Numero, 2009)

The Numero Group has several offshoots within their canon of releases ranging from Eccentric Soul and Cult Cargo to Wayfaring Strangers. Their latest, Local Customs, focuses on custom studios from small areas. This set comprises songs from Ecorse, Michigan, a factory suburb of Detroit.

Many of the songs on the release are gospel recordings featuring members of the Church Of The Living God. These aren't always your grandma's songs of grace, though. While gospel has a long history of organ-based choral compositions, some of those recorded by Double U founder Felton Williams had an almost funky quality to them. If you take out the vocals on tracks such as Shirley Ann Lee's “How Can I Lose,” you have a very groove-based jam. Still, others such as the Pilgrim Wonders' “He Never Failed” vocally sound like R.H. Harris' Soul Stirrers pleas of redemption.

It's not all about the Lord on this set, though, as shown by the Organics very danceable “Foot Stumping” instrumental. With its steady backbeat, it's a guitar-driven track with traces of organ throughout. Elsewhere “Untitled Jam” has a bassline with a slick drumbreak midway through leading its way into some nice organ work and a funky little saxophone.

The really cool thing about Downriver Revival is the companion DVD. Ever wonder what it's like to go on an interview session with the Numero crew? Well you can digitally tag along with them while they interview Felton Williams. You also get to tour his studio, much of which he pieced together himself from various electronics parts! Instead of just seeing the finish product, you get to see a part of the Numero process unfold before your eyes. It's like going to a family reunion and hearing the stories firsthand instead of just reading about them. The second part of the DVD features numerous songs that did not make the CD – everything from completed songs to rough demos and other tinkering – giving you a further look into the breadth of the Ecorse sound.

This is by far the most complete packaging that Numero has put into a release yet, which is saying something considering their penchant for quality assurance. We can only hope that they continue to surprise us with extra goodies, not that the music selections haven't been enough, but adding in some of the best liner notes they've compiled yet along with the visuals in the DVD really put this one over the top.

Oliver adds: In case you missed it from the other week, I reviewed this comp for NPR's "All Things Considered." I also can't recommend it enough: an excellent anthology of the highest order.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

posted by O.W.

Perhaps the only thing as humbling as incredible music are people who share incredible music. That's why I'm always thankful that people like Matthew Africa have gotten into blogging - his "I Wish You Would" is a must-read; if you're not looking at his site at least as often as you check this one, you're missing out. After all, Matthew is dropping that AAA grade butter tracks like Michael Sardaby's "Welcome New Worth" and Frankie Beverly and the Butlers' "Love (Your Pain Goes Deep)" on the regular. If folks knew how hard it is to come by songs like that, you'd understand where the humbling comes in.

Along these lines: a truly, devastatingly humbling song is what some call face-melters:

It requires more of a song than to be merely "good" to qualify as a face-melter. It has to be something so unexpectedly awesome that its inherent greatness is enough to slough flesh off your skull (metaphorically speaking). Here's a trio of my favorites:

Black Rock: Yeah Yeah
From 7" (Selectohits, 197?)

Los Amaya: Caramelo A Kilo
From 7" (Sabor, 1972)

New Hope: Godofallofus
From Godofallofus (Light, 197?). Also on Strange Breaks and Mr. Thing.

Most people were introduced to Black Rock's thunderous "Yeah Yeah" thanks to the now-legendary Chains and Black Exhaust mix-CD from 2002 and I had been put up on it a couple years earlier by DJ Om. The face-melt part comes partly from how the song opens so enigmatically, with its deep, booming "Blaaaaaaaack Rooooooooock" and those strings that build towards the unexpected hammer drop of piano, guitar and drums that come crashing in at about 30 seconds in. Hold ya head! This is still one of the best funk instrumentals I've ever heard (in fact, if you got ones that top it, comment please and share the wealth of knowledge).

"Caramelo A Kilo" is a bit of flamenco funk from a pair of Barcelona brothers. I can't quite tell if "Caramelo A Kilo's" origins are Spanish or Afro-Cuban (I'm inclined to say the latter) but regardless, Los Amaya give the song the rumba catalana make-over with those wicked gypsy guitars, heavy bongo beats and a swinging set of vocals: the sonic embodiment of caliente. Way too short at less than two minutes!

As for "Godofallofus"...*whistle* I've heard plenty of excellent gospel funk but New Hope finds some next level with a song that sounds like it was made for hip-hop use, just 30 years ahead of time. Those drums! That tuba! Those horns! Those crazy, Hair-era arrangements and ARP synths. As DJ Format and Mr. Thing knew to call it: Holy. Sh--. This whole song is one long mind-blower. (Props to Young Einstein for the hook-up on this LP).

You feel the heat yet?

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

posted by O.W.

Nat Townsley Jr. and the Lighthouse Ensemble: Sunshine of My Shoulders
Nat Townsley Jr. and the Lighthouse Ensemble: I Know Love
From I Fell In Love With God (Peacock, 1975)

Asked...and ye shall receive.

By popular demand, people wanted to hear the full version of Nat Townsley Jr. and the Lighthouse Ensemble's "Sunshine On My Shoulder" - perhaps one of the last songs you'd ever predict would get a gospel makeover but Townsley Jr. and crew do a marvelous job with drenching this song in suitably sunny joy and verve. This is what I love about gospel soul...despite being a devout agnostic (if not reluctant atheist), I appreciate how gospel aims for the transcendent and ecstatic. After all, if you're trying to commune with God through music, ain't no half steppin'!

That's not to say every gospel soul song works aesthetically but they do tend to aspire towards the big and bold and you can certainly say that about both "Sunshine on My Shoulder," as well as "I Know Love" which is on the B-side of the same album. I can't say I enjoy the entirety of its 6+ minutes but there's that long passage that begins around 2:30 that is this high point you want to stay inside as long as possible.

(Btw, for people who care about this sort of thing - this album had two pressings. The original features a picture of the group standing around. The second pressing, which I see more often, has a green cover with a picture of only Townsley on there. Same tracklisting, just a later pressing. Geeks take note).

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

posted by O.W.

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 ""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.

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