Category Archives: Gospel

Joyful for Jesus: The Radio Four

The Gospel Singers

The Gospel Singers

The Radio Four a jubilee gospel group from the southern United States recorded on the famous Nashboro label beginning in 1952. The group, as its name suggests, got started singing on the radio station WBDL out of Bowling Green, Kentucky. Oddly, the group was a collective of 5 brothers: Ray, James, Claude, George and Morgan Babb.   The last, was the guitarist and ‘substitute’ singer but soon became the lead voice of the group and probably the most highly regarded and best known of the brothers.

That’s about the sum of the information we have on this group but there are more snippets to be found here and there such as this article on the powerhouse Nashboro label out of Nashville, Tennessee.

I picked this record up in a second hand shop in Brussels last year and have only recently started listening to it. My verdict is that it is solid and full of pleasure and uplift (but then, I’m a sucker for gospel music).

If you are too then you’ll definitely enjoy the Radio Four.

Hallelujah!

There's Gonna Be Joy

Track Listing:

01 An Earnest Prayer

02 If You Miss Me From Praying

03 How Much I Owe

04 Building A Home

05 I Feel The Spirit

06 The Road’s Rocky

07 There’s Gonna Be Joy

08 That’s All I Need

09 The Road’s Rough And Rocky

10 How About You

11 When He Calls

12 Whisper To Jesus

13 I Received My Blessings

14 One More River

15 What He’s Done For Me

16 Walk Around My Bedside

17 Jesus Never Left Me Alone

18 What Kind Of Man Jesus Is

19 In My Father’s House

20 Believe In Every Word He Says

21 On My Journey Now

22 One Day

23 Heaven Is My Goal

24 Jesus Is Your Friend

R4

Hallelujah Bob! It’s Your 74th Birthday

Bob Dylan as Black Man

Bob Dylan 

Yesterday was Sunday. It was also Bob Dylan’s 74th birthday. So even though today is Monday and it is no longer Dylan’s birth anniversary, it seems still appropriate and interesting to combine Sunday+BobBirthday to get the record we share tonight: the Gospel songs of Dylan as rendered by some of America’s finest African American gospel singers.

Now I know Bob’s ‘Jesus’ phase is spurned by many of his hardcore fans. It is seen as a dangerously close to career ending diversion. They point to the most acidic and judgmental of his lyrics, the poor production quality of the records and a general ‘holier than thou’ attitude that no matter where it comes from is not pleasant to be on the receiving end of.

I grew up a born again (and again, and again and again) evangelical Christian. When Slow Train Coming appeared in the stores this was like a hand from heaven. JUSTIFICATION and CONFIRMATION straight from on high that HE EXISTED. And that JESUS really was THE WAY. We listened to the album with reverence receiving from it the same authority we got from the Gospels themselves. Or from the Old Testament prophets. And even though I was not courageous enough to say so out loud, I was smirking inside. “WE got him! He’s on OUR side! You’re the losers!”

I loved (and still do) Slow Train Coming. Shot of Love was harder to stomach, even for true believers like myself. Saved grew on me and is now one of my favorite Dylan outings.   And when Dylan entered his terrible 80s with one panned album after another, the Jesus messages were harder and harder to point to. Which about coincided with my own wandering from the Church and Faith of my fathers. So all in all I’ve always enjoyed Bob’s gospel stuff. At its best it deserves as much admiration as any of his post 1974 stuff. (The bad stuff is indeed quite bad but there is far less of that than conventional wisdom allows).

Although I no longer consider Jesus to be a personal savior of mine or anyone’s I have never considered stop listening to Gospel music. And so when I spied this second hand CD in a Brussels shop last year I shelled out the outrageous amount of Euros to the weasly Belgian behind the counter. The idea of having genuine gospel artists turn their interpretive skills to Dylan’s Christian corpus was absolutely spot on. The only question is why did it take nearly 30 years for some company to compile a collection?

This collection opens with a cracker version of You Gotta Serve Somebody by the scarily powerful Shirley Ceasar. Originally included in the Mask and Anonymous soundtrack, this version crackles and snaps with intensity. If you want to know what ‘pushy’ means, listen to this. Dylan’s original is down right laconic and slack mouth by comparison.

The next few selections are good but hardly anything to shout Hallelujah about. Things start to get interesting with the Fairfield Four’s Are You Ready from the Saved! Album. Sounding like something you’d hear on the radio in the 1940s, this a cappella rendition is mighty and moving. From this point onwards each track gives the original something new and comes to even the seasoned fan (me) as fresh and arresting it its own right. Aaron Neville’s falsetto warbling on Saving Grace is heavenly and the Sounds of Blackness Solid Rock keeps the arrangement of the original but adds a choir singing lead which adds a broader dimension to the song. The highpoint without a doubt is the tremendous and spine tingling interpretation of Pressing On. Full gospel choir in 5th gear in a song about hope and faith that has to be considered one of the best gospel songs ever written by anyone anywhere. Another highpoint is Allen Rance Group’s complete reworking of When He Returns. Stunning in its majesty and elegance and beauty.

Dylan and Mavis vamp it up before ramping it up in the closing cut allowing Dylan to have the final word.

Where are the adjectives to describe this music? You find them as you listen to it.

Gotta Serve Somebody - The Gospel Songs Of Bob Dylan

Track Listing:

01 Gotta Serve Somebody [Shirley Ceasar]

02 When You Gonna Wake Up [Lee Hamilton & Spiritual QCs]

03 I Believe in You [Dottie Peoples]

04 Are You Ready [The Fairfield Four]

05 Solid Rock [Sounds of Blackness]

06 Saving Grace [Aaron Neville]

07 What Can I Do For You? [Helen Baylor]

08 Pressing On [Chicago Mass Choir]

09 Saved [The Mighty Clouds of Joy]

10 When He Returns [Rance Allen Group]

11 Gonna Change My Way of Thinking [Bob Dylan and Mavis Staples]

Happy Birthday

Hundred Years On: Sister Rosetta Tharpe

A full century ago yesterday one of the most original and distinct voices in American gospel and blues music was born: Sister Rosette Tharpe.  I’ve put some of my favorite selections of her singing and playing together for you and a link to a good article on her from the good folks at Fusion.

rosetta tharp

Track Listing:

01 Family Prayer

02 Precious Lord

03 Rock Me No. 2

04 Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child

05 Didn’t It Rain

06 Down by the Riverside

07 I’m in His Care

08 That’s All

09 Can’t No Grave Hold My Body Down

10 Nobody Knows, Nobody Cares

11 Pure Religion

12 Heaven Is Not My Home

13 There Is Something Within Me

14 How About You

15 What’s the News

16 Up Above My Head There’s Music In The Air

17 My Journey To The Sky

18 I Claim Jesus First

19 Sit Down

20 Vacation in the Sky

21 99 1/2 Won’t Do

22 Forgive Me Lord and Try Me One More Time

23 Strange Things Happening Every Day

Sister!

Righteous Indignation: The Alpha Band

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In the summer of 1980, in Minneapolis, I spent several weeks painting a couple houses with my elder brother. The houses were on the north side while I lived in Southeast. To get back and forth I rode a bike and listened to music on the first iteration of the Sony Walkman. Among the tapes I listened to was one that was filled with a couple of Alpha Band albums.

That summer also happened to be a period of horrific mental anguish for me. As the pain grew more acute I sough refuge in the faith of my childhood. Evangelical Christianity is a very powerful psychological drug, which is not to say that it is entirely terrible. As anyone who has used drugs knows, all narcotics have their positive attributes. Anyway, in an effort to escape the hurt I was feeling I delved deep into the Bible and long sessions of prayer. These practices, as it turned out did little to help. And what I didn’t know at the time was that my emotional crisis marked the beginning of the end of my Christian faith.

My brother had given me the Alpha Band tapes with the straight forward endorsement that ‘they were an interesting band’. The music I heard was definitely unusual and challenging for my tastes at the time. The violin seemed to have displaced the guitar as the central string instrument and the lead singer’s voice was nasally and slightly tremulous. But the lyrics were what really grabbed my troubled soul and unsatisfied mind.

The poetry seemed to give echo to the surging powerful currents inside of me. They were forthright, confronting, angrily arrogant and accusative. Accusing the listener of being co-opted by the deception of money, power and moral corruption. As a spiritually desperate young man steeped in the Bible it was obvious The Alpha Band were musical Jeremiahs, prophesying doom and calling a generation to repentance. The Alpha Band sang only of black and white while my entire world was uncertain grey. I longed for what they had: the clarity, the certainty, the faith.

The Alpha Band was my introduction to T-Bone Burnett, who some claimed/accused of ‘converting Bob Dylan to Christianity’. As major players in Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, the members of the Alpha Band were all crack musicians but no missionaries. When the Revue wrapped up, Burnett, David Mansfield and Steven Soles, were touted by the industry moguls as a sure money spinner but within 2 years of being offered a 6 million dollar contract in 1976, had only delivered two flop records. Musically, lyrically and intellectually their music was intricate, fascinating and accomplished but the records were duds in the dollar department nonetheless. As a last hurrah, they made The Statue Makers of Hollywood, which indeed, can be read as a prophetic rant against injustice, artistic disappointment and the deceptive glitter of the music industry.

In a four star review, All Music Guide, says:

In 1978, two years and two albums after being touted as the next big thing by Clive Davisthe Alpha Band was in its final days. For its swansong, the Christian leanings of Spark in the Dark, which was “humbly offered in the light of the triune God,” became more overt, while their sound became more eccentric. And with a pair of commercial flops under their belt, there was little chance that the group’s idiosyncrasies and pious rants were going to reverse the trend this time out. But, this band — especiallyT-Bone Burnett — was seemingly on a mission, both musically and philosophically. The opener, the Old Testament synopsis “Tick Tock,” sets the stage, with its tales of temptation, sinners, false idols, wrath, and even mercy. The condemnation of this “Perverse Generation” (a song title) that follows over the next three tracks may appear overly moralistic and harsh, but in the context of cuts like “Tick Tock,” the repentant “Back in My Baby’s Arms Again,” and Hank Williams‘ joyful “Thank God,” it seems merely overzealous. Lyrical content aside, this may be the band’s most interesting, challenging, and eclectic music yet. “Rich Man” is awash in percussion, horns, and gospel voices, with David Mansfield‘s mandolin darting in and out, while Steven Soles‘ “Two Sisters” has the feel of a Middle Eastern folk dance, and the two songs that close the album are rooted in Memphis and Nashville. The unifying factor throughout is Mansfield, whose violin, mandolin, dobro, and guitar bring a surprising cohesiveness to Statue Makersthe Alpha Band seemed to know that this would be their last hurrah, and figured that they might as well make some noise on the way out. This is the sound of a band stretching its creative legs for the last time.

Is this music anymore relevant? Is it worth sharing nearly 40 years after it was made? Well, that’s for you to judge I guess. But I still listen to this record because even though I no longer see the world through Christian eyes, there is still truth aplenty here. And the musicianship is outstanding and just as fresh and interesting as when it was first recorded.

Try it if you dare!

The Statue Makers of Hollywood

Track Listing:

Back In My Baby’s Arms Again

Mighty Man

Perverse Generation

Rich Man

Thank God

Tick Tock

Two People In The Modern World

Two Sisters

alPHa

Richmond Virginia’s: Harmonizing Four

The Harmonizing Four (with a fifth!)

The Harmonizing Four (with a fifth!)

In my father’s and mother’s house music was sacred, which is not to say that it was always religious music that got played on the stereo. It means that music was valued; my sister and brothers were taught that listening to music and playing music was something worthy to pursue because it was one of God’s great gifts to humans. Music was an art, a refined expression of the human seeking and connecting with the divine.

That conviction has remained with me over the years and applies just as truly to Bob Dylan, soukous, ghazals, honky tonk as much as it does to overtly religious music.

As it so happens today the Washerman’s Dog is hungry for some sweet black gospel music. This record began playing late last night and has not stopped all day. It is simple music, sung in tight harmony, accompanied by the barest of instruments and with the most profound and heartfelt message. Get Right with God.

The Harmonizing Four were a gospel singing group out of Richmond, Virginia. Never trustful of the music industry or its trends, they stuck to a tried&true model of singing straight-ahead gospel songs in a style that was popular in the 40s and 50’s. As the 60s and 70s came along, they didn’t deviate from their formula. A wonderful combination of tenor (John Scott) lead held up by a deep bass profundo (Willie Peyton), the group also included a certain Lonnie Smith, the father of the giant of the acid jazz keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith!

I don’t want to say too much more because this music deserves simply to be heard again and again. The only thing I add is that their version of Where He Will Lead is about the prettiest thing I’ve heard in many a year.

cover

Track Listing:

01 I Found the Lord

02 Come over Here

03 Amazing Grace

04 Joy in the Beulah Land

05 I Started in Jesus

06 This Wicked Race

07 Mother’s Prayer

08 Give My Heart to Jesus

09 Beyond the Sunset

10 I’ll Go Lord Send Me

11 King Jesus Will Roll the Clouds Away

12 I Trust in God

13 Lord, I’m Coming Home

14 Say a Word

15 Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown

16 Where He Leads Me

17 Jesus Us a Friend to Everyone

18 Let God Abide

19 I Shall Not Be Moved

20 Protect My Loved Ones

21 Keep Me All the Way

22 Working for the Lord

23 Stand by Me

24 Lift Every Voice and Sing

H 4

Innocence and Dissonance: Isaiah Owens

Isaiah Owens

Isaiah Owens

Musical expression does not correspond in equal or even rough proportion to musical ability.  More important than the ability to master an instrument is having something to say. But even that ability is not sufficient. It is knowing how to work with and within your limitations that makes the difference.

 

Louis Armstrong is considered not only the first jazz revolutionary because he found a new way to play the trumpet but because he broke the accepted mode of singing wide open.  In the words of one critic Armstrong had the greatest influence on American popular singing of any other artist.  He was able to use his husky unschooled very limited vocal range to express deep pathos and sublime joy and every feeling in between.  Without Armstrong that other ‘great’ American singer Dylan would have been a writer of other singers songs, not one of the most vital performers of the last century.

Isaiah Owens, is another stellar example of this phenomenon.

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This gospel music has the qualities both of innocent discovery as well as the wisdom of haunted experience.  Not like anything you’ve heard before.

isaiah owens front isaiah owens back

 

Track Listing:

01 You Without Sin.

02 Jesus Will Provide.

03 I’ll Fly Away.

04 If It Wasn’t For The Lord.

05 Slip In & Tip In.

06 Prayer Wheel.

07 I’ve Been Down To The Water.

08 Everything Will Be Alright.

09 Yes Jesus Loves Me.

10 Cheerful Angels Commercial.

11 I Wonder Do You Know.

12 Wake Me, Shake Me.

13 Nobody’s Fault But Mine.

14 Heaven Must Be A Beautiful Place.

15 God Bless Our Love.

16 I’ve Decided That Jesus Is My Choice.

17 He Is Real In My Soul.

18 If I’ve Done Anything Wrong.

✚✚★

Marking a Milestone: 100 R&B and Gospel Gems

2 dunham

Third instalment of the Washerman’s Dog Anniversary Edition commemorating 700 posts is ready for your enjoyment.  In this instalment you will find 100 juicy, emotion-drenched and intense tracks from the R&B, gospel, soul and funk side of town.

 

Please enjoy!

Hold Me Baby

Track Listing: Hold Me Baby

01 Stand By Me [Aaron Neville]

02 I Need Someone [The Wallace Brothers]

03 Contradiction [Total Experience]

04 One Is The Magic # (Redux) (Live) [Jill Scott]

05 It’s Too Late [The Isley Brothers]

06 Cadillac Jack [Andre Williams]

07 Marvellous [The Jungle Band]

08 On Fire [The Transatlantics]

09 If Loving You Is Wrong I Don’t Want to Be Right [Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland]

10 Break Up To Make Up [Cecil Holmes Soulful Sounds]

11 Cryin’ [J.I. Henderson]

12 Ring Bell, Ring Bell [Mariam Makeba]

13 Hush [The Blind Boys of Alabama]

14 African Hustle [Mombasa]

15 I Don’t Worry about a Thing [Mose Allison]

16 Love & Happiness [Mr.President]

17 Alluswe [Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson]

18 Make It Funky [James Brown]

19 Heaven [Ebo Taylor]

20 California Dreamin’ [Eddie Hazel]

21 (I’ll Know) When True Love Really Passes By [The Ebonys]

22 ‘S Wonderful [Ella Fitzgerald]

23 Bad News, Bad Times [Marion Williams]

24 Billie Jean [Eric B & Rakim]

25 Here Come the Girls [Ernie K. Doe]

26  Jan Jan [The Fabulous Counts]

27 The Rockafeller Skank [Fatboy Slim]

28 Hold Me Baby [Albert Washington]

29 That Thing Called Love [Ray Charles]

30 Losing You [Dusty Springfield]

31 My Soul Has Got To Move [Cleophus Mabone & The Dixie Wonders]

32 Ooh Child [Edwin Hawkins Singers]

33 Never Knew Love Like This [Alexander O’Neal]

 

You Can Make It

Track Listing: You Can Make It

01 How I Got Over [Aretha Franklin]

02 If You Believe Your God Is Dead, Try Mine [The Swan Silvertones]

03 New York Lightning [The Voices of East Harlem]

04 Glory to the Newborn King [Angelic Gospel Singers]

05 Stumblin’ blocks, steppin’ stones (What took me so long) [Joshie Jo Armstead]

06 Thank You, Lord [Alvin Dockett and Blessed]

07 This Old World Is Going Down [Modulations]

08 Jesus Paid the Debt [Sam Cooke with the Soul Stirrers]

09 Jesus Is a Friend to Everyone [The Harmonizing Four]

10 You Can Make It [Shirley Caesar]

11 Young Hearts Run Free [Candi Staton]

12 What Kind of Man is This [The Caravans]

13 In the Ghetto [Rev. James Cleveland]

14 Oh Babe (Live) [Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley]

15 Mama Don’t Allow It [Julia Lee]

16 23rd Psalms [Junior Delgado]

17 Nobody’s Fault But Mine [The Staple Singers]

18 All These Things To Me [The Stars of Virigina]

19 Lean On Me [Live] [Bill Withers]

20 (You Keep Me) Hanging On [Ann Peebles]

21 God Shiva [Me’shell Ndegeocello]

22 Loungin’ (feat. Donald Byrd) [Guru]

23 Affirmation [George Benson]

24 Peace Be Still [Rev. James Cleveland]

25 Where Do I Go From Here [Rev. Julius Cheeks & The Four Knights]

26 I’m Going to Live the Life I Sing About in My Sing [Mahalia Jackson]

27 Dragnet For Jesus [Sister Wynona Carr]

28 Up Above My Head There’s Music In The Air [Sister Rosetta Tharpe]

29 Outside Looking In [Jimmy McGriff]

30 Chained In The Mind [Joe Tex]

31 A Losing Battle [Johnny Adams]

32 I Thank You Lord [Little Chris & The Righteous Singers]

33 Ekoléya [Angelique Kidjo]

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Black Magic Woman

Track Listing: Black Magic Woman

01 Funkanova [Los Charly’s Orchestra]

02 You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine [Lou Rawls]

03 Midnight Creeper [Lou Donaldson]

04 Dancin’ In An Easy Groove [Lonnie Smith]

05 Lalo Caught Me Dancin’ [Llorca]

06 Arabian Song (Da Ghetto Fuckiro Club) [Livin’ in da Ghetto]

07 Who Will Be the Next Fool [Little Jimmy Tyson and the Highway Robbers]

08 Living In The Ghetto [Gamut of Crime]

09 Chicken Run [Speedometer]

10 Could It Be I’m Falling In Love [The Spinners]

11 Crime To Be Broke In America [Spearhead]

12 All The Bass [Spatial Disco]

13 Say it Aint So [The Sound Stylistics]

14 Why Black Man Dey Suffer [Fela Kuti]

15 Goin’ To See My Baby [Fatback Bank]

16 Get Funky (edit) [The Cannibals]

17 Funky Hot Grits [Rufus Thomas]

18 Ain’t No Runnin Away [Willie Washington & Paula Ralph]

19 I Shall Be Released [Marion Williams]

20 Money Jungle [Black Star, Ron Carter and John Patton]

21 Spontaneous Simplicity [Sun Ra]

22 Run On Home And Live With God [Soul Satisfiers of Philadelphia]

23 Black Magic Woman [Orchester Huge Strasser]

24 Live Right Now [Eddie Harris]

25 Pull Man [Marks Mankwane and His Band]

26 Johnny Too Bad [The Slickers]

27 Am I Black Enough for You? [Billy Paul]

28 Shake Your Hips [Slim Harpo]

29 I Got Soul [Skeewiff]

30 Gotta Serve Somebody [Shirely Caesar]

31 Make it Raggae [Shark Wilson and the Basement Heaters]

32 Soul Serenade (Live) [Aretha Franklin and King Curtis]

33 She is the Sea [Anthony Joseph and the Spasm Band]

34 A Love Vibration [Ann Peebles]

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