Various Artists: Fire In My Bones: Raw, Rare & Otherworldly African-American Gospel 1944-2007
Fire In My Bones: Raw, Rare & Otherworldly African-American Gospel 1944-2007
Tompkins Square Records
"Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay." Jeremiah 20:9 (KJV)
Mention gospel music and the average listener will think the Gaither Family. Others will consider the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet or Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers. Still others will cite the Five Blind Boys from Alabama, Andre Crouch and the Disciples or any number of mass choirs. None of these appear on the various artists' compilation Fire In My Bones: Raw, Rare & Otherworldly African-American Gospel 1944- 2007 and that is just the beginning of the good news. This collection of 60 years worth of recorded gospel music is the freshest breeze to blow through music since the re-release of the 1920s recordings of Charlie Patton, Son House and Skip James. But this breeze is not a cool one, no. It is hot and corrosive. Pentecost ain't pretty and God's love can be a terrible one.
The assembly of this set, like the music it presents, is a labor of love. The Northwest's gospel equivalent of Gayle Dean Wardlow, Mike McGonigal, plowed through acres of field recordings, regional label offerings and major commercial statements, from Los Angeles to the deep South, while drawing this collection together. McGonigal's original intention was to document the street preacher and "sanctified blues" tradition that blossomed in the 1920s and 1930s as it evolved into the present, much in the same way as Paul Oliver did with his Saints and Sinners (Document, 1994) and guitarist John Fahey with American Primitive Vol. 1: Raw Pre-War Gospel (Revenant, 1997). As he listened, McGonigal found his original premise too restricting, and so allowed his project to sprawl into the present extended "sampler."
Fire In My Bones is divided into three worship themes over three discs: "The Wicked Shall Cease From Troubling," "God's Mighty Hand" and "All God Power Store." It presents at least a dozen black gospel traditions. One that is amply illustrated is the relationship of gospel to the blues. Author Ted Gioia wrote at length about the conflict between the sacred and the profane in his Delta Blues: The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters Who Revolutionized American Music, a conflict that will forever wed the gospel with the blues. The listener need not to step in too deep to realize this. The blues and gospel are more than just simple kissing cousins, they have an intimate, even carnal, knowledge of one another that is too hot to touch and too urgent to resist.
The crazy lust relationship between the two genres is no better heard than in Elder Beck's 1956 "Rock and Roll Sermon," featuring Rev. Beck's scathing soliloquy on rock music, ironically fueled by Chuck Berry's demon brother playing some inspired guitar. Sister Ola Mae Terrell's 1948 recording of "How Long" reaches even further back. Terrell plays a sophisticated, if out-of-tune slide guitar that is a direct descendant of that heard on Blind Willie Johnson's 1920s-1930s Columbia and Vocalion recordings. Johnson's influence on the music in the collection cannot be understated; his spirit infuses every solo performance here. The slide guitar, and in some cases, lap-steel guitar (Rev. Lonnie Harris' 1963 "Peace in the Valley" and Brother Willie Eason's 1951 "I Want to Live"), act as the cement between the blues and this sanctified gospel.
Several blues musicians make appearances here, most notably New Orleans native Snooks Eaglin, whose percussive guitar style is well captured on a 1963 recording of "Riverside" made by musicologist Harry Oster. "Mississippi" Fred McDowell, while not a direct contributor, is spiritually present in the Two Gospel Keys' 1946 recording of "You've Got to Move," a song often credited to McDowell and recorded by the Rolling Stones. Rev. John Wilkins' 2007 recording summons McDowell's spirit by being recorded in Hunters Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Como, Mississippi, where McDowell recorded his album Amazing Grace (Hightone Records, 1966/1994) and where Wilkins is in 2010 the pastor. Wilkins has further blues bona fides by being the son of Robert Wilkins.
For all of the influential guitar playing (the Rolling Stones = 3894' guitarist Keith Richards spent a summer at Nellcote trying to approximate the Rev. Roger L. Worthy's 1965 "Get Back Satan") and the breadth of gospel styles presented, it is the simplest performances that are the most arresting. In 1983, Nancy Nusz recorded members of the Madison County Senior Citizen Center in Florida singing an unaccompanied "Wasn't That a Mystery" that should define sincerity. This is the essence of field recording; music made spontaneously by the unknown. Flora Molton's 1970 recording of "I Heard Through the True Vine" captures one of the last blind street singers in full blossum. A picture of Molton plying her craft is found in the liner notes. She is on a Washington DC street corner, playing a huge Stella acoustic guitar, slide on her left ring finger, harmonica at her lips, tip bucket hanging from the G-peg.
Fire In My Bones: Raw, Rare & Otherworldly African-American Gospel 1944- 2007 is one the most important archival collection released in this new century. Whether a believer or not, this music is necessary to understand every one from Son House to Horace Silver to the Rolling Stones to the White Stripes.
Tracks & Artists: CD1: Peace in the Valley / Rev. Lonnie Farris; Rock and Roll Sermon; If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again; I'm a Soldier / The Phillips' Specials; How Long; Better Get Ready / Elder R. Wilson & Family; So Glad / Rev. Robert Ballinger; Wasn't That a Mystery / Madison County Senior Center Singers; When the Saints Go Marching In; Get Back Satan / Rev. Roger L. Worthy & His Sister Bonnie Woodstock; I Got a Telephone in My Bosom; I Made a Vow to the Lord / Rev. Steward & Family; You've Got to Move (When the Lord Gets Ready) / Two Gospel Keys; Down by the Riverside; Stand by Me / Sister Mathews; The Wicked Shall Cease from Troubling / Nathaniel Rivers; That's Alright (Since My Soul Has Got a Seat Up in the Kingdom); Why Sorrow Done Passed Me Around / Georgia Fife and Drum Band; Don't Let Him Ride / Mississippi Nightingales; He's Coming Back; By His Word / The Holmes Sisters; Where Could I Go / Lucille Barbee; Stand by Me; I'll Never Turn Back / Shelby Bransford Jr;. You Without Sin Cast the First Stone; Storm Thru Mississippi / Henry Green; I'm Pressing On / Brother Willie Blue.
CD2: Jesus' Blood; Glory Glory Hallelujah; John Saw / Grant & Ella; Since He Touched Me; God's Mighty Hand / Utah Smith; What Can I Do Without the Lord / Ray Branch; Angels; The Truth in the Gospel / Goldie Haynes & Choir; Walk with Me / Rayborn Brothers Quintet; Spirit of the Lord / The Abraham Brothers; I've Got Heaven on My Mind / Hickory Bottom Harmoneers; In God's House / Sisters of Song; Does Jesus Care; If I Could Not Say a Word / Joe Townsend; Where the Sun Never Goes Down / Willie J. Williams; I Heard It Throught the True Vine / Flora Molton; Father, I Stretch My Arm to Thee / Rev. G.W. Killens & Mt. Calvary Congregation; Nobody Knows; How Much I Owe / The Radio Four; My Testimony; Prayer /I Love the Lord / Clear Creek Missionary Baptist Church Congregation Excerpt; Same Man; I Know I Got Religion / Andy Mosely; He's My Rock, My Sword, My Shield / Fannie Bell Chapman; Working on a Building / Rev. Louis Overstreet; Lord, Hold My Hand / True Loving Five; Fire Shed in My Bones.
CD3: Power Is the Heart of Man / Brother & Sister W.B. Grate; Don't Let the Devil Ride / Ike Gordon; Holy Rock / Reverend Billy H. Grady; Pray on, My Child; Jesus Is Sweet to Me / Sensational Skylights; I Want to Live (So God Can Use Me) / Willie Eason; I'm Just a Voice / Helen McGiver & The McGiver Singers; You Ought to Been There; You Better Get Ready; Help Me / Lula Collins; So Soon; /Rock Daniels / Bishop Eric McDaniels; The Very Last Mile; What God Can Do / Leon Pinson; Let the Redeemed Say So / Reverend John Wilkins; Sweet Home / E.L. Burtis; A Little Old Fashioned; How Long / Charles White; At a Time Like This (Pt. 1) / Isaac Haney & the Ebenezer Baptist Church Choir; God Rode in the Windstorm; Go Devil Go / Ira Mae Littlejohn; This Train; Victory Shall Be Mine / Straight Street Holiness Group; The Lord Is My Shepherd; Some Sweet Day / Bishop Perry Tillis; Swing Low.