Pre-War gospel is one of the most emotively charged forms of expression in the American musical diaspora. There’s something indescribably moving about a singer or congregation shouting out devotion to a higher spirit regardless of denomination. It’s a music that communicates across religious, social and demographic boundaries and can stir the emotions in sanctified and secular listeners alike. The cross-section of styles and artists tied together on this recent Catfish compilation demonstrates beautifully how such music can transcend earthly ascribed cultural boundaries and speak to a larger purpose.
Twenty-one selections explore a the myriad of traditions, but the emphasis remains firmly planted in African American strains of religious expression. Accompaniment ranges from lone acoustic guitar, as in the case of Gary Davis, to the calliope-like sounds of Washington Phillips homemade dulceola, but vocals are commonly the driving force behind the songs. Topics range from temperance (“Drinking Shine”) to Holy Ghost fever (“I’m On the Way to the Kingdom Land”) and a whole host of faiths are represented. One strange omission is the dearth of Blind Willie Johnson, one of the most powerful and protean gospel stylists of the Pre-War era. Fortunately folks like Blind Reverend Gary Davis and Charley Patton make strong appearances to at least partially fill the gap left by his absence. The handful of holiness vocal groups that testify shared devotion through richly shaped harmonies are also of high interest. Other artists like the lone Blind Joe Taggert prefer the solitary pulpit voicing their commitment to God with simple guitar and rousing voice. These are truly timeless sounds, fully charged with spirit and conviction, two increasingly rare qualities in today’s music. The generous appearance of both here makes these recordings all the more valuable.
Catfish on the web: http://www.catfishrecords.co.uk/