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Honey-sweet contemporary gospel has saturated the market with a brand of testimony that's so smooth and over-produced that it loses track of its roots in the church. However, nobody will accuse Isaiah Owens of Montgomery, Alabama of sanding down the rough edges. Owens sang for four decades with Montgomery's Flying Cloudsbut he only picked up the guitar around age fifty, and he now concentrates on solo performance. And between the singing and the picking, he's put together a sound that feels as deep as Southern gospel's roots extend into American music.
The eighteen tracks on You Without Sin Cast The First Stone bear witness to Jesus and the spirit of the Lord, unhesitating in their heartfelt soul. Isaiah Owens doesn't believe in polish or accuracy, especially in his guitar playing, that's for sure. And given that more than half of these tracks were recorded from WMGY AM radio broadcasts or in the WMGY studio, they're not exactly stellar in sonic fidelity. But as Owens declares fourteen minutes into the record, "people don't do like they used to do... they don't sing like they used to sing." And that's the truth. As radio host Ann Talbert testifies, "That feeling make you feel right, hallelujah, make you wanna shout some times."
Owens' often tremulous voice lies low in the tenor range and then leaps up when he shouts the Word, creating tension and release and clearly emphasizing where the weight lies. His guitar accompaniment consists of simple fluttering chords with embellishments, and to be honest it's impossible to pin down anyone who sounds quite so raw and direct. No blues cliches here. Among the eighteen tracks (including four extras for the first 2000 copies sold) are four taken radio broadcasts, six 4-track recordings from the radio studio (including accompaniment and words from Talbert), and eight 4-track recordings from the Alabama Center for Traditional Culture. The latter collection has the best sound quality, but Owens plays his guitar plenty loud in every case, not to mention distorted and and often out of tune.
Your heart has to be open to the Lord, your spirit has to fly free in the old school church tradition, and you have to be tolerant of a great deal of roughness around the edgesand Isaiah Owens will speak volumes. Otherwise go back to the mainstream and stick with the easy spoon-sized portions.
Track Listing: 1. You Without Sin
2. Jesus Will Provide
3. I'll Fly Away
4. If It Wasn't For The Lord
5. Slip In & Tip In
6. Prayer Wheel
7. I've Been Down To The Water
8. Everything Will Be Alright
9. 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. Plus 15-18. bonus tracks with first 2000 copies: God Bless Our Love; I've
Decided That Jesus Is My Choice; He Is Real In My Soul; If I've Done Anything Wrong.
Personnel: Isaiah Owens - guitar and lead vocals;
Ann Talbert - vocals and testimony;
Clarence Campbell - MC.