[4] The Abyssinian Baptist Choir – Shakin’ The Rafters

3 May

After 3 great recordings in a row, our first swing and a miss?

My brother pens an engrossing blog on books and reading.  Over 60-odd posts, I have noticed something interesting about his reviews.   The positive ones – where he explains what it is he sees in this obscure tome, or that overhyped bestseller – are more enjoyable to read than his posts detailing why he felt his time could have been better spent than on this particular work.

When I mentioned this to him, he acknowlegded that he felt the same, almost like he was cheating his readers, but that he had noticed something *even more* interesting.

Negative reviews get more hits and more comments.

Let’s hope that’s the case here so the time I spent listening to Shakin’ the Rafters isn’t a complete bust.


I like gospel music well enough.  I’m very much looking forward to the Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash gospel recordings coming up – in fact, I already own some of them.  The musical artistry, the excessive, expressive joy is uplifting.

But, despite Tom Moon’s assertion about the rhythm section being the star of this album, I found the recording muddy and amateur.  Both the piano and organ are buried in the mix, and the drums almost inaudible.  Worse, there is simply no clarity in the 120 piece choir.

Most frustrating of all are the performances by one soloist after another – they all exhibit the necessary fervor, but also a striking lack of technique.  Their voices are almost uniformly tired and pitchy by the middle of their 3+ minutes in the spotlight. This is a deal breaker for me when listening to “all time” recordings.

I gave the disc multiple chances, and will acknowledge that played quietly through computer speakers at work, there is a catchy, swinging feel to much of the music.  This was utterly lost for me when heard through headphones or better quality speakers – the recording and performances are simply not “good” enough.

As for the 3 previously unreleased tracks that end the disc, the reason they were initially left off is obvious.  For two and a half tracks, they are dirges without the passion that is the only redeeming feature (in my eyes) of the earlier tracks.  That the last track finally kicked back into an uptempo is far too little too late.

The compositions are repetitive and simplistic, which would bother me less if performed with more skill.  Live recordings can capture the spontaneity and electricity of musicians in the moment, warts and all – this one captures more warts than mere energy and enthusiasm can cover up.

For an alternate view, I asked my belting singer of a wife her opinion.  She immediately recognized and connected with this archetypal example of classic 60s gospel.  Like me she was less than thrilled with some of the caterwauling from the choir, but appreciated the live, spontaneous and somewhat raw nature of the performances from the soloists.

Seems that, as I’ve been told, “the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum.”

And, weeks after first hearing these songs, some of them (“Heaven Belongs To You” perhaps being the best example) have become lodged in my head as solidly as any pop earworm you care to mention, so perhaps Moon has something here after all, even if it’s not my cup of tea.

Perhaps not a swing and a miss, then.  Call it a foul tip?

Owned before blogging?  No.  (0 of 4.  0%)
Heard before blogging?   No.  (1 of 4.  25%)
Recommend?                No.  (3 of 4.  75%)

Next Week: AC/DC – Back In Black

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8 Responses to “[4] The Abyssinian Baptist Choir – Shakin’ The Rafters”

  1. Laurie Menke May 3, 2013 at 11:35 AM #

    I agree with you that the recording seems to be problematic. As you say, it’s just not good enough. I listened to a couple songs on YouTube, and it seems to me like this is a recording of a church congregation first, and a choir second. As a recording of a church congregation, it’s great! You can really get the feel of the fervor that’s in the room and the participation of the congregants. It makes you want to clap and dance yourself. And it sounds like possibly the choir is very good. You just can’t tell because you’re hearing it through the sounds of the congregation echoing in a room not meant for good acoustics. For example, in the song “He Stays in My Room,” when the singing actually starts at 2:07, the first thing you hear is a congregant (hopefully not choir member) singing very off key. That shouldn’t happen in a professional recording, but it happens all the time in a church. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yq6UlAz4108

    Thanks for the review, Avri! :o)

  2. Mike May 6, 2013 at 12:51 PM #

    Avri, nice review. At this stage in my listening I felt Moon was 2/4 (I was not a fan of Blu Blu Blu, but at that point it was probably the 2nd jazz album I had ever listened to, so maybe it deserves revisiting) because I agree with your assessment of the choir in this one. I just never got into it, especially when you compare it to some of the other gospel choices later in the book (Marian Anderson comes to mind as one coming up soon that I really enjoyed). Keep up the great insight and I hope you continue to find more that surprise you.

  3. nycavri May 6, 2013 at 12:56 PM #

    For those who don’t know, Mike is over 60% through his “1000 Recordings” blog! Well worth a read: http://recordingtherecordings.blogspot.com/

  4. nycavri December 4, 2014 at 8:02 AM #

    Reblogged this on . . . To Hear Before I Blog and commented:

    Throughout December I am going to revisit the first months of this journey, taking time at the end of this year to remember where I’ve been and what I’ve heard.


  1. [5] AC/DC – Back In Black | . . . To Hear Before I Blog - May 10, 2013

    […] just like that – after the cheesy pop and exotic world albums, the experimental jazz and mediocre gospel – we’re in my wheelhouse for the first time.  An album I already know.  An album I already […]

  2. [7] John Adams – The Death of Klinghoffer | . . . To Hear Before I Blog - May 24, 2013

    […] to date.  A couple of weeks in, I feel I have given it a real opportunity to change my mind (as Shakin’ the Rafters almost managed), but instead it becomes at first background music, later an irritation.  Perhaps […]

  3. [9] Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker | . . . To Hear Before I Blog - June 7, 2013

    […] shake, playing it at work, in bed, over dinner.  My wife, who disagreed with my conclusions on “Shakin’ the Rafters”, is utterly unimpressed with this album.  The pieces, looked at individually, should make for a […]

  4. [23] Marian Anderson – Spirituals | . . . To Hear Before I Blog - September 13, 2013

    […] four recordings I have failed to recommend to date, one was Classical, another Gospel. So it is with some trepidation that I start my exploration of Marian Anderson’s entry into […]

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