Tag Archives: Gospel

[159] The Caravans – The Best of The Caravans

29 Apr

I know I’m going to be recommending this recording about 10 seconds into the first track.


This is what I think of when I think of Gospel – fervor and phenomenal ability inextricably linked, outstanding talent married to energetic intent.  The vocals are so good, so searing and moving and committed.  The organ backing is so crisp and uplifting.

Everything is so bouncing and behaving.

More than anything, these songs confirm that I was correct in my assessment of The Abyssinian Baptist Choir way back near the start of this journey.  The Caravans clearly illustrate how Gospel should sound – there is just no reason or excuse for accepting any musically inferior imitation, historical importance be damned.

Not when I can hear soloist after soloist roaring and wailing their magnificent stuff, paving the way for the crossover to come.

Here is the sound that Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and so many others co opted into the secular world, changing music for the better.  Here is one of the most obvious influences on early Rock and Roll, and so eventually on all of my favorite artists, songs and sounds.

This is what it’s all about.  It’s so good I don’t even care that the performers are praising god.

Next Week:  James Carr – You Got My Mind Messed Up

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 159 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 159 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (133 of 159 = 84%)

[107] The Blind Boys of Alabama – Spirit of the Century

24 Apr

Talk about a genre I would never choose to listen to.  And the track record of the Gospel recordings on the list to date has not been good.  But the rich, experienced vocals and the wonderful musical choices of these artists make Spirit of the Century a pleasure to listen to.

Spirit of the Century

Spirit of the Century

The absolute standout track is the genius reorchestrating of “Amazing Grace” to the melody and backing of “House of the Rising Sun”.  It works far better than it has any right to.

New life, nuance and color is found in the familiar and at times overexposed classic, with an blues rock aesthetic providing an edge that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go.

This unexpected orchestration is a techniques used again and again here, with some tracks sounding like straight up Blues standards until the lyrics are factored in, holding attention and breathing life into a genre that so often seems to fall flat for me.

There is a modern sensibility, a cool swing throughout, highlighted by great blues guitar work and harmonica wailing that would stand out on any number of exceptional secular records.

I am somehow unsurprised when I learn that some of these songs of praise were in fact penned by Tom Waits and the Rolling Stones.

The vocals are all appropriately raw and worldly, but none more so than on “Run On For A Long Time”, where the singer rumbles and grumbles at almost sub-audial levels while the drums and close harmonies keep the whole thing moving forward.

I play this track again and again.

It just goes to show – if you want me (or anyone else for that matter) to listen to religious music, you need to put the music, not the religion, first . . .

Next Week:  Blondie – Parallel Lines

Owned before blogging? No. (10 of 107 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (16 of 107 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (88 of 107 = 82%)

[23] Marian Anderson – Spirituals

13 Sep

Of the 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 the 1,000 since Moon lists it as both . . .













Anderson’s instrument is undeniable, powerful and evocative and always fully under control. It is a clean and beautiful sound, technically perfect.

And many of the compositions are beyond familiar, childrens’ sing-alongs and schoolboy choir standards.

I fear I’m going to get a reputation, but for me the combination is almost unlistenable.

It is the worst of both worlds. The material simply isn’t interesting or complex enough to justify this extrodinary voice, and that voice is too old fashioned, too clipped and polished for the simple work songs.

I recognize the historical and socialogical importance of Anderson but out of context, in a purely musical setting, there is nothing here that excites me, that makes me want to keep listening.

This is the first time in the months of exploring these new and for the most part fascinating recordings that it is truly a struggle to get through the first listen. I would love to hear to her perform a genuinely Classical piece – or perhaps one of her performances at the Met Opera – but here is one recording I doubt I will ever listen to again after publishing this post.

I’m going to get a reputation.

Owned before blogging? No. (1 of 23. 4%)
Heard before blogging? No. (3 of 23. 13%)
Recommend? No. (18 of 23. 78%)

Next week: The Animals – House Of The Rising Sun

[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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