What does it say about today’s music that this record, consisting of African-American gospel songs recorded between 1902 and 1954, sound fresher, more impassioned and “newer” than 95 percent of contemporary material?
For one thing, it says that less really is more when it comes to making a great song. Most of the songs on this 78-minute disc have very little instrumentation other than a lone acoustic guitar or a piano player. But the richness and energy and love in these songs exceed anything you’re likely to hear today.
There are some stunners on this album. In a song from 1927, Blind Mamie Forehand sings “Honey In The Rock” with her husband playing a blues line on guitar and while she bashes the shit out of a triangle.
Elder Charles Beck & His Congregation sings “Gabriel,” a version that anticipates the emergence of Fred Wesley and the JBs by 30 years. It features a wonderful trumpet line that reinforces the sacred message contained.
These songs are untainted by years of nostalgia or by media-fueled lionization. They’re just joyful noises made a century ago by long-forgotten musicians, some of them former slaves or the direct descendents of slaves.
You can hear the sounds that influenced later singers such as Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin and even Elvis Presley. More than that, they’re just great performances and great songs that are just now reaching a modern audience. Praise the Lord.