Various Artists – Fire In My Bones: Raw Rare + Otherworldly African-American Gospel (1944-2007)

January 01, 1970

(Tompkins
Square)

 

www.tompkinssquare.com

 

Where to start with this mighty tome of a release?
Here are the stats: Fire In My Bones features 78 tracks by 78 artists,
spread over three CDs. Recordings run from 1944 to 2007, although the newest
and the oldest and everything in between all sound pretty much equally archaic.
Each CD comes with a moniker for its 26 tracks: “The Wicked Shall Cease
from Troubling,” “God’s Mighty Hand,” and “All God Power
Store.” And the title is prescient: these are, truly, raw, rare and
(especially) otherworldly African-American gospel hymns, sermons, testaments,
fables, warnings, (im)morality tales and religious calls to arms.  A less self conscious selection of recordings
may not ever have been compiled.

 

Selections include almost every conceivable aspect of
African-American music in the last 50 + years: electric and acoustic blues,
specialized varieties of soul and jazz, R&B, big-beat gospel, church funk,
fife & drum marches, pulpit folk, and sanctified rock & roll that
preaches, most stridently, against rock & roll. I don’t think there’s any
reggae or hip hop, but at 78 tracks it’s hard to wrap your head around it all,
so I’m not really sure. The liner notes point out what it is not: a collection that highlights the
vast array of gospel quartets and solo vocalists that flourished from the end
of WWII well into the eras of rock ‘n’ roll, disco and funk.

 

So, what we have here is the stuff from the fringes,
the small label and non-label stuff, the stuff with less-to-no commercial
potential; the early punk rock equivalent of gospel recordings.  Is that Mike McGonigal I see there as the
archivist who put this mother together – Mike McGonigal of Yeti magazine notoriety?

 

Tracks seem to have been selected for maximum
emotional and spiritual impact and for the intensity and sometimes flat-out
strangeness of the performance, and what a selection it is. You can land on
virtually any track and immediately be pulled into a fever of fervor, a deep
well of faith and an outpouring of emoting of the most immediate kind. Ike
Gordon does dirty blues gospel on “Don’t Let The Devil Ride” and the
Amazing Farmer Singers of Chicago do beautiful gospel soul on “I Got a
Telephone in My Bosom.” Rev. Billy H. Grady rocks the faith on “Holy
Rock,” while Elder Beck preaches about the evil of rock & roll on
“Rock & Roll Sermon” while an unnamed guitar player rocks the
church in a way that would make Sun Records proud. Rev. Robert Ballinger
delivers sly, rocking piano and bass jazz on “So Glad,” while Little
Ax and the Golden Echos sound like a lost early ‘60s British R&B band on
“So Soon.” Truly, deeply eccentric sounds emote from the Madison
County Senior Center Singers doing “Wasn’t That a Mystery,” John
Boswell and the True Sounding Boswellettes “The Very Last Mile,” and
Flora Molton’s gloriously off-key “I Heard it Through the True Vine,”
which sounds like an outtake from Alex Chilton’s ramshackle Like Flies on
Sherbert
LP.

 

And then there’s the eye opening takes on some of the
best known church and gospel songs of the last 50 years; Precious Bryant’s version
of “When The Saint’s Go Marching In,” Snooks Eaglin’s “Down by
the Riverside,” Theotis Taylor’s “Swing Low”, Rev. Louis
Overstreet’s “Working on a Building,” Rev. Lonnie Farris’ lap-steel
version of “Peace In The Valley,” Napolian Strickland’s “Glory
Glory Hallelujah.” Even just perusing the songtitles is a step onto the
twin poles of sin and salvation that gospel hinges on: “Why Sorrow Done
Passed Me Around,” “Alright (Since My Soul has Got a Seat Up in the
Kingdom”), “I Want to Live (So God Can Use Me”), “Go Devil
Go,” “Fire Shed in My Bones.”

 

As an act of archiving, Fire In My Bones will
be hard to top. There’s not a moment on all three discs that’s less than
thrilling on some level, and there are some levels here that most music lovers
would never get close to unless they wandered into a rural church, prayer
meeting or revival. Fifty-plus years of almost unheard music is suddenly
accessible, all of it hair and soul raising. And the deliciously low-tech cover
and slightly cheeky liner notes convey a sense of awe and curiosity that is
decidedly more fannish and music lover than academic; this is music to be
experienced, not studied.

 

The search for and concept of authenticity in American
music has been ebbing and flowing for decades, and figures heavily in the
standard-setting archival releases from John Fahey’s Revenant label, Dust to
Digital Records, the reissue of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music and releases from several other
labels who are driving straight to the well for their water; or at least as
close as they can get from a half to three-quarters of a century removed. Fire
In My Bones
more than stands up to any of these other classic anthologies,
and has instantly carved out a space for itself next to them, as well.

 

You want your wellspring? Look no further.

 

Standout
Tracks:
Every track is a standout
track. CARL HANNI

 

 

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