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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The real gospel funk

Posted By on 08.15.06 at 07:27 PM

Earlier this year England’s superb Soul Jazz label released the second volume in its Soul Gospel series. The disc has loads of gritty, hard-hitting testifying from artists who are both well-known (Clara Ward, the Staple Singers, Marion Williams) and more obscure (Sensational Cymbals, Lovers of God, and Rev. T.L. Barrett), though in truth none of the artists on the collection ever flew too far under the gospel radar. The name of the series isn’t very well-chosen; black gospel is one of the two roots of soul music, and it’s pretty much all soulful. But the compilation does focus on more contemporary (i.e. late 60s-early 70s) iterations of the form, which have a strong dose of funk rhythms.

Leave it to Chicago’s Numero Group label to go the extra mile with similar material. Its forthcoming collection, Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal (due out on August 29, but you can order it now here), not only has a better title, but its makers left no stone unturned in locating 18 killer tracks that almost no one who isn't a hard-core record collector will be familiar with. With typically informative and colorful liner notes, the CD ties together a rather far-flung and rarely practiced sound that was such a stylistic blip that it’s never really been tagged as a genre unto itself. The music is drawn from super-hard-to-find singles, and it speaks to the efforts of the label that the acknowledgments include funk experts Dante Carfagna (article available in the Reader's paid archives), Josh Davis (aka DJ Shadow), and local gospel sage Bob Marovich.

There are numerous Chicago-based selections, from the the tight, badass bass romp of “Bad Situation” by the 5 Spiritual Tones—which recalls early-70s Stevie Wonder—to the the timeless quartet harmonies of the Gospel Comforters on “Jesus Will Help Me,” which features a roiling groove that seems informed by Syl Johnson’s classic “Is It Because I’m Black.” Even though some of the tunes here are from the early 80s, the lo-fi production, as on the searing “God Been Good To Me” by Detroit’s Mighty Walker Brothers, deflects contemporary studio polish. Almost worth the price of admission by itself is “O Yes My Lord” by Detroit’s Voices of Conquest, in which a 20-strong chorus engages in battle with the furious drumming of one Benjamin Wilson. Obscurity for the sake of obscurity is boring; this stuff was just a victim of circumstance.

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