As the gospel music market continues to be ever more saturated with all the self-produced albums, custom-recordings, and generally unlistenable music being churned out daily, I’ve been taking refuge in several nostalgia compilations of “classics” and “greats” that purport to pluck the pearls from among the swine of the past. Right now, I’m listening to Homeland’s four-volume Southern Gospel Collection from 2000. These shouldn’t be confused with greatest hits or even “the best.” It’s just someone in a record label somewhere using an educated and informed sensibility of sg to bring together more or less good music. There are plenty of choices I’d quibble with (the Florida Boys’ “Saved By Grace” is just a four-part smash up from start to finish and let me be clear about Walt Mills and Vern Jackson: Please. No More.). But it’s sort of like shopping at a thrift store: it’s kinda fun pushing through the crap because you know there are plenty of jewels waiting to be discovered by the patient and perseverant. Some random reactions.
- My favorite cut right now is “Love will Roll the Clouds Away” from an old Kingsmen live album. It just reduces me to fits of howling laughter because it’s so funny … it’s shameless, hamfisted, slapstick gospel vaudeville. This is not, if my ears have it right, the KM of the Garry Shepard 80s when they had pretty much started parodying themselves … and ruining Shepard’s once pretty marvelous instrument in the process. This recording sounds like it’s from the 70s. Hammil is still in fine vocal form and he simply drags everything and everyone along with him. Barking out the front end of notes, jumping up to stomp all over the tenor’s lines at the beginnings of phrases and then settling back into his own register, where he runs herd over the baritone. But what I really just cackle uncontrollably at – every time I play and replay it – is how completely the KM upended song forms and structural conventions with no concern whatsoever for anything but gettin’ em on their feet. It’s as though they took the expected parts of a gospel song (a bass solo, say, and an instrumental interlude, a modulation, expressive variations in rhythm and intensity), shook them all up in an empty Hardees hamburger sack on the bus floor and sang the song in whatever order the elements rolled out onto the stage. From an ensemble verse (that just takes off from Hammil’s lead, no introduction or anything), we get a modulation up to a bass solo, and then immediately proceed into one of a classic piece of gimmickry: the instruments and voices dial the volume back to hushed and whispered tones and the pace slackens. In this case, a harmonica actually takes the lead and the KM sing back up to it. This is all pure music theater, or like trying to find your way through a gospel fun house. The point isn’t to showcase the harmonica; it’s to build up an expectation of what comes next: an explosion back into hard driving full voice and kick drum. And sure enough, Hammil bites the head off the first word of that final phrase and off we go, barreling toward the ending, with its vocal collisions … Hammil bestride it all like an imperious Lord of Vocal Misrule, taunting the crowd, defying them not to yell and scream and throw babies and get saved again: Yaarrrh! Did you really enjoy the Kingsmen tonight. But of course, this is not a question.
- Miscellaneous: How have I missed for so long that the intro to the Hoppers “Steppin’ on the Clouds” cut from Live in Greenville is Shannon Childress’s homage to the LeFevres’ long ago cut of the song? I guess I missed it the same way I missed Anthony Burger’s “Blessed Assurance” from several years back pretty much cribbing CeCe Winan’s vocal arrangement of the hymn from her Alone in His Presence album. And while I’m playing this game, I should note that the Cathedrals’ recording of “He Didn’t Throw The Clay Away” fully realizes the song’s magisterial scope in the way the original doesn’t, but I still prefer the Lesters’ ending.
- The Weatherfords (and with apologies to the great Perry Miller): they made insights into harmony and rhythm so far ahead of their time that our own can hardly be said to have caught up with them.
- The Hoppers need to start singing “God Raised the Ransom” more, or do they and I’ve just missed it?
- Does anyone else get the feeling sometimes that the Speers of the 80s and early 90s were singing some savvy material that really anticipated and prefigured the inspo influence that was about to become a main feature of sg with the rise of Gaither Vocal Band and their Big Anthem? I’m thinking at the moment of “In the Midst of it All,” but that’s only what comes most readily to mind from that Homeland volume I was listening to earlier today.
Anyway, I realize this is kind of no-brow and probably vaguely anti-artist of me, but I hope these compilations keep getting released, and there’s no reason to wait until recordings have suitably aged with time to collect them on compilations (see the annual WOW releases from CCM), except of course that it undercuts the artists’ album sales. Indeed, sg could use it’s own WOW. The SN’s annual Just Call it Southern give-away cds with subscriptions at NQC are nice and all, but they’re more like a spotty garage sale than a fun flea market or good antique mall.Email this Post