Our prayers have been answered! At least, they have been if your idea of communing with the Man Upstairs is playing "Uncloudy Day," one of the first and finest recordings by soul-gospel greats the Staple Singers, ad infinitum. After enough days of rain to give even Noah a nasty case of SAD, sunshine finally made a blessed reappearance in Seattle last week.
Gospel is in the air this week, and not just as a means of keeping precipitation at bay. First up, January 31 saw the release of Gospel Music, an 18-song anthology on Hyena Records, compiled by photographer Lee Friedlander and superstar producer Joel Dorn.
As Everett True noted in this paper a few years ago, "The purest form of music is gospel... gospel is all about passion, purity... it's not whether you hit the note, but that you try to hit the note." Toward that end, the packaging for Gospel Music is startlingly simple: A brief introductory note, and some photos from the Friedlander archives. The focus is, as it should be, on the music, not fancy trimmings.
If you have never appreciated just how smooth and subtle the artistry of Mahalia Jackson can be, her rendition of "My God Is Real" is all the proof required. Prefer your praise served up with more fervor? "What He Done for Me" by the Violinaires whoops and shimmies like Little Richard fronting Motown house band the Funk Brothers. And should you ever require a bedrock foundation in times of trouble, check out Dorothy Love Coates's reading of "Strange Man"—her earthy timbre and steadfast conviction move this song along as surely as Sisyphus rolling his boulder up that hill.
As stellar an introduction to the genre as Gospel Music is, there are omissions. "Lee and I picked some of our all time favorites here, but there could have been many other artists that we featured," admits Dorn. Alas, the legendary Marion Williams is one of the luminaries absent. Odd, considering that Dorn (who worked with giants including Roberta Flack, Charles Mingus, and the Allman Brothers) produced three of her '70s albums for Atlantic, including a sanctified set of rock and pop songs (1971's Standing Here Wondering Which Way to Go), and Blessed Assurance, a live recording considered by Dorn to be "the gem" in his Williams triumvirate.
Here in Seattle, this Sunday, February 5, brings the last chance to check out Praise: A Sunday Gospel Supper, at the Triple Door. Produced and directed by local soul-funk vet Bernadette Bascom (that's her singing on "I Just Want to Be (Like Myself)" with Robbie Hill's Family Affair on the Wheedle's Groove comp), this show features a 25-member choir culled from award-winning local parishes, plus special guests. Last week, Theo Peoples of Temptations/Four Tops fame was slated to drop by, and Bascom—who served a stint in Vegas with an incarnation of the Supremes—has hinted that another Motown great might drop by this week... one with a very biblical forename.