You've never heard "Jesus Christ Pose" done like this. Sung by Pastor Pat Wright and her Total Experience Gospel Choir, the excoriating Soundgarden metal song becomes gospel-ized into a slow-boiling power ballad in the aged-in-soul hands of Wheedle's Groove, a loose agglomeration of youngish and oldish Seattle musicians with funkiness laced deep in their DNA. Even atheists got to shout "God damn!"
This radically repurposed "Jesus Christ Pose" is just one standout on Kearney Barton, a new nine-track album released by local label Light in the Attic on September 8. Recorded in the North Seattle Audio Recording studio of revered engineer Kearney Barton (Sonics, Wailers, Black on White Affair), it's loaded with phenomenal cover versions and complemented by three strong originals.
Kearney Barton proves that age hasn't hampered the chops of drummer Robbie Hill, Hammond B3 organist Ron Buford, vocalist/keyboardist Calvin Law, pianist Overton Berry, and vocalist Pastor Pat Wright. These vets received crucial help from engineer/percussionist Dylan Frombach (aka Dynomite D., who's worked with the Beastie Boys), guitarist/bassist Johnny Horn (KEXP DJ and member of the Satellite 4), and the revered Muscle Shoals Horns (which includes Johnny's father, Jim). Frombach, DJ Supreme, and LITA boss Matt Sullivan scoured their vast collections to recommend an interesting array of songs—including Stone Roses' "Fool's Gold," "Everything Good Is Bad" by 100 Proof (Aged in Soul), and the Ventures' "Sea of Grass"—for Wheedle's Groove to interpret.
Even among fans, including this writer, Seattle traditionally hasn't been known as a fertile font for funk and soul. Shamefully, I didn't recognize a single artist who appeared on Light in the Attic's revelatory 2004 compilation, Wheedle's Groove: Seattle's Finest in Funk & Soul 1965–75. That release—augmented by local label LITA's usual info/photo–rich booklet treatment—shed much-needed light on a scene that deserves as much respect as anything forged in America during funk and soul's '60s/'70s golden years.
Kearney Barton sparked into being through talks between Horn and Sullivan, whose musical tastes closely mirrored each other (Horn says that LITA is his favorite local label). After the comp came out, Horn gigged frequently with the Wheedle's Groove all-stars, including appearances at Bumbershoot and a New Year's Eve show at Neumos. He developed a rapport with the older musicians and brought his deep knowledge of blues, soul, and funk to the studio, where he'd spent much time on myriad projects, including Hi Fi Killers and the Notables, the latter of which placed a song in an episode of The Sopranos.
"A couple guys are a little surly and have problems [working with younger instrumentalists]," Horn relates. "But a couple of the guys are really friendly and fun. As cool as everybody is, there's still thoughts like, 'Why you telling me about my music?' But in general, it's a ton of fun, and I got to know the guys really well."
Although Kearney Barton's first song, "Babyback," is relatively "modern" sounding, the bulk of the disc replicates the sort of vintage sounds that Horn airs on his Sunday-morning radio show, Preachin' the Blues.
"That's why we went to Kearney Barton's—to capture that old tape sound, get a nice crunch to it," Horn says. "I like rock and roll, and I listen to all kinds of shit, but I just don't like the new drum sound, in general. That super-crisp drum sound you hear in gospel or new blues... I just can't stand it. We definitely tried to get that older sound. As far as what we're aiming for, the two records go together. The first one [Wheedles' Groove] is a collection of the old 45s. The second one [Kearney Barton] is a statement from a lot of the same people."
When asked if he thinks Seattle has a distinctive take on soul and funk compared to that of other regions, Horn replies, "I think the West Coast has a sound to it. If you break down all the sounds across the country [during the '60s and '70s], there's a definite East Coast sound that's heavier. The Southern sound is funkier. I don't know if it's energy—maybe [Seattle has a] cleaner sound? Compared to Kool & the Gang, it's different, y'know? I would say the Seattle sound is more of a West Coast sound—very funky and rooted in the church and very black, but it's very West Coast."
Speaking of rooted in the church and black, Pastor Pat Wright brings that preachery passion to her rendition of the aforementioned "Jesus Christ Pose," which Soundgarden's Ben Shepherd, Kim Thayil, and Matt Cameron reportedly liked.
"I was asked to put my own personality on it," Wright says. "I thought that the music was great. Soundgarden is a very powerful group. I was already working with the gentleman [Matt Cameron] who played drums for them... on another project. So I felt very comfortable doing it. And besides, the words of the song epitomize what I try to say in my sermons and the way I live my life. [LITA] said, 'You can put a little gospel twist on it.' Well, I'm a gospel singer and a minister and a pastor, so therefore I put my little twist on it."
As Wheedle's Groove applied a thrillingly different slant on a familiar song, Wright found the lyrics copacetic with her high clergywoman standards.
"It does speak to people in high places—not just running their mouths, but actually doing some work behind that talk. My thing is, don't talk it if you can't walk it. It goes from the White House to my house. We need to be examples for our young people. They're in dire need of examples.
"I saw 'Jesus Christ Pose' as part of the ministry, of what we do, and how not to be hypocritical and judgmental," Wright continues. "I will get a lot of flak from the cloth, but I don't care about that [laughs]. Because I'm talking about some of them, also."
Sullivan expresses great pride in the resurrected "Jesus Christ Pose." "Pat and the Total Experience Gospel Choir took it to an entirely new place. Hats off to the original, though... one of the all-time great Seattle rock songs."
Discussing the rationale behind the covers, Sullivan notes that they "had to fit with the styles of each musician/vocalist. This took some time to plan but wasn't too difficult considering the talent of these musicians. We wanted 'Fools Gold' and 'Jesus Christ Pose' to be so raw that they made folks wonder if these were actually the originals.
"The arrangements were the genius of Johnny Horn," Sullivan continues. "Johnny and Dylan were the glue of this project. It wouldn't have been possible without all their hard work. I'm still stunned that this actually happened. Six years ago, when desperately trying to piece together clues about Seattle's original soul scene for the comp Wheedle's Groove, I never imagined in my wildest dreams that these players would record a new album together. It's an honor to be involved in a project like this—Northwest music history in the making."