Saturday, January 20, 2007

Review; Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal (Compilation c.d./l.p.) (Numero Group)

This one came out last fall. Numero Group has released a lot of soul and funk that was previously beyond obscure; some had not been released at all, while the other tracks the Numero Group has dug up were so rare, few collectors were even aware of them. Their collections culled from studios in Columbus, Chicago, and Detroit have brought a generous helping of funky new nuggets to current fans of the genre. The music on their compilations is easy to enjoy, and one doesn't have to be obsessed with rarity or recording studios to enjoy the grooves spread through the Numero Group's c.d.'s. With this in mind, that one doesn't have to be a connoisseur to enjoy Numero Group releases, one certainly doesn't have to be an evangelical Christian or even religious to dig the rich, thick soul on Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal.
The music on this collection was recorded between 1968 and 1980. The disc runs just under an hour, but the 18 tracks on here are so enjoyable the length of the c.d. is less of an issue than collections that are short and padded with tracks the consumer is certain to have in their collection already. This is one compilation that is highly unlikely to contain anything the listener already owns.
As the liner notes mention, funky gospel was not a movement within either funk or gospel artists, but many gospel acts had the odd slice of funk in their repertoire. One studio in Ecorse, Michigan yielded no less than three heavy sides of funk on this c.d. from as many acts. Detroit's 20 singer plus one manic drummer ensemble the Voices of Conquest round out the south Michigan contingent on here.
The starter, "Jesus Rhapsody (Part 1)" by Preacher and the Saints sounds like an early seventies Curtis Mayfield track, with Edwin Starr singing. The low budget, somewhat muddy but ever funky mix between the vocals and music sets the tone for the rest of this disc. It is followed by a gospel take-off of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" called "Bad Situation", with new words that would have fit right in on Stevie's original.
"God Been Good To Me" sounds like the late sixties Temptations backed by Sly and the Family Stone. This is the first of the Ecorse Michigan songs recorded at Revival Studios and unearthed for this release. The next one is a Sam and Dave style shouter "I Thank The Lord". There are a few other obvious inspirations coming from well known soul hits, like "Shaky Ground" (check the Modulations'"This Old World Is Going Down") and "Love and Happiness" laid the ground work for "Childhood Days" by the Universal Jubileers. James Brown's singing style is naturally emulated on a few cuts, which makes sense given the gospel fervour James Brown injects into his own rather secular minded songs.
Detroit's Voices of Conquest's drummer Benjamin Wilson pounds away in His name, while the choir's haunting delivery of "O Yes My Lord" is reminiscent of Missa Luba, the Congolese opera, which must have been one of the first non-Miriam Makeba African music albums that sold well across Europe and North America. An intense slow-burner called "Jesus Will Help Me" by the Gospel Comforters follows.
Trevor Dandy's "Is There Any Love" features a spare keyboard arrangement in the spirit of Timmy Thomas' 1972 hit "Why Can't We Live Together?" which keeps with the low budget sound of this whole album.
A dose of fire, brimstone and rolling percussion wrap up the c.d. The song features a lonely Satan, in Hell of course, reminiscing about how popular the place used to be. The parties, the hedonism... LaVice and Company sound quite fond of the whole scene. This track apparently comes from a musical performed in a church basement. For some reason, neither LaVice nor his company double checked their spelling, but the song "Thoughs Were The Days" (sic) is a great, final dab of murky soul that ends the collection on a questionable high note- if people are no longer going to Hell en masse, as the song laments, are things not expected to have improved on Earth? Regardless of what theological arguments one might bring to the table, the music absolutely kicks on this disc. There are a couple of soulful gospel compilations that have come out in the last couple of years, but Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal easily sounds the most raw. This one is highly recommended, regardless of one's religious beliefs or doubts.

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