Review : Various Artists - Fire in My Bones: Raw + Rare + Otherworldly African-American Gospel, 1944-2007
PitchforkFire in My Bones makes its intentions known within its first three songs. This 3xCD gospel collection opens with the spry, graceful instrumental performance of the traditional hymn "Peace in the Valley", recorded in 1963 by ace lap steel player Rev. Lonnie Farris. It's not the obvious choice for an opener, but serves as a kind of overture. Immediately following is "Rock and Roll Sermon", in which Mobile, Alabama's Elder Beck enumerates the evils of secular music and its degenerative effect on good Christian society. Amazingly, the song itself rocks hard, as Beck improvises on Bill Halley's "Rock Around the Clock" and an unknown guitar player fires off ferocious hellfire licks. After that Spirit-fueled sermon comes "If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again", a professional recording by Rev. Anderson Johnson that manages to be both restrained and massively moving, his smoothly expressive voice effortlessly conveying his orphan angst.
In just three songs, Fire in My Bones covers a range of musical approaches and emotional expressions: from contented to contemptuous, from professional sessions to field recordings, from fevered shouts to ruminative moans. Gospel, this collection insists, is not one thing but many. The term itself constitutes such a wide umbrella that it may have more to do with the performers and their intentions than with the noises they make. That mission explains some of the curious aspects of the collection, which was curated by writer, archivist, and Pitchfork contributor Mike McGonigal. First, there's that unhelpfully long time frame, which spans the height of World War II through the last days of the Bush II era. What can you say about gospel and its development throughout the 20th century if you're painting with such broad strokes? As a history of the form, Fire in My Bones offers little insight into how it developed across these 63 years. To be fair, though, McGonigal is after more than a simple chronicle of the genre. He eschews the post-war heyday th at many compilers and historians emphasize, setting his sights on the margins of the gospel mainstream....full text
Popmatters“I want you to lift your voices, to sing like you’ve been born again,” Rev. G.W. Killens says to the Mt. Calvary Congregation near the end of disc two of Fire in My Bones, a wonderful collection of 80 rare black gospel tunes. What follows is a voyeuristic kind of field recording of distant voices singing in unison. It’s terrifying, and not just because the only thing this writer worships is hedonism. The voices themselves sound hedonistic. The pleasure of singing the gospel is almost sexual in the joy it brings.
Fire in My Bones, a genre-bending, expectation-defying collection spanning from 1944 to 2007, is filled with bizarre, contradictory moments like this. From the opening song, a beautiful instrumental rendition of “Peace in the Valley,” with a Hawaii pedal steel playing the melody, carried along by a shuffle beat, nearly perfectly bridging the gap (and it’s a small but important one) between country, blues, and hymns, Fire in My Bones is awash in the flame of emotional intensity.
“Subject: Rock and Roll. Can I get an amen?” Elder Beck asks in “Rock and Roll Sermon.” The congregation gives it to him. “The disintegration of our civilization!” he shouts like Howlin’ Wolf while an electric guitar dirtier than anything Chuck Berry has ever played burns away in the background. The church hollers and screams. The tune rocks harder than most rock songs to ever grace AM radio. Even the best gospel collections—Dust-to-Digital’s Goodbye, Babylon, disc four of The Anthology of American Folk Music—leave a great many gaps in the music’s history. The electric guitar, for instance. How did gospel music deal with girl group pop, with ‘70s funk, with white rock and roll? The genre’s skill has always been to synthesize piety with popular melody, yet few collections of gospel music have been this historically thorough. Spanning 1944-2007, though many of these songs fall in the earlier portion of that broad timeframe, this collection covers nearly every imaginable genre of music (but no, not hip-hop), all tied together through that ever-familiar, transcendent theme....full text
Blurt-onlineWhere to start with this mighty tome of a release? Here are the stats: Fire In My Bones features 78 tracks by 78 artists, spread over three CDs. Recordings run from 1944 to 2007, although the newest and the oldest and everything in between all sound pretty much equally archaic. Each CD comes with a moniker for its 26 tracks: "The Wicked Shall Cease from Troubling," "God's Mighty Hand," and "All God Power Store." And the title is prescient: these are, truly, raw, rare and (especially) otherworldly African-American gospel hymns, sermons, testaments, fables, warnings, (im)morality tales and religious calls to arms. A less self conscious selection of recordings may not ever have been compiled.
Selections include almost every conceivable aspect of African-American music in the last 50 + years: electric and acoustic blues, specialized varieties of soul and jazz, R&B, big-beat gospel, church funk, fife & drum marches, pulpit folk, and sanctified rock & roll that preaches, most stridently, against rock & roll. I don't think there's any reggae or hip hop, but at 78 tracks it's hard to wrap your head around it all, so I'm not really sure. The liner notes point out what it is not: a collection that highlights the vast array of gospel quartets and solo vocalists that flourished from the end of WWII well into the eras of rock ‘n' roll, disco and funk....full text
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