Review : Various Artists - This May Be My Last Time Singing
PitchforkIn 2009, YETI publisher (and Pitchfork contributor) Mike McGonigal assembled a compilation of "raw, rare, and otherworldly African-American gospel" that showcased his penchant for wild, devil-fearing church songs. As far as gospel collections go, Fire in My Bones felt revelatory, crucial: those three discs of evangelical missives reconfigured religious music as unpredictable, sonically challenging material. McGongial's next project, This May Be My Last Time Singing, focuses specifically on gospel songs recorded and released between 1957 and 1982. Like its predecessor, it's a deeply compelling document of the various ways human beings talk to God.
There's urgency to all good art, but gospel music, in particular, is fueled by desperation: Transmit your message of gratitude to Heaven before you lose the chance entirely (and end up somewhere else). The mission is massive, but in many cases, the material legacy is humble; at least a third of the songs included on This May Be My Last Time Singing were self-released and pressed, in small batches, onto 7", 45-rpm discs, a process paid for by church congregations or the singers themselves. Decades later, McGonigal tugged those little records out of cardboard boxes and milk crates, trawling record shops (this might be the only compilation in recent memory that thanks at least a dozen), online auctions, and flea markets for lost prayers. That these songs were released commercially (even if they sold only a few dozen copies for local or vanity labels) feels paramount to any real understanding of the performers' intent-- these aren't field recordings. They're solicitations: holler along, fall to your knees, pray with me. Believe.
McGonigal's finds are spread across three discs, each loosely organized around a state of faith ("The Devil's Trying to Steal My Joy", "Perfect Like the Angels", and "All Wrap Up in One"), and while they range dramatically in style-- from funk to rhythm and blues to drum machine psychedelia-- they're linked by an industriousness that feels unique to the genre. No matter how rowdy these tracks get, their creators are still doing selfless work.
This May Be My Last Time Singing focuses specifically on post-war gospel, but most of it feels oddly timeless. Rev. J.W. Neely and Family's "Don't Let Nobody Turn You Around" was self-released in 1980 but sounds divorced from the era altogether; it's disorienting to consider that this rendition was born into the same pop landscape as Pink Floyd and Blondie. An a cappella, handclap-heavy ode to solidarity in the face of temptation-- "Don't you let nobody turn you around/ You just keep on together," Neely and family shout, their voices warm-- it's encouraging, never threatening. Same goes for the Exciting Traveling Four's "O Lord I Have No Friend", which was released by the National Recording Label in 1982. Save a wonky electric organ intro (which sounds as if it were being piped up from the deep end of a swimming pool), "O Lord I Have No Friend" is quaint and earnest in a way that defies its age. You can practically see the matching bow ties, the four faces crowded around a single mic....full text
AllmusicWho would have thought that Tompkins Square would find a way to equal their stellar collection Fire in My Bones: Raw Rare + Otherworldly African-American Gospel: 1944-2007? That set, along with Dust to Digital's Goodbye, Babylon compilation were the two benchmarks for quality in presenting forgotten and/or all but unheard historical gospel music from Pre-War times to the modern day. But Tompkins Square takes it a step further with Mike McGonigal, the cat who assembled Fire in My Bones from his own collection; he reached even deeper into his record library to assemble the three-disc This May Be My Last Time Singing: Raw African-American Gospel on 45 RPM 1957-1982. McGonigal claims he chose the 45 format as source material for this set because of the notion that almost anyone could afford to release one during the heyday of the single. Apparently, he was right, since a number of the titles featured here have such obscure and rare origins that they were single listings in a label's catalog. Certainly, sermons, gospel quartets, full-fledged gospel groups, choirs, and full-on bands are represented in these 72 tracks, many of them recorded live during church services. The most remarkable thing about this set, however, is period: all of this material was recorded in the post-Sam Cooke/Soul Stirrers period, during the James Cleveland and Ray Charles eras, in the years just after Muddy Waters' and John Lee Hooker's electric blues debuted, at the dawn of soul music history through the heyday of doo wop and labels like Motown, Fortune, Atlantic, Goldwax, Stax, Volt, Chess, and Cadet. Virtually everything here -- including sermons -- was influenced by the black music traditions begun in 1950 and culminating in the late '70s. Some stellar examples are "Down Here Praying" by the Detroit Silvertones, a version of the title track sung by New Orleans' Missionary Mamie Sample (there are at least three different takes by various artists), "Baptized" by the Clefs of Calvary, the rocking gospel of "Send the Holy Ghost Down" by Alston, illinois' Brother Clark & His Trio, the positively shack-shaking reading of "I'm a Pilgrim" by Nathaniel Rivers and his stinging lead guitar cut in a storefront church in Bed-Stuy in 1973, the pedal steel groove of Rev. Lonnie Farris on "Peace in the Valley," and "The Little Light," by Detroit's Fantastic Voices of Joy, produced by Dave Hamilton on the Sacred Sounds imprint. There are simply far too many examples of the wild, woolly, and wonderful here to recount. Some cuts sound like the singles they came from had been skated on, but it's far from a drawback. If anything, it adds to the sense of mystery and immediacy in these tracks -- most of them one-offs -- as if voices out of time are edifying the listener in church on Sunday morning, with another side of the same truth kitty corner from the one they hung out on on Saturday night. On most of these recordings, we can hear the sounds of the street inside the church as well as vice-versa. McGonigal's liner notes are as detailed as possible -- he's done his homework -- making this an absolutely essential purchase for anyone interested in gospel, soul, blues, and R&B, the sacred and the profane....full text
InsoundGet ready for fiery sanctified soul, heavy Pentecostal jams, drum machine gospel, slow-burning moaners, glorified guitar sermons and righteously ragged a cappela hymns! The music on this compilation was originally released on small label 45s, mostly in the 1960s and '70s. At least one-third of the records were self-released, paid for by a church congregation or the artists themselves. Others were on regional labels (typically run by one single producer) little known today outside of a small circle of collectors. This vibrant music is incredibly honest and almost criminally unknown.All tracks were sourced from 45s collected over the last decade by compiler Mike McGonigal, who also produced 2009's three disc set Fire in My Bones: Raw + Rare + Otherworldly African-American Gospel (1944-2007). McGonigal, who has compiled records for Mississippi Records and his own Social Music label, lives in Portland, OR where he is the editorial director for Yeti Publications. He writes in the liner notes that he "chose to source this compilation entirely from 45s because of their democratic/DIY nature; almost anyone could raise enough money to release a seven-inch single." "Maybe you'll feel like I did on first hearing these tracks, that you've stumbled in on someone else's tenderly private moment. Or that you've been swept up in a collective delirium. You'll hear deep soulfulness here, with heavy admixtures of rhythm and blues and rock'n'roll. There are echoes of '60s and '70s pop too. You'll also catch bits of country and western, and something like surf guitar. In another way, much here uncannily resembles the unruly sound and spirit of 1960s garage. Give yourself over to this compilation: there's delight and surprise in every track." - PETER DOYLE...full text
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