Friday, February 07, 2014

The Gospel Truth - The Gospel Soul and Funk of Stax Records

Anyone who knows me or has read this blog knows that I have become fascinated with gospel music in the last few years - especially old school, jumpin' and shoutin' gospel. This isn't quite that, but it is a super-groovy update on the genre. Stax, in a move set to capitalize on groups like the Staples Singers and their success in the secular market, gave some classic gospel groups a Stax make-over - with some terrific results!

So, what we have here is a 20 song collection of wonderful Stax funky soul sounds that just happen to have a religious message. Nothing comes off as cheesy or insincere and there are lots of great grooves, such as the simple and effective funk of Clarence Smith's take on "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" or the Marion Gaines Singers' "Do Your Thing" and "It Will Soon Be Over". Making the apocalypse sound like a party is Jacqui Verdell's "We're Gonna Have a Good Time" and the Staples Singers are always a good time, as in "Brand New Day" and even while sermonizing on serious issues like "When Will We Be Paid". The Rance Allen Group was one of the stars of the label (and sometimes backing band for others) and "Talk That Talk" shows why - powerful, growling, versatile voice, cool backing vocals and a fine dance beat - and damned (so to speak!) if they don't remind me of a bigger hit-making group, but I can't think of who.

Joshie Jo Armstead has almost a disco-pop feel (in a good way) to "I Got the Vibes" and a mellow soul ballad in "Stumblin' Blocks", while Annette Thomas' "You Need a Friend Like Mine" is a bit more obvious in its message, especially with the opening chords of "Hallelujah"! Rance Allen returns with "(There's Gonna Be) a Showdown", which, while infectiously funky, doesn't have anything to do with Archie Bell and the Drells. The Howard Lemon Singers' "Let Me come Home" is positively irresistible it its James Brown-styled groove and the legendary Sons of Truth give the Temptations a run for their money with their rock'n'soul. Louis McCord does a mellower soul-ballad with "Better Get a Move On" while the 21st Century invokes classic pop-funk of groups like the Isley Brothers in "If the Shoe Fits, Wear It". "Keep My Baby Warm" (Charles May & Annette May Thomas) actually sounds mighty gospel-y, even though the message could be taken as more than a little secular (though I don't think it was meant that way). Clarence Smith is inspirational in "I'll Just Keep On Trying" while the Marion Gaines Sings and Staples Singers close the proceedings with more high quality soul/funk.

I assume that most people know that the Stax/Volt studios produced some of the best African-American music of the 60's and 70's and this is no exception. It doesn't matter if your religious, an atheist or anything in between - it you can appreciate th