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V/A - Good God: A Gospel Funk Hymnal

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Artist: V/A

Album: Good God: A Gospel Funk Hymnal

Label: The Numero Group

Review date: Aug. 27, 2006

If there is anything ironic about "Jesus Rhapsody Part I," the first selection on Good God: A Gospel Funk Hymnal, it's that the tense strings and brass cacophony rounding out the mix are nearly identical in timbre to the brass and strings on Curtis Mayfield's "If There's A Hell Below (We're All Gonna Go.)" Good God delivers a powerful argument that the parallel universe of popular Christian and Gospel music didn't always smell like a bunch of honkies in faggy leather pants. Nearly every groove, yelp, riff and pop that graced the hard soul sides of the late '60s and early '70s finds time on Numero's amazing compilation, with a Gospel contender matched to every Larry Graham, Clyde Stubblefield and Al Green of the same era. Broken glass guitar, and beats that would bankrupt Biz Markie, abound, out-ecstaticizing qawwali and steamrolling the new jack hay-zues rock of liturgical fusionists like Kirk Franklin. If gospel was born when Thomas Dorsey cried to God, tears for his lost wife and child falling on a piano beneath him, then gospel hit puberty with acts like The Horace Family and The Gospel Comforters embraced the drums and bass. 

The Curtis Mayfield vibe isn't exactly a coincidence. In fact, much of the music represented was produced in Chicago during the formative years that coincided with and followed not only Superfly but the flash-in-the-pan viability of a label like Cur-Tom. Other hard luck cities of the Great Lakes region like Cleveland and Detroit made their influence felt as well. Examples like Trevor Dandy's "Is There Any Love?" and Sam Taylor's sizzling "Heaven On Their Minds" mine the corners of the funk idiom beneath the spiritual glaze of praise and struggling incantations (including the latter's inclusion of clanky vibes that sound eerily similar to a snippet from the Deep Cover soundtrack), but some of the music, such as the dissonant fire 'n' brimstone choruses behind the soul crooning and the repurposed howl of organ, displays a wild originality. Voices of Conquest (perhaps "Lamb of God" was taken already, but not likely) layers doom and simultaneous glory over the wickedly syncopated drumming on "Yes My Lord," a track that would have easily found a home on Art Blakey's The African Beat had Buhaina swapped his fascination with Yoruba deities for the Big J. 

Much of the funk in play here divinely pre-imagined the crappification of spiritual music by Young Lifers like The Newsboys and DC Talk (or is it DC Cab?) and presciently pre-re-appropriated salvation through the subversive devil music of funk and blues, neatly incorporating deep, black music to voice an era's devotion in the glory of the storefront temple.

By Andy Freivogel

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