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The Spiritualaires - Singing Songs of Praise

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Artist: The Spiritualaires

Album: Singing Songs of Praise

Label: CaseQuarter

Review date: Apr. 20, 2007

In this age of American Idolatry and false musical prophets, grassroots gospel can be an especially hard sell. Even the larger genre itself is defined by Mega Church-catering monoliths like Michael W. Smith and Chris Tomlin, who sing praises to the Savior on platinum-plated microphones to stadium-sized throngs. Worlds away exists the humble Spiritualaires of Hurtsboro, Alabama, a guileless vocal quintet whose name harkens to gospel's halcyon age when groups like the Swan Silvertones and the Voices of Victory held significant radio sway. Their banner has flown for nigh a half century, but Singing Songs of Praise marks their commercially available debut on the specialty CaseQuarter imprint. In common with the other titles on the label by the Reverend Charlie Jackson and Isaiah Owens, the disc invites the listener to accept the music on its own terms without abridgement or dilution. The Spiritualaires assist in that regard by bringing a songbook to the pulpit that stretches well beyond the expected parameters, embracing secular and even country music sources.

Their sixth member, one Curtis Harris, accompanies with treble-rich electric guitar in a style that wouldn't be out of place on a Fat Possum platter. The darker edges of his riffing and his impassioned delivery bring to mind Blind Willie Johnson and the Rev. Edward Clayborn in spirit, if not letter. "I'm Going to Tell On You" condenses a month's worth of Sunday School lessons into three minutes, the Spiritualaires relating a string of familiar biblical allegories ranging from the loaves and fishes to Daniel's sojourn in the lion's den. Harris lends a loping line beneath, giving their verses greater rhythmic weight and palpable gospel-to-blues primacy. Singing in a range of registers, their harmonies resonant and assertive, there are numerous moments where they generate the volume and pitch gradations of a small choir. Elder Robert Marion takes the majority of leads, but members Jimmy Anthony, Sam Relf and Rufus Jordan also exchange turns at the helm. Their lined out version of “The Lord’s Prayer” furnishes the reflexive verses of that most routine of shibboleths with new resonance and weight.

As with earlier CaseQuarter releases, several air shots of the group are included betwixt the studio songs. These snippets, where the five obligingly shill for local sponsors like Earl’s Body Shop and Tuskegee Ready Mix cement, further reinforce the "good neighbor" feel. The Spiritualiares are of and about their local community. Free from artifice or avarice, their music works like spirit-cleansing sacrament, the ingestion of which induces instant feelings of brotherly love. Spinning the disc on a morning commute, I consequently found myself joyfully singing and clapping along. This music has that sort of spontaneously rejuvenating effect and whether the words reach you on a devotional level or a visceral one, it's intoxicating stuff. The prolonged gestation periods that are common for CaseQuarter projects may test the faithful's patience, but darn if this disc doesn't make it three for three on their scripture-conscious scorecard.

By Derek Taylor

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