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V/A - Fire in My Bones: Raw, Rare & Otherworldly African-American Gospel, 1944-2007

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Artist: V/A

Album: Fire in My Bones: Raw, Rare & Otherworldly African-American Gospel, 1944-2007

Label: Tompkins Square

Review date: Oct. 27, 2009

Granted, we might not need any further proof of the amazing diversity and pure power at the heart and soul of African-American gospel music. Fire in My Bones, however, with three discs worth of stunning music -- mostly rare independent-label singles and a number of field recordings — is utterly essential. There’s a staggering inclusiveness of styles here; from acoustic country blues to organ-and-choir ecstasies; from sanctified delta grooves to 1970s church basement funk, and much, much more. Most of all, though, it’s a sense of true spiritual energy that glues these pieces together, a glowing other-worldliness that might make a listener marvel that these performances could be caught at all on acetate, tape, vinyl or plastic.

A few examples will have to suffice here, and we might as well start at the beginning. Rev. Lonnie Farris’ sweet-singing electric lap steel rides over a gently swinging and rocking combo on "Peace In TheValley,” from 1963 Los Angeles. But up next, and inhabiting a different world, perhaps, is Elder Beck’s agonized “Rock and Roll Sermon," wherein, in 1956, the fervent Mobile, Alabama minister preaches against the destructive force of the devil’s music, while the band keeps gathering intensity, ultimately shooting (at the very least) into the stratosphere. An, alas, unknown and un-named electric guitarist cranks out spiky, distorted lines that make one wonder what T-Bone Walker might have sounded like if he’d ever played with Sun Ra’s Arkestra.

For all the intensity and fervor to be found within the collection, there are many examples of a quieter transcendence. With throbbing tremolo guitar and echo-chambered harmony vocals, Rev. Roger L. Worthy and his Sister Bonnie Woodstock’s “Get Back Satan” is just plain gorgeous, suggesting something like the Platonic Ideal of a Staple Singers record. “Power is in the Heart of Man," by Brother and Sister WM Grate, from North Carolina in 1967, blends dulcet plucked strings, Sister’s modal, mountain stream-clear singing, and Brother’s smooth, but nonetheless intense, spoken sermon. into a shimmering, rippling unity of effect. Stretching originally over two sides of a 45, it’s a truly other-wordly and hypnotic piece of art.

Compiler Mike McGonigal’s liner notes serve the compilation beautifully, offering whatever information they can about the recordings — dates, performers, etc. — while avoiding any over-arching social, musicological, or aesthetic theorizing. This is refreshing, abetting as it does a listening experience that is wide-open and energizing. One might jump into this collection anywhere and be transported.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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