A great deal of the contemporary, secular music that we love and connect to can trace its origins to the church and to gospel music. Artists such as Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Dionne Warwick, Cissy Houston and her daughter Whitney Houston, Gladys Knight, Teddy Riley, Mary J. Blige, R. Kelly, The Staple Singers and an incredibly lengthy list of artists either got their start singing gospel in their local church. And it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that a great deal of the Mississippi Delta bluesman played in a church, were inspired by gospel and were intimately familiar with it either. So despite the fact that gospel isn’t as popular as it once was, it’s still possesses a historical importance that shouldn’t be ignored. Interestingly, the blogosphere has somewhat receptive to covering contemporary gospel as acts like Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens and Joshua Nelson (best known as “The Prince of Kosher Gospel”) have received attention over the past couple of years, continuing the hope that good music with powerful music will find audiences both secular and religious.
Since their New York City debut at Lincoln Center (which is also featured in Alan Berg’s documentary The Jones Family Will Make a Way,), The Jones Family Singers, comprised of patriarch, Bishop Fred Jones, Sr. (vocals), his daughters Ernestine (vocals), Sabrina (vocals), Velma (vocals), ‘Trelle (vocals), his sons Kenny (bass) and Fred, Jr. (guitar, piano), along with Matthew Hudlin (drums), Ezra Bryant (guitar) and Duane Herbert (percussion) have seen their profile grow both national and internationally as they’ve played shows across the country and across Germany and The Netherlands – and this year will see the group playing a number of big festivals in Newport, Winnipeg, Los Angeles, Monterey and others, which will put the group in front of arguably some of the largest crowds they’ve ever played in front of.
In between touring, the band had some time just a few months ago to record a live album at the Mt. Zion Church of God In Christ in Markham, TX, a small town about 90 miles southwest of Houston, which Bishop Fred Jones, Sr. has led for over 30 years. “Door of the Church,” the first single off the forthcoming Live at Mt. Zion, which is slated for a July 24 release through Arts and Labor, reveals a band that meshes rock, the blues, and traditional gospel in a way that channels The Staple Family Singers. Starting off with a sermon by Bishop Fred Jones, Sr. inspired by contemporary events, the actual song consists of shuffling, bluesy guitar chords, steady percussion and call and respond vocals throughout – but forget about the song’s structure for a second, because the song is so uplifting, positive and full of love that it should immediately brighten your day and your soul a bit.
I’ve been honest about the fact that I’m not a religious man; in fact, I’m largely indifferent to all religious matters, and yet, I found this song to be profoundly moving. Strangely while listening to this one I was reminded of the old Rumi quote “Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a caravan of despair. come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come , come.” At its heart, the song has that same kind of kindly humanism. Certainly, in such a cynical and desperate time, such humanism seems more necessary than ever.