Category: gospel

The late bluesman Roscoe Chenier was born in the tiny town of Notleyville, LA. And although his sharecropper family were extremely poor, Chenier grew up within a deeply musical family. Although he was related to zydeco legend Clifton Chewier and bluesman Morris “Big” Chenier, his father, Arthur “Bud” Chenier, a cajun accordionist, who was frequently accompanied by his first cousin, fiddler John Stevens (the father of Duke Stevens) was the Roscoe Chenier’s bigger influence; in fact, Bud Chenier and John Stevens were best known for playing at popular weekend house parties, where Roscoe would soak up the music.

In 1958, Roscoe Chenier was invited to join one of the region’s hottest traveling bands in the region — CD and the Blue Runners, which featured Lonesome Sundown on lead guitar and three of the Gradnier brothers on harmonica, drums and bass. Chenier played with CD and the Blue Runners until 1970, finding enough work to survive as a bluesman despite the popularity of the British Invasion acts of the 1960s. However, as tastes changed, Chenier like a lot of the great old bluesman discovered, it was difficult to eke out a living — especially when some gigs paid maybe $6 per man per night. And throughout the better part of the 70s, Chenier began a succession of jobs as a truck driver while picking up the occasional hired gun gig, playing in the backing bands of Good Rockin’ Thomas, Good Rockin’ Bob, his old bandmate Lonesome Sundown, Clarence Randle and Duke Stevens.

By 1980, Chenier was leading his own band and through a combination of reputation, luck and skill, he was able to recruit a number of talented musicians while desperately trying to remain as financial independent as possible, which by the late 90s became increasingly difficult. And yet, Chenier and his band managed to play several of Europe’s most prestigious festivals including Blues Estafette (in 1992, 1993, 1996, 1998 and 2001), North Sea Jazz Festival, toured across Europe several times and released a few albums before his death in February 2013 including 1998’s Roscoe Style and 2006’s Waiting For My Tomorrow. Roscoe Chenier’s last record, featured a haunting and folksy, acapella rendition of the old gospel standby “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” that immediately brings the early Delta Blues to mind — in particular, Son House, Lightnin’ Hopkins, early Muddy Waters and the like.

Interestingly, ElectroBluesSociety, a Dutch blues act, comprised of Japser Mortier (drums, bass) and Jan Mittendorp (guitar, production), who worked with Roscoe Grenier on several releases and several European tours decided to pay tribute to their late friend by adding a spectral and moody arrangement Chenier’s vocal that’s appropriately bluesy yet subtly modern, while retaining the timeless vibe of the original vocal take.

 

 

Live Footage: The Legendary Mavis Staples Performs “Build A Bridge” on “Colbert”

Now, more than enough ink has been spilled throughout Mavis Staples‘ eight decades in music, both as a member of the legendary The Staple Singers and as a solo artist, so I won’t delve into her biography or what other journalists have written about her because I think that for the sake of this post, it’s largely unnecessary; however, whether as a member of The Staple Singers or as a solo artist, Ms. Staples has released some of the most important, influential and beloved songs of the 60s and 70s — and in my book, the woman is a revered, national treasure. Of course, unsurprisingly, Staples has seen quite a bit of American history — including the bitter and shameful prejudice, racism, ugliness, injustice and violence of the Jim Crow-era South, the Civil Rights era, the hypocrisy and wishy washiness of White moderates and liberals, the election of Barack Obama — and yet . . . as the old adage says — the more things change, the more things remain the same. And while the same hate has always remained, rooted around race, gender, class, ethnicity and nationally, for the first time in a couple of  generations, the discussion of whether or not this country has lived up to is ideals have forced itself back into the national consciousness. 

Staples’ soon-to-be released album If All I Was Was Black continues her ongoing and critically applauded collaboration with singer/songwriter and producer Jeff Tweedy — and interestingly, the album marks the first time that Tweedy has composed an entire album worth of music for Staples. And as the story goes, when Tweedy and Staples convened to write the album’s material, the duo found themselves recognizing that this was a critical historical moment, in which they wanted and needed to say something about the current state of things here in the US and about the various fissures along race, politics, gender, gender identity and so on.  “We’re not loving one another the way we should,” the legendary vocalist says in press notes. “Some people are saying they want to make the world great again, but we never lost our greatness. We just strayed into division.” Tweedy adds, “I’ve always thought of art as a political statement in and of itself — that it was enough to be on the side of creation and not destruction. But there is something that feels complicit at this moment in time about not facing what is happening in this country head on.”

Naturally, some of the album’s material reportedly expresses anger and frustration — after all, how it could it not? In some way, Election Day last year felt like major gains made by dear friends in the Black, Latino, LGBQT and Muslim communities were wiped away. And yet, the material while still rooted around Staples’ legendary optimism, the material is balanced with a grounded realism that essentially says “well shit, there’s quite a bit of hard work, love and empathy that’s needed to make things right. Interestingly, when I heard album title track  “If All I Was Was Black,” I was immediately reminded of Syl Johnson‘s aching and bitter lament “Is It Because I’m Black.” in the sense that Staples’ latest single is an earnest and hopeful plea to the listener, imploring them to look into the heart and souls of every individual they come across, and to see them for their unique abilities; to render one’s skin color as relatively unimportant as the color of one’s eyes.

The album’s latest single “Build A Bridge” focuses on the growing sense of alienation, loneliness and misunderstanding of modern life — with Ms. Staples boldly suggesting that many of the world’s problems could be solved if people could allow themselves to be vulnerable and empathetic to the plight of others, so that they can see both the glorious differences in others and the universality of all.  For Ms. Staples sake, I hope we can all try before it’s too late. 

Recently Ms. Staples, Tweedy, their backing band and members of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert band performed the song on Late Show with Stephen Colbert. 

New Video: Daptone Records Posthumously Release a Mediative Gospel Song off Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings’ Last Album “Soul of a Woman”

If you’ve been frequenting this site over the course of its seven year history, you’ve come across a number of posts featuring Daptone Records recording artists and JOVM mainstays Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and Charles Bradley, and as you may recall, Sharon Jones died late last year after a three year battle with pancreatic cancer and Charles Bradley died earlier this year after a two-year battle with stomach cancer. 

As it turns out, Jones and her Dap Kings spent the better part of her last few months writing and recording what is now known as the band’s final, full-length studio album, Soul of a Woman, which is slated to be posthumously released on November 17, 2017 through Daptone Records. Recorded on eight-track tape at Daptone Records’ Bushwick, Brooklyn-based House of Soul Studios, the album finds the band and their beloved leader pushing the limits of their songwriting and sound to create what some have said may arguably be some for he band’s rawest and most sophisticated material they’ve ever written.  

Earlier this month, I wrote about Soul of a Woman’s first single “Matter of Time,” a lush and moody meditation and the nature of time that struck me as being inspired by Ecclesiastes and The Byrds’ legendary coverof Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn,” as Jones and company seem to suggest that with everything there’s a season and a purpose; that the pursuit of peace, justice, freedom and equality are frequently part of a necessary, lifelong struggle; and that one day, that struggle will result in a peace, brotherhood, sisterhood and understanding for all. But perhaps, because we now know that Jones died  as the band was finishing the material on the album, the song manages to also possess the profound and sad wisdom of the dying — that ultimately, all things are fleeting and impermanent. 

The album’s second and latest single “Call on God” was originally written in the late 1970s for E.L. Fields’ Gospel Wonders, a choir she sang with throughout most of her life at the Universal Church of God, here in New York; but interestingly enough, Jones recorded with her Dap Kings during the 100 Days, 100 Nights sessions — and much like “Answer Me,” which made the album, Jones accompanied herself on piano with the band playing behind her, frequently providing specific instructions on how she wanted everything to sound. Though she always provided input on every song, Jones taking full charge was uncommon; however, the band found the experience to be so inspiring that they made a pact with Jones to record a gospel album with her taking the helm. As it turns out “Call on God” was set aside for that eventual gospel album but sadly, the song and the album was never completed. 

On December 18, 2016, E.L. Fields’ window, Pastor Margot Fields presided over Sharon Jones’ memorial service in Brooklyn, which was attended by several of the original members of the Gospel Wonders, who had come in from different parts of the country to celebrate Jones and her life. Together again for the first time in many years, they performed a moving tribute to Sharon as part of the service. As the story goes, Bosco Mann and the Dap Kings invited the Gospel Wonders, all who were longtime friends of Sharon’s back to the Daptone Records’ House of Soul Studios to finish “Call on God” with them. And at the studio, the members of the choir put on headphones and heard Sharon Jones’ voice signing the song she wrote for them almost 40 years earlier. Interestingly enough, Jones always wanted to add background vocals to the song and everyone knew that she would have been thrilled to know that some of her oldest and dearest friends had stopped by to sing with her one last time. 
As for the single, is a meditative and slow-burning song focusing on how faith can sustain you in the most desperate and uneasy times of your life — and although I’m an atheist, I can say that the God that Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley believed in, seems like the sort of God you’d want to worship and have in your corner. 

Featuring footage by Matt Rogers with additional camera work by Jessica Glass, the recently released video is a revealing and intimate look into the studio with Sharon Jones    playing piano and earnestly singing the song as the Dap Kings play with her. 

Over the past couple of years, the world renowned soul label, Daptone Records. the label home of the late (and great) Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, has released a series of albums documenting and preserving the spirituals, gospel and church-based music from the Mississippi River Delta region — in particular, the small rural town of Como, MS located in the northern Hill Country, about 50 miles south of Memphis, TN. Historically speaking, the small Northern Mississippi, rural town has long struggled with the legacy of slavery, segregation, discrimination, agricultural decline; however, Como has simultaneously been known as a creative hotbed of sorts, as Fred McDowell, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Napoleon Strickland, Othar Turner, Luther Perkins (best known as Johnny Cash’s guitarist), Joe Henderson and a lengthy list of others have claimed roots in Como, MS.

Now, earlier this year, you may recall that I wrote about The Walker Family Singers’ Jesus Gave Me Water,” off the familial unit’s debut effort, Panola County Spirit. Comprised of Raymond and Joella Walker, three of their four daughters, Alberta, Patricia and Delouse and their two sons Robert and Booby, the well-regarded gospel quintet not only have a long-held history of preaching and singing the gospel that goes back several generations, the patriarch of the family, Raymond at one point was so well-regarded as a vocalist, that he was once recruited by both Fred McDowell and the legendary Sam Cooke to back them on tour for what would have been a rather significant amount of money. And although seemingly apocryphal, as the story goes, Raymond Walker refused unless McDowell and Cooke gave up singing the blues and took up gospel. McDowell refused and the rest is history. . .

Daptone Records gospel music series continues with Move Upstairs, the forthcoming  effort from the Como, MS-based gospel trio The Como Mamas, slated for a May 19, 2017 release. Comprised of Ester Mae Smith and siblings Angelia Taylor and Della Daniels, the trio have been singing together in church since they were children. Much like Como’s other renowned musicians and vocalists, Della and Angelia come from a distinguished line of musicians themselves — their grandfather would frequently play music on their porch with a group of musicians that included the aforementioned Fred McDowell. In fact, the sisters remember when the famed folklorist and writer Alan Lomax, best known for his Land Where The Blues Was Born, stopped by their home in 1959 to record some of these jam sessions.  Now, interestingly enough with their appearance on The Voices of Panola County: Como Now! and their Get an Understanding, the trio quickly established themselves as an up-and-coming, powerhouse act in contemporary gospel. Interestingly enough, I actually caught the trio play their first show outside of their hometown at the legendary Apollo Theater as part of the Daptone Super Soul Revue back in 2015, an incredible showcase that featured many of the labels top names including Charles Bradley, the aforementioned Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Antibalas and others.

Naturally, taking advantage of the ladies time in New York, the folks at Daptone invited them to the House of Soul Studios to record with a backing band featuring some of the best musicians in their immense stable of musicians — including Jimmy Hill, Thomas Brenneck, Homer Steinweiss and Bosco Mann, who came together as The Glorifiers Band for the Move Upstairs session.

Album title track and first single “Move Upstairs” possesses a raw, dusty, classic blues and R&B-leaning sound — and by that think of Bo Diddley “and Muddy Waters’ Muddy Waters Folk Singer and others — that’s so incredibly period specific, that it sounds as though it were written and recorded sometime in 1947-1954 or so and was somehow surreptitiously discovered by an obsessive record collector. As as the actual song, a churning and propulsive arrangement consisting of guitar, drums and organ that’s comfortable and roomy enough for the Como Mamas using call and response vocals, to belt and shout with joy about how God’s love set them free from life’s drudgery and suffering.  And it’s a song that shuffles and struts as it does so.

Of course, unsurprisingly, much like the Walker Family Singers’ “Jesus Gave Me Water,” the Como Mamas’ makes an obvious yet forceful suggestion — that the the Blues, Rock ‘N’ Roll, R&B and hip-hop can trace their origins in some fashion to the gospels, spirituals and folk music of the Mississippi Delta while actively preserving some of America’s musical traditions.

 

 

A great deal of the popular music that we know and love can trace its origins to the church and to gospel music in some way or another. Artists such as Aretha FranklinAl GreenDionne WarwickCissy Houston and her daughter Whitney HoustonGladys Knight, Teddy RileyMary J. BligeR. KellyThe Staple Singers and an incredibly lengthy list of others can claim that their start when they sang gospel and spirituals at their local church. Nor should it be surprising to recognize that many of the Mississippi Delta bluesman, who had influenced the sound and aesthetic of rock ‘n’ roll had either played in a church, were inspired by gospel and spirituals — or were generally just intimately familiar with the music. Now while gospel and spirituals haven’t seen a whole lot of love across secular media outlets or the blogosphere, there have been a few gospel acts that have seen some level of crossover/secular attention — in particular Kirk Franklin, who landed a hit with 1997’s “Stomp,” Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens, who received attention with 2014’s impressive Cold World and  Joshua Nelson, “The Prince of Kosher Gospel,” an artist who ties together Jewish Temple songs with gospel in a way that’s incredibly soulful — and interestingly enough makes a lot of sense. Of course while each of those artists have a unique take on gospel and spirituals, there’s one thing they have in common — they believe in music with a powerfully uplifting message that will move audiences, whether you’re secular or deeply religious.

Now, if you had been frequenting this site over the past couple of years, you may recall that I wrote about 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 a rapidly growing national and international profile with the release of  Alan Berg’s documentary The Jones Family Will Make a Way, which features live footage of their New York City area debut at Lincoln Center, as well as tour stops in Germany, The Netherlands and festival stops in NewportWinnipegLos AngelesMonterey and others — thanks in part to a sound that while effortlessly meshing rock, the blues and gospel, manages to nod at the legendary Staple Family Singers.

Recently, renowned producer and guitarist Adrian Quesada invited The Jones Family Singers to take part in his “Live at Level One” cover series and their contribution to the series is a soulful cover of Johnny Cash‘s “All God Children’s Ain’t Free,” a single that manages to be as socially and politically necessary as ever, as the song reminds the listener that there’s much urgent work to be done to achieve the American ideals of freedom, justice and opportunity for all. As Bishop Fred Jones, Sr. explains of their cover in press notes, “No matter how high and mighty you think you are, never forget the people beneath you. Everyone needs an opportunity right now, and this song is a necessary statement for us to make at this crucial time in our nation’s history.”

The multi-generational family band will be touring across the Northeast next week as part of a series of shows to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Check out tour dates below.

Tour Dates:

Sat, Jan 14 – Hampton, VA @ The American Theatre
Sun & Mon, Jan 15/16 – Philadelphia, PA @ Kimmel Center (SEI Innovation Studio)
Thu, Jan 19 – Hanover, NH @ Hopkins Center
Fri, Jan 20 – Portland, ME @ Portland Ovations

 

Over the last few years, Daptone Records has released a series of albums documenting the gospel and church-based music from the Mississippi River Delta region — in particular Como, Mississippi.  The third album in the series, Panola County Spirit is the debut effort from The Walker Family Singers, who were originally discovered and featured on the Daptone Records compilation, The Voices of Panola County: Como Now.

Comprised of Raymond and Joella Walker, three of their four daughters, Alberta, Patricia and Delouse, and their two songs Robert and Bobby, the gospel quintet is well known throughout their hometown: the Walkers have a long history of preaching the gospel as the Walker men have been preachers for many generations and the entire family continues a long and proud musical tradition that goes back quite some time. In fact, this should tell you well regarded the Walkers are in Mississippi Delta region — back in the day, Raymond Walker was once recruited by Fred McDowell and the legendary Sam Cooke to back them on tour for what would have been a rather significant amount of money. And as the story goes, the Walker patriarch refused unless McDowell and Cooke did gospel instead of the blues. McDowell vehemently refused and the rest is pretty much history.

Although the deeply religious would consider the blues as the devil’s music, it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that the gospel and the blues from the region share so much deeply in common sonically, spiritually and aesthetically, and when you hear “Jesus Gave Me Water,” the first single off the album slated for a March 18 release, you’ll immediately feel as though you were taken back in time; perhaps to the days of Alan Lomax running around making field recordings of the blues musicians and gospel singers, who would become some of the towering and most influential names of contemporary music — in particular, think of Robert Johnson (who was murdered three weeks before Lomax arrived to record him), Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and countless others. Much like those classic and dusty recordings, the song possesses deceptive simplicity — led by Raymond Walker, the song features the vocalists singing acapella in a gorgeous and layered call and response harmony in a song that describes finding Jesus in a profound yet very simple fashion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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