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.