Gospel seldom receives its due and gospel 45’s and LP’s from the golden era are now near impossible to find on the side of the pond at least and increasingly difficult even in the United States. Which is where indie label Vee-Tone records out of Clackmannanshire, Scotland, are on hand to save the day for the rest of us and we, the community of vinyl junkies, should be eternally grateful for all their efforts. They have been pioneering in their ongoing set of compilations due to the devotional sounds of gospel (this time on vinyl and previously on CD), but this is gospel from an era when, instrumentally, there was in practice precious little difference between the then emerging R & B and gospel other than that of a major distinction in the meaning of lyrics, and on this mini anthology the emphasis is firmly on uplifting songs that you do not have to be of the faith to appreciate. House rocking dance material is what the listener can fully expect and this set delivers on that front.
Expertly compiled with sleeve notes to boot from music aficionado and connoisseur of myriad genres (reggae and classic R & B being just two of his musical interests), Mark Lamarr, who has selected the eighteen tracks on offer, this compilation historically covers what has now been termed the ‘golden age of gospel’ and some brief explanation is in order here. Chronologically, we are referring to the immediate post-WWII period between 1945 and 1965 when there was a rapid increase in the number of gospel groups performing and recording, with dozens of new independent record companies that specialised in black music, whether that be blues, jazz, R & B or gospel, or any combination of those genres. Of those labels, this anthology focuses attention on the Gospel label with no less than six offerings, Peacock (strong on soul-blues too) with four, Savoy (a label that equally branched out into jazz) with another four and the rest including Checker, an offshoot of Chess, and Sue. Three key areas of the United States witnessed this explosion in numbers and activity and they were across the southern state, the Mid-West, and a major source of talent was to be found on the East coast. The dividing line between religious and secular was a thin one dependent on the content of the words sung, and some singers were tempted to cross over into the secular world and make a major success, such as The Staple Singers, Aretha Franklin, and of course Al Green, to name but three.
However, others stayed true to their religious principles and of those, there are some wonderful examples on this compilation. They include The Gate City Singers with a 1958 offering, ‘John The Revelator’, that is this writer’s personal favourite and, in general, traditional songs served as a fertile terrain in which to expand their repertoire. Some of the major names on hand on this album are The Blind Boys of Alabama, The Caravans, the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. Full marks to the Vee-Tone team for convincingly recreating the era with their cover graphics that are in a smart red, white and black lettering, and the inner sleeve discographical notes are exemplary and shed useful light on the individual songs, some of which are 45 only, while other are choice album cuts.