Various Artists
Fire In My Bones: Raw + Rare + Otherworldly
African-American Gospel [1944 - 2007]

The authentic Gospel music experience is celebrated in the three-disc Fire In My Bones compilation, a retrospective of raw, rare and other worldly African-American Gospel over a span of 60 years (so says the cover).

In its essence, this gem captures the bare bones heart and soul of gospel music, minus studio enhancements and overdubs. Lovingly assembled by music aficionado Mike McGonigal, the contributors to this project make up the great clouds of witnesses who have studied gospel music as an art form; they include Kevin Nutt (host of Sinners' Crossroads radio program), Anthony Heilbut (author of The Gospel Sound), Bob Marovich (contributor to the American Gospel Music Encyclopedia) , Opal Louis Nations and the team of Robert Laughton and Cedric J Hayes (compilers of The Gospel Discography). Refreshingly, every single song in this four hour set of history is commented upon in the liner notes.

CD  The music of is reflective of the tragedies, triumphs and unshakable faith associated with gospel music and the Black church. It is well known that the genre has always played an important role in framing African American culture; this project reinforces that truth. While the artists may be somewhat obscure (and some perhaps completely unknown to nearly anyone), their message rings true and clear.

Accompaniment for this music is minimal, some just piano, organ and drums, and a lot of guitar, accompanied by hand claps and foot stomps. This is REAL roots music with heartfelt singing.

Of special note are the call- and-response songs such as "I Made A Vow To The Lord" by Rev. Steward and Family, and an interpretation of The Gay Sisters' chestnut, "I'm a Soldier" (in the army of the Lord)" recorded by The Phillips Specials. These songs use the "pass the mic" method and give various leaders a turn at bat until they have sufficiently delivered themselves of the message or are caught up in the Spirit. These are the same songs that are sung in churches across the country even today.

Not to be missed are covers of gospel standards, and they are in abundance here: Thomas Dorsey's "Peace In The Valley" recorded by Rev. Lonnie Farris, "If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again" by Rev. Anderson Johnson (mother and father songs have a following of their own, with mother songs beating father songs by a good mile), "You've Got To Move" by the Two Gospel Keys, a "Stand By Me" medley which starts with the Tindley Hymn and finishes with the James Cleveland composition by George Shields and His Gospel Singers, "That's Alright" (famously recorded by both Mahalia Jackson and also by Mother Willie Mae Ford Smith in the Say Amen Somebody documentary) by Laura Rivers that was recorded in the comfort of her living room.

Chicago Gospel is represented by selections from piano fireballer Rev. Robert Ballinger ("So Glad"), The Amazing Farmer Singers of Chicago ("I Got A Telephone In My Bosom") and Elder St. Samuel Patterson ("This Train"). "Don't Let the Devil Ride" was such a notable number that it appears twice in this compilation; on Disc One The Mississippi Nightingales deliver, and then it comes up again on Disc Three with an interpretation from Ike Gordon.

Gather your grandparents, aunts and uncles for this trip down Gospel music memory lane. In the words of an old familiar ad slogan, it is certainly well worth the trip —and you just might learn something along the way.

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Production: Various
album release date: November, 2009
Tompkins Square Label

— review by Gregory Gay

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