Jesus Steps Right In
Some of the finest were The Abyssinian Mass Choir out of Newark, NJ (under the direction of Professor Alex Bradford), the renowned Wings Over Jordan Choir and Rev. Clarence Cobb's First Church of Deliverance Radio Choir (often featuring solo performances from Robert Anderson and R.L. Knowles.
And then there was the St. Paul Baptist Church Choir of Los Angeles, led by Professor James Earle Hines.
It is this latter choir, and especially the work of its director, that is the focus of this superb collection Jesus Steps Right In, released by the Swedish specialty label, Gospel Friend.
As one of the most influential Gospel artists of the 1940's, his work reverberated through not only Gospel circles, but beyond into other musical genres. Like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Hines' immense God-gifted talents created a stir wherever he was heard.
As only one example, the renowned blues belter Etta James grew up in Hines' church, and confesses to the great musical influence that he had on her.
After a solid musical education in his hometown of Atlanta and then in Cincinnatti, Hines cut his musical teeth in the church circuit of the National Baptist Convention, as a member of The Goodwill Singers, before assuming musical duties with Los Angeles' St. Paul Baptist Church. Collaborating with Chi-town pianist Gwedolyn Cooper-Lightener, they established The Echoes Of Eden Choir, who soon gained national renown through their weekly broadcasts on radio station KFWB.
The choir, renamed The St. Paul Church Choir of Los Angeles, then recorded several sides for Capitol Records beginning in the late 1940's (Hines was later on the Modern Records and Specialty Records roster). Their style was a potent mix of all-out Baptist mass singing and glorious solo power, leaning on a repertoire that included familiar hymns and songs from several of the most prolific and popular Gospel songwriters of the day.
The Jesus Steps Right In compilation is distinguished by extensive historical liner notes, written by Per Notini. Each of the album's 21 songs (clocking in at just under one hour total time) are wonderfully detailed, with complete personnel and recording information for each.
"Look For Me In Heaven" is fine example of the heavily stylized approach that Hines frequently (and successfully) imparted to his arrangements. With severe staccato effect, the chorus is punched out by The Goodwill Singers in tandem with piano, as Hines pours his rich vocal on top, making for an unforgettable sound.
One of the most recognizable tunes of the era is included "My God Is Real". Composed by the prolific Kenneth Morris, the song appears on this compilation as a 1948 recording with Hines in great form along with The Goodwill Singers.
On "He's A Friend Of Mine", you can hear the legendary Sallie Martin along with her daughter Cora Martin sharing solo lines with other soloists from choir ranks. Other special cuts are "I'll Never Turn Back" and "Remember Me", both which evoke a timeless and beautiful feel, even with the shortcomings in recording technology of that time.
With the richness of vocal presence and emotive delivery, you want these songs to go on forever. Kudos to Gospel Friend for bringing this music back.
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— reviewed by Stan North —
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