Reviewed by Paul Poulton
An eye-wateringly high amount of raw talent, inspired songs, sermons and singers, all capturing the fervour of mid '30s Black American Pentecostal churches. A joy to listen to. "Happy Am I" (1933) by Elder Lightfoot and his congregation is one song that captures the era so well. Its arrangement is well worked out, with men's bass parts and women's response calls, stride piano and hand claps for percussion. It's important that this song is kept for posterity to listen to and be inspired by. It's easy to see how the black congregations did try to fit into the white church music of the time with hymn's like "Because He Remembers Me" which have a definite Moody and Sankey feel. But how much better they soar on African/American spiritual type songs, they are like coiled athletes ready to let go at the start of a race, and once they start, they are away and no one can stop them. Elder Oscar Sanders is the second preacher/singer to be featured, his songs are from 1934. He and his group also sing "Happy Am I", this time it's faster and the arrangement thicker, and still great to listen to. It's in Elder Sanders' songs that we hear the off-beat emphasised. They are lively songs, with some fine melody lines sung by women with unusually fine character voices. Professor Hull and his jazz band Anthems Of Joy take us in the direction of Jelly Roll Morton who was popular in the 1920s. The Anthems definitely have their own style (we're in 1935 now) which is slower than Jelly Roll's Red Hot Peppers band and has more of a laid back New Orleans flavour. The Professor preaches admirably telling us that "Everybody Talkin' Bout Heaven Ain't Goin' There", while the band play on. Last up is Elder Otis Jones; the amount of percussion on "Holy Mountain" could rival anything played on Radio 1 today, (cutting edge music from 1936, remember the Church did it first.) It grooves along frenetically and is interspersed with some inspired preaching.
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