Reverend Gary Davis - Harlem Street Singer

Published Monday 15th August 2016
Reverend Gary Davis - Harlem Street Singer
Reverend Gary Davis - Harlem Street Singer

STYLE: Blues
RATING 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9
LABEL: Prestige 1015
FORMAT: 12 inch vinyl Album

Reviewed by Lins Honeyman

One of the most famous and important acoustic blues releases of all time, this re-issue of Reverend Gary Davis' seminal 1961 'Harlem Street Singer' album by Soul Jam Records - remastered and complete with extensive liner notes - documents a time when the blind street musician was at the top of his powers. Armed only with his trusty Gibson six string acoustic guitar and recorded in a single session with sound engineer Rudy Van Gelder, Davis' unmistakable ragtime-style playing and full use of the fretboard is simply breathtaking and, coupled with his trademark powerful growling vocals that expound the word of God at every turn, this collection contains arguably the definitive versions of his signature songs "Samson And Delilah" and "Death Don't Have No Mercy" - tracks which went on to influence the likes of Peter, Paul And Mary, the Grateful Dead, Woody Mann and countless other acts. Keen to pull the big guns out for the session, Davis stalwarts like "I Belong To The Band" and "Great Change Since I Been Born" are also featured and, whilst better versions can be found elsewhere on account of them being performed a little slower than expected, the great man pulls them off with conviction and aplomb. To offer value for money, Soul Jam have added eight less polished bonus tracks recorded at a separate session - including an awkward and confused reading of "Little Bitty Baby" (better known as "Children Go Where I Send Thee") and a bizarre vibrato vocal from Davis on "There's A Bright Side Somewhere" - and it could be argued that the inclusion of these offcuts detracts from the sheer brilliance of the album in its original format. Nonetheless, this is a worthwhile and reverent re-release that sums up the dexterity, passion and power of the great Reverend Gary Davis.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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