The Swanee Quintet - What About Me/Anniversary Album

Monday 1st February 1993
The Swanee Quintet - What About Me/Anniversary Album
The Swanee Quintet - What About Me/Anniversary Album

STYLE: Gospel
RATING 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10
OUR PRODUCT CODE: 22876-17554
LABEL: Nashboro 432

Reviewed by Tony Cummings

Christian music buyers today are, tragically, often divided on purely racial grounds. The black churchgoer buys Shirley Ceasar and the New Jersey Mass Choir, the white church goer buys Susan Ashton and Spring Harvest Live Worship. Only on the rarest instance do black and white Christians meet in shared taste and musical experience. But one thing they are unified in -their indifference and ignorance of Christian music's history. Just as few of today's CCM buyers have any knowledge of the late 60s Jesus music pioneers like Larry Norman, let alone the hillbilly gospel that preceeded Christian pop-rock, so the black church has no knowledge or seeming interest in its earlier musical heritage. Decades of profoundly creative gospel artists remain forgotten in black church circles. But not, ironically, in white pagan ones. Since the early 60s, white blues enthusiasts, first in Europe, then in the blues homeland, the USA, have researched gospel music's past - writing books, setting up university foundations and re-issuing countless 78s and long deleted albums for a small but vociferous market. This collector's audience for old time gospel pays scant attention to the spiritual truths propogated in the lyrics of the songs they collect but is so enraptured by the towering vocal abilities of the music's pioneers that they keep alive the memory of hundreds of brilliant talents the church has shamefully forgotten. So it's Ace Records, now embarking on the first comprehensive re-issue programme of the vitally important Nashville gospel label, Nashboro, that we have to thank for making this timeless music available to those with ears to hear. The Swanee Quintet are 1950s black gospel at its rawest and most satisfyingly intense. "Downhome, funky, countrified" is how the sleevenote reminds us this group from Georgia have been described. The first track here on this dazzling value-for-money 24 track CD is "Sit Down Servant", which was a hit for the Swanees in 1953 and really laid down the unique components of their compelling style: William Crawford's bluesy guitar riffs; the mighty background chords of Big Red Anderson, Charlie Barnwell and Rufus Washington (these three formed the Swanee's backing vocal team for over 30 years); and setting the whole thing off the raspingly soulful preaching and singing of Ruben Willingham. The fine sleeve notes by Chris Smith spell it out. "Willingham was gospel music's testifier par excellence, mixing accounts of his own religious experience with references to black people's common experience in a way that was of immediate appeal to his audience." This quality can be heard on the Swanee's "My Last Prayer" which turns the old spiritual "It May Be The Last Time" into riveting, poetic testimony. There are many, many other musical delights here - Little Johnny Jones (who joined in 1956) light, airy tenor, at times a ringer for Sam Cooke; or on the early 60s recordings culled from the 'Anniversary Album' where Willingham goes into "straining preaching" mould for a truly fearsome "I Want You To Move". OK, so your local Christian bookshop has never heard of this album and won't know how to stock it. At least you're local Our Price will.

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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