|LET THE SPIRIT OF 'SAVED' WORK ITS REVITALIZING CURE
One stone left unturned--at least until now--for the NorthernBlues label has been gospel, the core behind much roots-based music. 'Saved' is the result of a super session, an assembly of renowned gospel singers and back-up musicians. Producer Frazier Mohawk of Elektra Records fame, along with co-producer Michael Fonfara, spared no effort in finding the best in the field.
Three tracks: "Saved", "24/7/365", and "A Place Called Hope" are already garnering significant radio airplay. The title track is inspirational, the centerpiece of the entire opus, and a rollockin' testimony to salvation. Tim Drummond, the featured bass player, actually co-wrote it with Bob Dylan in 1980.
The foundation of gospel is the choir, and the Northernblues Gospel AllStars include some of the best voices in North America. Jon Finley, now a resident of Southern California, is the soloist for Alexander Hamilton and the Voices of Inspiration. Finley was also an integral part of The Checkmates (which included Fonfara), a well-respected Toronto band from the sixties. Their respective careers may have veered into different, though highly successful directions, but the fates have re-united them in this hallelujah meeting hall.
The other choir members include Amoy Levy, Hiram Joseph and Danny Brooks. Hiram and Danny appear regularly on the religious TV show "100 Huntley Street". Born-again Danny has traveled the rocky road to redemption and has a gospel CD to his own credit with the Rockin' Revelators.
Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" may have suggested getting on board the "train-a-coming", but the gospel rendition featuring Hiram Joseph imbues it with the urgency of seeking the heavenly pathway. Nowhere has the distinction between the secular and the sacred been more inconspicuous than on Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come". Yet I'll predict--based Jon Finley's soul-drenched version with only stark accompaniment from Fonfara on keyboards--that when this popular anthem is revisited at the CD release party at Stonechurch, 45 Davenport, on Oct 20, that there won't be a dry eye in the house. Finley's "The Promise" is another wrenching experience, which certainly lives up to its title.
There's a robust gospel circuit out there, and the trio of Levy, Joseph, and Brooks are disseminating the Word. Known as the Rockin' Revelators, their wings have extended far beyond church platforms. They've also been raising the spirits of crowds at blues festivals (and hopefully staying out of trouble).
Danny Brooks, who's prominent throughout 'Saved', is spreading the message with grace, dignity--and a gritty tenor. "Still Standing Tall" is packed with heartfelt emotion, and mention of the great Solomon Burke seemed totally fitting. I felt like invoking an amen. "Righteous Highway" with its straight-ahead blues feel was another tour de force. The stark contrast between the bleakness of the endless highway and that moment of intense revelation is memorable. Imagine the trials and tribulations that would have preceded the following confession: "When my knees hit the ground, the Good Lord scraped me off that killing floor". The sacred truth is that the Blues owes a serious debt of gratitude to the black churches of the Bible Belt. That's where it drew its fervour, emotionalism, and raw honesty.
Another special moment was Amoy Levy's beautiful solo on "Higher Ground". I'm counting the days to October 20. She weaved another spell on "24/7/365" with her silken vocals, reminding us that the Jesus mainline never has a busy signal. The lines stay open all the time.
Kudos to Brain Blain and Bill Munson, whose liner notes recall that 'Saved' was the culmination of a very long journey and of associations, friendships, and relationships that often stretch back four decades.
When the human voice is animated by the Holy Word the delivery of a song can be elevated to majestic proportions. Whether you're religious, a non-believer, or "in-between", becomes irrelevant as soon as the adrenaline rush of 'Saved' works its revitalizing cure.