|You Need to Get Saved!
This is a truly righteous disc. Literally. One would normally think of the Deep South when looking for Gospel. In recent releases I immediately think of the great release from The Blind Boys of Alabama last year or maybe even move a little west to Austin to see what Malford Milligan is up to, but I would still be headed in the wrong direction to find the NorthernBlues Gospel Allstars. Fred Litwin and his NorthernBlues Music have put together an awesome CD of fine Gospel from north of the border. We knew they had some great Blues artists up there, but their Gospel might even be better! Produced by the Frazier Mohawk and Michael Fonfara, this might just be a one-shot, but boy what a shot. These dozen tracks cover many of the faces of modern Gospel like Blues, Country, choir music and others, while featuring a great group of artists. The vocal and musical arrangements are outstanding forums for these artists to really stand out. And they do. Forget about any discussions of faith-based music, if you want the message it is there and beautiful. If you don't just sit back and listen to something special.
As it should be, we begin this tour with hands clapping and a fine a cappella version of the traditional "Down By the Riverside." Check out Hiram Joseph's range here. Joseph is the hot Gospel singer in Toronto and a JUNO nominee. It's only fifty seconds, but it is full!
The second cut here is a masterpiece. Buy this CD just to hear Danny Brooks sing his own "Still Standing Tall." Struck up with guitar rhythm, drums and bass and backing from The Allstars, this cut should be heard. Brooks sings with deep soul and heart about the people who have influenced him and his music and thanks them and God and lets them all know that he is still at it. Brooks references his mother, Hank Williams, Solomon Burke. Bob Yeomans takes a tasteful guitar solo and Brooks leads a powerful reprise. Mr. Brooks, you kicked my ass with this one. Thanks!
On track three we get a bigger taste of Hiram Joseph and it is another winner. Talking of hope that lies in all of us and in all of our homes, he sings of "A Place Called Hope." This one features excellent piano and B3 from Michael Fonfara who also arranged this fine song.
Another treat is to hear soloist Amoy Levy on "24/7/365" which was written by Danny Brooks. This little rocker is catchy and I found myself humming the hook hours later. I don't listen to Christian radio, but if they aren't playing this cut they are missing the evangelistic boat. Levy is a wonderful singer and I wish that she had been featured more than her couple of cuts. I should also mention that Tim Drummond is the bass player throughout this disc which takes its name from the song that Drummond wrote with Bob Dylan a few years ago.
Next we get a couple of solo gigs: one from Jon Finley on piano, the other from Danny Brooks on acoustic guitar and harp on a good Folk Blues with a light touch from the chorus. And then back to the ensemble featuring Hiram Joseph on Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" and Amoy Levy on "Higher Ground." This is followed by another solo by John Finley on Sam Cooke's "A Change Gonna Come" accompanied mightily by Fonfara on the piano and B3. Danny Brooks then leads the chorus in rousing version of "Saved."
On the way out we are treated to another shot (1:44) of Hiram Joseph and the Chorus roaring out "Down By The Riverside." As a kind of encore the last track on the disc is the Chorus slowly rolling into the speakers on the classic "We Shall Overcome." Close your eyes and their voices flow right down to your soul in beauty. But, of course, that is the idea!
Michael Flynn is a freelance writer and musician in Baltimore.