Saturday, October 20, 2012

Music Reviews-This May Be My Last Time Singing, Doin' Hard Time on Planet Earth

This May Be My Last Time Singing-Raw African American Gospel 
There are three basic building blocks of American music (well four if you include country). These forms are blues, jazz and gospel. Just about every other music that grew up in America came from some version, combination or descendant of those genres in one way or another. In 2012 of course there is a lot of water under the bridge.

Many fantastic musicians have come and gone, leaving their mark on the world and changing music in unforeseen ways. What is understood as rock or blues today doesn't necessarily have a lot to do with what was understood as rock-n-roll in the fifties or before. But if you go back far enough as I like to do you can find music that call it what you like, is not easily or simply restricted to one category.

This would be the case with the sublime collection This May Be My Last Time Singing. This is a three CD collection of hard core indie Black gospel 45's from 1957-1982. Some of the singers are well known, most aren't. But this collection from top to bottom boasts an authenticity and soul that is really hard to find in popular music or for that matter even modern gospel these days. And although the collection is made up of people who generally first and foremost considered themselves gospel musicians there are very obvious links to blues, soul, country, and even a little rock-n-roll.

Ironically one preacher inveighs against the evils of rock-n-roll while singing over a riff that would not have been out of place on a Funkadelic album. Blues and gospel are just different facets of the same thing. This collection is gospel but you can always hear hints or occasionally outright nods to whatever the popular music of the day might have been. Just like with today's rappers some of the singers here spent time in prison and used those experiences to emote.

The swing that is obvious in early American rock-n-roll but generally disappeared after the British invasion often came out of the church (especially Baptist, Pentecostal,etc). It's no accident that so many soul singers and even blues and rock-n-roll singers started out singing in the church. The musics are a little different but definitely share family relationship stretching back to Africa and to a lesser extent Europe. Some gospel songs that are today almost completely identified with black gospel were initially English or Scottish hymms. If you are into soulful singing and alternately mournful or joyful choirs, that is on display here.

If you are looking for outrageous guitar solos and weird tones you can find those here as well. Everyone here has their own sound. This really impressed me. Some of the music could have been recorded better but the dynamics generally carry everything through. This is truly magnificent stuff. If you don't have it you should get it. I don't know how anyone could not start dancing or singing along with something here. Whatever your religion may be or even if you have no religion, this is the kind of music that makes you happy to be alive. This brings back happy memories of my youth. If you are unfamiliar with gospel this could be a good introduction. If you like gospel you might enjoy some of these rarities. I REALLY like the Skylifters' version of "You Better Mind". "Baptized"'s vocalists were rather obviously giving a nod to Sam Cooke but in 1962 a LOT of people were trying to sound like Sam Cooke.

The Devil's Trying to Steal my Joy  Peace In the Valley  You Better Mind

Cloud Hanging Low (Part 1 and 2)  Baptized Life is a Battle
If I could hear my mother pray again

2 Black 2 Strong MMG, Doin' Hard Time on Planet Earth
I no longer listen to a lot of rap music. It's a combination of having aged out of it, moved to a different place in my life and just being somewhat bored with much of the subject matter, language and frankly the skill sets. But a long time ago in another life I did listen to more rap than I do now. One group that I liked a lot was Harlem NY's 2 Black 2 Strong MMG. They combined a nasty streak of gangsterish nihilism with black nationalism and afrocentric history. These things didn't really go together of course.

As a result a few songs teetered on lyrical incoherence but the group's primary rapper, Johnny Marrs, had the skill and style to pull this off. As far as I know they only ever released one album Doin' Hard Time on Planet Earth, back in 1991 and then either broke up or dropped off the face of the earth. I couldn't find any other information on them.

Compared to much of today's rap this album is sonically stripped down. There's not a lot of fat. The album makes judicious use of samples from classic soul and funk, most famously Bob's and Earl's Harlem Shuffle, which I am including here simply because it is an awesome song. The vocals on Doin' Hard Time on Planet Earth are loud and in your face but the album itself is not recorded so loud that it's unlistenable.

The lyrics are  often always profane and definitely not fit for polite or mixed company but are perfect for listening to if you are lifting weights or getting ready to punch somebody in their muyerfuying face. Well. I haven't punched anyone in their face in a while but I do like using this music as backdrop for exercise. In some very real ways this music is the spiritual descendant of the blues music that I like. "Iceman Cometh" is one of the best protest songs against police brutality I've heard. I like how they sampled the bass line from The Temptation's "Ball of Confusion" for "War on Drugs". The song "2 Black 2 strong" remains a necessary corrective to some historical myths.

Across the 110  Up in the Mountains  Iceman Cometh  Only The Strong Survive
Ghetto Blaster  War on Drugs  Burn Baby Burn (with Chuck D)  2 black 2 strong (with Jamillah Shabazz)
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