Saturday, October 18, 2014

Music Reviews: Walter Hawkins-Love Alive

Walter Hawkins
Love Alive
If, to win a million dollars, I had to name the first three male gospel singers that came to my mind in 5 seconds, I would list James Cleveland, Edwin Hawkins and Walter Hawkins. It's almost certainly because those are the people whom I grew up hearing at home and at friends' or relatives' homes. I think of all of these people as downhome traditional gospel, especially in comparison to today's gospel music. Ironically though, at their height of popularity all these musicians, but especially the Hawkins Brothers were considered by some moldy fig gospel traditionalists to be somewhat avant-garde and too close to popular music, in particular rock-n-roll. As discussed previously, a great deal of early rock-n-roll actually came directly from gospel so no one should have been too surprised to hear gospel musicians turning it up and rocking out. People like Little Richard, Otis Redding, and James Brown borrowed heavily from the church. Musicians like Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Aretha Franklin came straight from the church. And as James Cleveland famously noticed in one of his sermons, the Lord liked music. He commanded people to make a joyful noise. And what could be more joyful than hard rocking Hawkins style gospel music. Not much that's for sure. This music brings back a lot of memories, mostly good, some bad. Some of the songs on this release are often played at funerals. But that's life yes? This is music designed to be played loudly. I don't think anything here could ever be described as background music. This is music to shake your moneymaker to or to be precise it WOULD be music to shake your moneymaker to were the lyrics not all about loving God, experiencing bliss through salvation, hollering how much you love Jesus and how after death you've been washed white as snow of your sin. 

Yeah. I suppose if superfunk, bootyshaking and Jesus don't quite go together for you, you could always do what Ray Charles and Willie Dixon did. Just change the lyrics from "can't no one do me like Jesus" to "can't no one do me like that woman" and lo and behold you have a new song which you wrote all by yourself. Repeat as necessary. If you sped it up just a taste "God is Standing By" would be more recognizable as rock-n-roll. And since on the second half of the song the singers and musicians do just that it's impossible not to see the family links between gospel, blues and rock-n-roll. There's also a few songs which Walter Hawkins wrote which I thought were almost certainly traditional. Hmm. I have to do some more research on that. Anyway this is an INCREDIBLE album, made more so by the guest appearance of Walter's wife, the equally talented Tramaine Hawkins.  What she does on "Goin' Up Yonder" and "Changed" are beyond amazing.  My favorite cut though is "I Won't Be Satisfied" where Walter's solo and his ability to sing behind the beat leave me in awe. The call and response between the choir and Walter make me want to get up and dance.

Regardless of your religious affiliations or lack of same this is all very inspiring music. This music has helped me through a few rough patches in life. It's definitely music I like to sing along with as I'm motoring along to my corporate drone peonage. I usually don't like to make comparisons with music but here it I think it's worthwhile. Walter Hawkins music here stands in stark contrast to today's overproduced, effete, synthesized gospel music. It has about as much relationship to modern gospel as a oak tree has to a dandelion. The choir sounds just like the choir I heard in my maternal grandfather's church. The choir is tight. Nobody but nobody is off or late. Everyone is together. This release was produced with just the right amount of natural reverb that immediately lets you know that this was recorded in the seventies. There is an emphasis on the downbeat that would make James Brown proud. There is never any doubt about where the ONE is. None at all. So if you're curious about gospel music but like something with a strong lively beat you could do worse than to pick this release up. Love Alive is a classic cut. It also crossed over to an extent. Likely many old school gospel fans or soul music fans above a certain age already have this CD. But if it somehow escaped your attention because either you weren't around during the seventies or just can't remember the seventies well check it out and see if it speaks to you. This is intensely communal music. This is music that lets you know no matter what you're not alone. And if you're going through bad times in life, keep going. 

Goin' Up Yonder  I Won't Be Satisfied  Changed  I'm Not The Same Follow Me God is Standing By
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