Over a six year period beginning in 1990, PRI (public radio international) distributed a series of "Folkmaster" programs consisting of edited versions of live concerts by a wide variety of roots performers. The two albums considered here are the first in a projected six volume series, collecting some of those performances.
SAINT'S PARADISE, "Trombone Shout Bands from The United House Of Prayer" sounds exactly like what you'd expect: a largely instrumental joyful noise, played by six different bands made up of large numbers of trombonists.
The House of Prayer was founded around 1919 by Daddy Grace, a charismatic Jesus-looka-like preacher who encouraged praise shouting and talking in tongues as part of the services. He also sold "healing" products from soap and toothpaste to coffee beans and cold cream. Before his 1960 death he held several mass baptisms in Washington DC, was denounced as a charlatan and founded 135 churches in existence today.
Of the music, Edward Babb, leader of the McCollough Sons Of Thunder from Harlem says "...We feel the holy ghosts power then, and the music comes through our horn, and no more is it the average music you'd hear in a night club or a jazz radio station. It's actually music given to us through the spirit of God, through the brass, and the people can feel the radiation of the horns...It's like fire shut up in the bones!"
The 65 minute CD begins and ends of course with "When The Saints Go Marching In", in between it hits favorites like "America The Beautiful" "Oh Happy Day" and "Just A Closer Walk With Thee". With the marching drum sound and/or tambourines the resulting sound reminds of a gospel-dixielandmix. Sometimes the horns are massed in unison, other times solo's are responded to by players in a jazz-like flow. There's a bit of exhortation and a few vocals, but the main thrust is a big brass sound. The bands were recorded at both Carnegie Hall and Wolf Trap concerts and whether you'll find the album infectious or tedious depends on how high your bone quotient is.
BLUES ROUTES ("Heroes & Tricksters, Blues & Jazz, Worksongs and Street Music") is a bit more diverse--the 17 tracks span from a gandy-dancer a cappella group, to Harlem pianists, to Chicago styled blues bands. Best known names are Robert Jr. Lockwood (who does his stepdad's "Little Queen Of Spades"), Cephas & Wiggins (who do an academic version of the mythic "John Henry"), Luther Guitar Junior Johnson and Pinetop Perkins ("Flipping And Flopping"), zydeco mainstay Boozoo Chavis (a sanitized version of "Uncle Bud") and Joe Louis Walker (with "Bluesifyin," an Elmore James inspired riff and lyrics about blues life).
Also found are a dixielandish group, the Georgia Sea Island Singers, 60's folk heroine fingerpicker Etta Baker, a group of Mardi Gras Indians, and a street go-go group from Washington who use five gallon paint buckets as percussion behind their street raps. This is the kind of collection that would be a good introduction to blues and related roots sounds for your nephew or curious mother-in-law--it surveys the scene and provides good examples of various styles. The annotated booklet lists recommended recordings and readings for those who want to delve deeper. Nothing new here, but a well put together overview.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Tony Glover, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.