On the same wavelength as the 2001 multi-award-winning monographic Revenant boxed set dedicated to Charlie Patton, Dust-to-Digital releases this luxury compilation including five CDs of gospel or gospel-related music and one of sermons. From the very packaging we are faced with a high-quality and carefully manufactured product, which is packed in raw cotton and housed in a cedar box, with a profusely illustrated 200-page booklet including the transcription of each song, preceded by exhaustive liner
notes compiled by the most famous gospel scholars and glossed by verses drawn from the Bible.
The essays, which are the result of extensive research, are written in understandable and concise English. Art direction and mastering are superb. The photos alone are worth the money for the boxed set and, compared to previous reissues, the excellent sound restoration helps to better understand lyrics. The quality of the music on offer is not inferior: the 135 songs, recorded between 1902 and 1960, are veritable gospel masterpieces or, in any case, black or white compositions dealing with sacred material.
The range is broad: from major artists usually associated with the blues, such as Skip
James, Blind Willie McTell and Bukka White, to well-known (Blind Willie Johnson, Rev. Gary Davis) or minor (Sister Cally
Fancy, Sister O. M. Terrell) guitar evangelists, they all belong to the band. Supporting beams of black vocal music, such as the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet and the Trumpeteers, challenge the voice of mighty singers, such as Mahalia Jackson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Thomas A. Dorsey, the putative father of Gospel, appears beside Arizona Dranes, the unknown stepmother of barrelhouse piano, as well as the milestone of African-American sacred music. Difficult to digest, yet fascinating from both the historical and cultural viewpoints, are the choirs of the so-called sacred harp singers, which go as far back as the eighteenth century.
ll this is seasoned with the best of white production, mainly country in origin, which features historical names, such as Uncle Dave Macon, The Carter Family and Hank Williams.
Not yet satisfied?
Here is the sixth compact disc, which contains the tracks of 25 sermons, as well as their transcriptions and comments made by the well-known musicologist David Evans, who also won a Grammy for the liner notes to the Patton box set. This disc has the inestimable quality of filling a gap in that it constitutes one of the rare opportunities to listen to, and at the same time read, lively sermons improvised by black preachers directly from the pulpit and dealing with 1920s and 1930s topical subjects.
Among the other reverends, we can appreciate the very popular J. M. Gates who prepares the soul of the congregation for Christmas, the stormy A. W. Nix who warns his congregation not to board the train of sin, the hoarse J. C. Burnett who reminds his disciples not to fall into the trap of gambling, the resolute F. W. McGee who tells the Biblical episode of Jonah in the belly of the whale. There is much more sense of music in these mainly spoken pre-war recordings than in most modern gospel music.
There are few (if any) compilations of sacred music that can bear comparison with this as for the ratio of quality and price, broadness of music being equal.
Written by Luigi Monge
CDs Provided by sussex