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Tompkins Square (TSQ2639)

The Silver Harpes, The Gospel Keys, The Carolina Kings, The Reliable True Tones, The Detroit Silvertones,  Willie Cotton, Mighty Wings, Crump Brothers, Big Dan & The Gospel Heavyweights, Jerry & Naomi Jerkins, Gospel Six of Gadsen, Ethel Profit, Calvin Leavy and The Cummins Prison Farm Singers, Reverend Lonnie Farris, Reverend HB Crum and  The Mighty Golden Singers, Jessie Lee Harris, The Burden Lifters and many more.

‘This May Be My Last Time Singing' was compiled and annotated by Mike McGonical, the man responsible for Tompkins Square's 2009 gospel blockbuster ‘Fire In My Bones' (TSQ2271) and chances are that you won't have heard a single track in this killer anthology. As Mike relates in his sleeve-notes, these small label 45s were privately issued by local churches or the artists themselves or on regional labels typically run by a single producer and, as a consequence, are little known today outside of a small circle of hard-line collectors.

The music runs the gamut from acapella groups, travelling quartets, mother and daughter duets and male chorus choirs to solo voice and guitar, big-time baritones, bass and organ workouts and shouting pastors with their congregations. The recordings were made in various locations such as small studios, churches, radio stations, Library of Congress field trips and even some amateur joint that specialised in over-recording with admirable distortion!

There's no doubt that this music captures the style and mood of the people it represents. As you listen to this phenomenal set of gospel songs you'll hear blues based proto-soul stuff, wild 1960s guitar wrangling, tinges of country and western, hand-clapping-foot-stompin' choirs, heavy electric organ action, Caribbean style workouts and even the earliest known gospel track to prominently feature - wait for it - a drum machine! Glorious music all made with pure enthusiasm and a dedication to the spreading of God's word.

It's all fascinating but I've not much room. There are a few stand out performances I must mention though - like the soulful wail of Mamie Sample on This May Be My Last Time with it's sparse but effective guitar and organ backing; I'm sure the Staple Singers would love this remake of one of their best songs. The Reliable True Tones 1970s release I Came A Long Way reminds me of the early Valentinos sound thanks to the ultra-funky guitar playing and head-on vocal acrobatics of leader George Dantzler. Nothing is known of Reverend R Henderson but on his only known record Stop Living On Me, the looping rhythmic guitar choogle he generates sounds as if it comes from Mississippi's hill country. His laid back country groove is hypnotic and is exactly what the repeat button was invented for. If you like the atmosphere and excitement of a live holy-rollin' church service go straight to Reverend Elijah Thurston's electrifying workout I Heard A Prayer Parts 1&2. His harsh shouted preaching leads his whooping and wailing congregation straight into ecstasy. It's almost a relief to follow this with the easy swing of the McCauley Spiritual Singers beautiful Jesus Gave Me Water and its metronomic handclaps and fabulous vocal tricks by the unknown lead singer.

I'm running out of space and haven't told you about the boss baritone of Big Dan and The Gospel Heavyweights, the driving call and response mayhem on Elder Curtis Watson's track or the 1976 gospel belter from the heroic jailbird Calvin Leavy and The Cummins Prison Farm Singers. Tell you what, get this stunning 3CD set and discover all these hidden gems for yourself.

Review Date: October 2011

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