Style: Raw and rare African-American gospel from across six decades

Top tracks: "How Long," "Wasn't That a Mystery," "Spirit of the Lord"

If, as Martin Luther King Jr. stated, 11 o'clock on Sunday mornings is the most segregated hour in America, then it's likely that much of the church is unfamiliar with gospel music as it's heard in predominantly black congregations. Fire in My Bones: Raw, Rare and Other-Worldly African-American Gospel, a 3-cd set covering more than half a century of songs, should rectify that deficiency.

This compilation, featuring 80 artists and almost four hours of music, spans six decades, a continent, and a panoply of styles and settings ranging from solo itinerant street musicians to small R & B worship combos to the packed sanctuaries of Pentecostal churches. Many of the songs were recorded for tiny regional labels in the Deep South during the 1950s and 1960s, and the thrill of discovering unheralded but wondrous music is one of the great pleasures of this set. Many more were recorded in living rooms and church sanctuaries, and were never intended as entertainment. Those are the tracks that set this collection apart from others. This is worship music recorded as it happened, unscripted and spontaneous, and it crackles with raw energy and fervent soul. Fueled by Holy Ghost power? You decide.

It is fitting that the word raw is emphasized in this set's title. Those accustomed to the slick, urbane sounds of ccm gospel may be taken aback by the untamed roar of the music. The electric guitars are distorted, the singers moan and shriek, and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that suggests a service conducted decently and in order. High liturgists beware. Elder Charles D. Beck, who delivers a hellfire and brimstone denunciation of rock 'n' roll, is accompanied, ironically enough, by an electric guitarist who channels Chuck Berry in his rockabilly fills. The otherwise unknown Bishop McDaniel delivers a bizarre, surrealistic sermon, shouts "well, all right," and unleashes a "go rock Daniels" chant that is taken up by the members of his congregation.

Those are the kinds of juxtapositions that surprise and delight on Fire in My Bones. It's a remarkably rich, vibrant set of music that rocks, stomps, and shouts with unrestrained joy, and it will be a welcome addition to your music collection at 11 on Sunday morning—or any other hour during the week.

Fire in My Bones
Our Rating
5 Stars - Masterpiece
Average Rating
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Release Date
October 27, 2009
Tompkins Square
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