Divine Inspiration Sparks 'Fire' And 'Funk' Two new collections, ranging from scratchy field recordings to intricate vocal harmonies to snappy adaptations of rock 'n' roll rhythms, prove divine inspiration takes on many forms.
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Divine Inspiration Sparks 'Fire' And 'Funk'

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Divine Inspiration Sparks 'Fire' And 'Funk'

Review

Music Reviews

Divine Inspiration Sparks 'Fire' And 'Funk'

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And finally, we have two new and very different music collections with one common denominator: gospel. The first is a sprawling, three-CD set that spans six decades worth of post-war black gospel. It's called "Fire in My Bones: Raw, Rare and Otherworldly African-American Gospel." The other explores gospel's collision with funk music in the 1960s and '70s. That one's called "Born Again Funk." Oliver Wang listened to both and has this review.

OLIVER WANG: I'm as secular as they come, but you don't have to be a true believer to appreciate the idea of an inspirational Holy Ghost living through music.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing) Yes, I've got a new way of walking since he touched me.

WANG: Communing with some greater force, regardless of theological bent, is something music lovers seek every day. Gospel, in particular, can convey the emotional weight of its passions with a naked rawness.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified People: (Singing) Since the Lord, God almighty touched me. Yes, I've got a new way of talking since he touched me. I've got a new way of talking since he touched me. I've got a new way of talking since he touched me, since the Lord, God almighty, yeah, touched me.

WANG: "Fire in My Bones" is a sprawling attempt to touch on black gospel's myriad forms from 1944 through 2007. Clocking in at nearly four hours, the set has no obvious chronological, geographical or topical structure. It can go from Oakland, California's Sister Mathews belting out "Stand By Me" in 1948.

(Soundbite of song, "Stand By Me")

SISTER MATHEWS (Singer): (Singing) Oh, now me and the devil, devil tried to take me. Stand by me.

WANG:�To 1973 and Brooklyn's Nathaniel Rivers, singing "The Wicked Shall Cease From Troubling."

(Soundbite of song, "The Wicked Shall Cease From Troubling")

Mr. NATHANIEL RIVERS (Singer): (Singing) Oh, you know the wicked shall cease from troubling. The wearied shall be at rest. Oh, where the saints or the angels, we will stand at his feet and be there.

WANG: Then slide down to South Carolina in 1963 for an a cappella rendition of "That's Alright" by Laura Rivers.

(Soundbite of song, "That's Alright")

Ms. LAURA RIVERS (Singer): (Singing) That's all right. That's all right. That's all right. That's all right. Since my soul got a seat up in the Kingdom, that's all right.

WANG: "Fire in My Bones" is a sampler, not a primer, and in so much perhaps misses an opportunity to better educate gospel neophytes. That said, even as the compilation jumps eras, cities and sensibilities, gospel's core elements jump out, especially the power of repetition.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman #2: (Singing) Mm. How long? Wait for how long? How long you going to live in your (unintelligible)? Wait for how long?

WANG: I hope I'm not being sacrilegious in suggesting that, just as with secular pop music, gospel loves a good hook, a point made amply clear on both "Fire in My Bones" and the another new anthology, "Born Again Funk."

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman #3: (Singing) Oh yeah, I'm packing a trip. Going to make a trip now. Packing a trip, trip now. Plenty of time. Oh yeah. Plenty of time. Oh yeah.

WANG: "Born Again Funk" hones in on small, independent label gospel records, most of them recorded around Chicago during the 1970s. Compared to the vast scope of time, space and styles covered by "Fire in My Bones," "Born Again Funk" works in the opposite direction: It highlights both a regional scene and cultural era where the meld of gospel and pop music traditions seemed to hold no conflicts for those praising Sunday-morning psalms with rhythms designed to raise Saturday-night sweat.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) You know what? Let me hear you. (unintelligible) come back the same, what would you do? Boy, what would you do? Oh. Just come back. I believe.

WANG: This blend may seem like a novelty to those unfamiliar with the gospel funk tradition, but if you think about your favorite nights out dancing, it's easy to appreciate how the sultry, sensual, sacred and spiritual can easily coexist in any given moment on the parquet floor. If anything unites "Born Again Funk" and "Fire in My Bones," it's this: At its most transcendent, gospel isn't just appealing, it's humbling.

SIEGEL: Our reviewer, Oliver Wang, runs the audio blog soulsides.com.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified People: (Singing) God almighty, yes, our Holy God almighty say the same things...

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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