The Soul Stirrers

Gospel Legends, Vol. 1

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Putting two well-known and influential gospel groups together, Gospel Legends, Vol. 1 collects songs from both the prolific Soul Stirrers and the Fairfield Four into one two-disc compilation. The Soul Stirrers, who counted Rebert Harris, Paul Foster, Sam Cooke, and Johnnie Taylor among its singers and who first introduced the style of hard gospel singing to the more traditional ultra-polished group harmonies of the jubilee sound, crossed the line between pop and gospel again and again with acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums, and the occasional organ. Only the religious lyrics really separated their music from the songs that were being played on the radio during the same time period (Cooke is a perfect example of this: after leaving the Soul Stirrers in 1957 to begin his solo secular career, he continued to work with the group, signing them to his SAR label and even writing some pieces for them as well). The Fairfield Four, who hail from Nashville, are heavily influenced by country and have a more traditional gospel sound, which is nice complement to the R&B-inspired Soul Stirrers. The liner notes for both groups, which describe their development and changes, are helpful, especially considering that neither disc has its tracks listed chronologically. And as there are no song credits (again, the liner notes point out important songs in each of the groups' long careers, but few of these are then included on the record), listeners less knowledgeable about the changing lineups may have a hard time figuring out who exactly is singing on each track. Not that this matters much, at least musically, because each singer, whether lead or backup, for both groups, is able to bring his own voice and mannerisms to the songs, and all of them sound very good. The Soul Stirrers' "Year King Uzziah Died" is bluesy and strong, while "Lead Me Jesus" has smooth R&B background vocals that reinforce the emotion of the lead, and "Don't Let Nobody Turn You Around," by the Fairfield Four, shows off the vocal power of all its members. Though Gospel Legends, Vol. 1 may be lacking some of the Soul Stirrers and Fairfield Four's more famous songs, it's still a great collection of music from two of the genre's seminal groups.

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