The soundtrack to George T. Nierenberg's fine 1982 film documentary on gospel music, Say Amen, Somebody isn't quite as explosive an experience with the visual elements stripped away, but it still packs a pretty joyous punch. Nierenberg centered his film around two pioneering gospel artists, Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey, who wrote scores of gospel classics, including "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" and "Peace in the Valley," and Willie Mae Ford Smith, whose dynamic "song and sermon" approach to gospel set an almost impossible to duplicate performance standard. Dorsey was 83 years old (he died in 1993) and Smith was 79 years old (she passed in 1994) when Nierenberg shot his film in 1980, so he literally captured the twilight phase of gospel's golden era. Modern gospel truly begins with Dorsey, who morphed from the barrelhouse piano player he was in the '20s (he recorded as Georgia Tom) into the 20th century's premier gospel composer in the '30s. He's featured here in two performances, one of his a classic "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" (the great Mahalia Jackson also does a version on the album) and the other an incredibly poignant, halting and endearingly affected version of "When I've Done My Best." Smith has four tracks, highlighted by the spirited "Canaan" which closes out the set. One really has to see Smith to really appreciate what she's doing, however, as she was as much a visual testament to gospel in her performances as a vocal one. Several younger, next generation gospel artists are also given tracks here, most notably the O'Neal Twins, Edward and Edgar, on the striking "It's Gonna Rain." The Say Amen, Somebody soundtrack was originally released in 1990 on DRG Records, and this Rykodisc reissue reproduces that release with different cover art and graphics.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett