According to the back-cover blurb, this 26-song compilation was "inspired by the companion album to Anthony Heilbut's landmark 1971 book The Gospel Sound." It's not quite spelled out in the liner notes, but this CD is not identical to the 1994 two-CD compilation also called The Gospel Sound. It has quite a few of the same tracks, but not all of them, subtracting some and adding a few others. Unclear packaging aside, this is a very good anthology of African-American gospel from 1926 to 1957, mostly (though not exclusively) drawn from the vaults of Columbia Records. It does lean heavily on selections by a few artists (Blind Willie Johnson, Mahalia Jackson, the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet, and the Dixie Hummingbirds) in particular, but as those are all major gospel recording acts, that's not a hindrance. Even though much of this was issued on a major label, to modern ears it's fairly raw, or at least unadorned, especially in comparison to the slick product much commercial gospel eventually became. Gospel's connection to the blues is especially prevalent in Johnson's sides, and most of the other tracks are simply arranged (and sometimes a cappella), leaving the most heartfelt and stirring qualities on the surface. None of this is exactly pop or R&B, but some of the tunes have a swing as well, such as the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet's "Sun Didn't Shine." Some of the songs made an impact beyond the world of gospel, such as "When the Saints Go Marching In," "If I Had My Way," "Let Your Light Shine on Me," and the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet's effervescent, wryly humorous World War II commentary "Stalin Wasn't Stallin'." This anthology is not only a quality collection of black gospel from the early- to mid-20th century, it's also probably one of the gospel collections most likely to be enjoyed by listeners who don't specialize in gospel, such is the strength, emotion, and bounce of the performances. There are also obvious influences both from more secular forms of blues and upon later forms of soul music, the latest track (Dorothy Love Coates' 1956 single "That's Enough") almost verging on R&B and rock & roll.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger