Various Artists

This May Be My Last Time Singing: Raw African-American Gospel on 45 RPM 1957-1982

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Who would have thought that Tompkins Square would find a way to equal their stellar collection Fire in My Bones: Raw Rare + Otherworldly African-American Gospel: 1944-2007? That set, along with Dust to Digital's Goodbye, Babylon compilation were the two benchmarks for quality in presenting forgotten and/or all but unheard historical gospel music from Pre-War times to the modern day. But Tompkins Square takes it a step further with Mike McGonigal, the cat who assembled Fire in My Bones from his own collection; he reached even deeper into his record library to assemble the three-disc This May Be My Last Time Singing: Raw African-American Gospel on 45 RPM 1957-1982. McGonigal claims he chose the 45 format as source material for this set because of the notion that almost anyone could afford to release one during the heyday of the single. Apparently, he was right, since a number of the titles featured here have such obscure and rare origins that they were single listings in a label's catalog. Certainly, sermons, gospel quartets, full-fledged gospel groups, choirs, and full-on bands are represented in these 72 tracks, many of them recorded live during church services. The most remarkable thing about this set, however, is period: all of this material was recorded in the post-Sam Cooke/Soul Stirrers period, during the James Cleveland and Ray Charles eras, in the years just after Muddy Waters' and John Lee Hooker's electric blues debuted, at the dawn of soul music history through the heyday of doo wop and labels like Motown, Fortune, Atlantic, Goldwax, Stax, Volt, Chess, and Cadet. Virtually everything here -- including sermons -- was influenced by the black music traditions begun in 1950 and culminating in the late '70s. Some stellar examples are "Down Here Praying" by the Detroit Silvertones, a version of the title track sung by New Orleans' Missionary Mamie Sample (there are at least three different takes by various artists), "Baptized" by the Clefs of Calvary, the rocking gospel of "Send the Holy Ghost Down" by Alston, illinois' Brother Clark & His Trio, the positively shack-shaking reading of "I'm a Pilgrim" by Nathaniel Rivers and his stinging lead guitar cut in a storefront church in Bed-Stuy in 1973, the pedal steel groove of Rev. Lonnie Farris on "Peace in the Valley," and "The Little Light," by Detroit's Fantastic Voices of Joy, produced by Dave Hamilton on the Sacred Sounds imprint. There are simply far too many examples of the wild, woolly, and wonderful here to recount. Some cuts sound like the singles they came from had been skated on, but it's far from a drawback. If anything, it adds to the sense of mystery and immediacy in these tracks -- most of them one-offs -- as if voices out of time are edifying the listener in church on Sunday morning, with another side of the same truth kitty corner from the one they hung out on on Saturday night. On most of these recordings, we can hear the sounds of the street inside the church as well as vice-versa. McGonigal's liner notes are as detailed as possible -- he's done his homework -- making this an absolutely essential purchase for anyone interested in gospel, soul, blues, and R&B, the sacred and the profane.

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