Like the pre-war gospel music before it, the golden age of gospel music between the end of World War II and the end of the Civil Rights period has been well-documented. The inseparable relationship between the sacred music of the Black Church and the civil rights era spilled over into the secular soul and R&B of the '70s thanks to the inspiration and commercial success of the Staple Singers, who began as a family sacred gospel band in the late '50s and made the transition to secular radio via Pops Staples' songs of advocacy, struggle, and hope for the Stax label set to the beat of secular soul. Artists from Andrae Crouch & His Disciples to the Mighty Clouds of Joy to Sly & the Family Stone employed musical and vocal elements from gospel in their soul and funk. Detroit Pastor Keith L. Whitney calls it "Barbershop Gospel" in his liner essay, detailing the influence of another social institution in African American culture as a space uniting the sacred and secular. (He should know: Detroit is the gospel capital of the world.) Many of musicians played in clubs and concert halls on Saturday night and in church on Sunday morning. This set reveals the dichotomy of that musical duality.
The Time for Peace Is Now, the second volume in Luaka Bop's World Spirituality Classics series (the subject of the first was Turiya Alice Coltrane's ashram cassettes) makes a significant first step in revealing the symbiotic relationship between gospel and soul. This set contains 14 songs by 13 artists (including a killer called "We Got a Race to Run" by a group called the Staples Jr. Singers) who recorded for small independent labels during the '70s and sold their wares after church services in their hometowns and on the road. Some still perform today. The set was compiled and annotated by DJ Greg Belson, a collector who also produced Divine Disco: Gospel Disco: 1974 to 1984. All these tracks are impeccable. They offer spiritual truth to a backbone-slipping backbeat. Check the bluesy gospel of "It's So Hard to Live in This Old World" by Rev. Harvey Gates, with its silvery, shimmering piano and tight brushed snare. The Floyd Family Singers' "That's a Sign of the Times" is lithe, organ-driven funk with a bassline that shares the frontline with the vocals. The Religious Souls' use of Marvin Gaye's '70s production sensibility in "Condition the World Is In" should have made it a radio hit. The Gospel I.Q.'s "Peace in the Land" is transcendent use of Temptations' and O'Jays' influences. The Soul Stirrers' "I'm Trying to Be Your Friend" borrows from the Staple Singers and mid-'60s Motown, while the Mighty Revelaires place a swirling B-3 organ on "Sunshine After Every Rain" that's a note-for-note remake of "House of the Rising Sun"! The set includes an introductory note by novelist and gospel fan Jonathan Lethem, and a fine essay by journalism professor and former gospel music editor for Billboard magazine Robert F. Darden. Combined, the music, essays, artist photos, and complete lyrics in the booklet make The Time for Peace Is Now an essential compilation -- no matter your beliefs or lack thereof -- for any fans of '70s soul.