At the Revival

The Mighty Clouds of Joy

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At the Revival Review

by Thom Jurek

For 50 years, the Mighty Clouds of Joy have been shouting their rough-hewn, spirited, Southern California-styled gospel music to the masses. The group has been led by the raw-voiced Joe Ligon (its only remaining original member) through many shapes and musical trends during that time. In order to remain “contemporary," they have gone through many changes: they souped up their sound in the 1960s to include more electric instruments, though they kept their traditional edge and presentation. In later decades, they embraced deep soul, funk, and even disco in their recorded productions. The voices were always impeccable but were sometimes overshadowed by their instrumentation and arrangements. It didn’t keep fans from wanting to see them, however; they have been an enormous draw for most of their tenure on the scene and have been emulated often, but never imitated. On At the Revival, celebrity producers Raphael Saadiq and DeVante Swing -- both enormous fans -- have brought the sound of the Mighty Clouds of Joy as close to the sound of their roots as possible in a contemporary recording studio, and have thus brought them full circle. The sound here is bass, guitar, drums, and organ-driven, and Ligon is in excellent form throughout. His tough, bluesy shout is at its most inspiring on the title track with its sermonette intro and the raucous “Stop to Praise God,” which opens the set. Ron Staples leads the stellar gospelized soul of “I Love You Lord.” Mike Cook fronts the quintet with the stirring ballad “Hard Times” and a shimmering live-to-tape rendition of “Walk Around Heaven,” with post-production by Swing. Cook recorded these tracks before passing away in 2008. The latter, though a concert staple, has never been included on an album before. As a nod to both tradition and contemporary gospel, “Just Love Somebody” contains equal parts tough funky soul and '50s-era quintet-styled gospel. Ligon’s performance is simply riveting. Simply put, At the Revival is the best record the Mighty Clouds of Joy have made in a decade -- at least -- making it a fitting tribute to their 50th anniversary.

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