Various Artists

Beginner's Guide to Gospel

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Nascente's Beginner's Guide series has offered excellent primers on a wealth of neglected genres -- salsa, tango, Indian filmi music, Arabian music, and many more -- so it shouldn't come as a surprise that their three-disc volume of gospel music is a success as well. What may be surprising, though, is that its primary achievement isn't to resurrect a brace of hoary old chestnuts (many of which have already been reissued) but to shine a light on gospel's relatively recent past, which has suffered more than the classic gospel of the '40s, '50s, and '60s. Although gospel fans would argue (correctly) that these inclusions skip far too many gospel touchstones to constitute the proper guide for the uninitiated, the compilation is perfect for those who know their Golden Gates and Soul Stirrers back and forth, but have difficulty finding much to love in contemporary gospel. The first disc ("Gospel Roots") covers performers from the classic-gospel era (Mahalia Jackson, Five Blind Boys of Alabama, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Dixie Hummingbirds), leaving one disc to investigate the merger of gospel and soul, and one to present the best in contemporary gospel. The set really shines on the third disc, which heavily takes into account the interests of secular listeners; Bebe Winans slides smoothly along on a beauteous cover of Stevie Wonder's "Jesus Children of America," and Terri Carroll displays how well a talented gospel singer can do with TLC-styled urban/R&B. The brashest collision of spiritual and secular, though, occurs on a performance by the New Jersey Mass Choir, which elevates "I Want to Know What Love Is" (originally by Foreigner) to a higher plane.

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