Various Artists

Gospel Music [Hyena]

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It's impractical to recap the rich history of gospel music in even a box set, but this single disc does a terrific job of introducing the highlights of the genre over a brief but effective 50-minute CD. From such legends as Mahalia Jackson, the Staple Singers, and James Cleveland to the somewhat more esoteric Violinaires and Trumpeteers, co-compilers Joel Dorn and photographer Lee Friedlander -- old friends from their days working together at Atlantic Records -- present a well-rounded and consistently mesmerizing set of tunes that shows why gospel is the heart and soul of American music. It's impossible not to be moved by this sound, regardless of your religious beliefs. These musicians aren't trying to make money; they are working for a higher power than financial gain, and that's the core of artistic integrity. Choosing highlights from this collection is futile, but Sam Cooke's soaring voice on the Soul Stirrers' "The Last Mile of the Way" and the Reverend James Cleveland leading his chorus on the classic "Get Right Church" are just a few spine-tingling moments from an album that boasts plenty more where those came from. Dorn makes a big point in the non-liner notes that he doesn't think it's necessary to provide information on the tracks, right down to the years they were released. While he has a point that this music needs no explanation, a few pictures of the artists and the release dates of the tracks wouldn't have hurt this otherwise perfect compilation.

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