George Washington Phillips

I Am Born to Preach the Gospel

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In the pre-Depression heyday of "race" records, sacred songs and sermons were as widely recorded (and popular) as blues and jazz. Like such "guitar evangelists" as fellow-Texan Blind Willie Johnson, Phillips's evangelism borrowed from blues and mingled topical commentary in a way which makes his 16 recordings from 1927-29 still compelling. Interdenominational hairsplitting ("Denomination Blues"), lecherous deacons and lax parents are among the targets of Phillips's gentle scorn; like the best of his contemporaries, he mixed biblical background ("Paul and Silas in Jail") with daily life foreground ("You Can't Stop a Tattler") in the manner of a skilled preacher. Phillips's sermon-songs are accompanied by dolceola, a keyboard hammered dulcimer that sounds like a celestial ice cream truck. If Johnson sounds like Yahweh's wrath unsheathed, Phillips is a Sunday school picnic on heaven's lawn. His music is a unique and delightful rivulet off the blues-gospel Nile.

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