Rastlin Jacob

Rastlin Jacob: The Music of the Spiritual Baptist

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AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett

In the summer of 1939, anthropologists Melville and Frances Herskovits carted a heavy Soundscriber recorder (as well as two turntables and a belt-driven gasoline generator) to the village of Toco in Trinidad and recorded some 100 twelve-inch acetate discs of hymns, shouts, grunts, hums, and intoned prayers performed by an exuberant Christian sect known as the Shouters. Outlawed in Trinidad at the time, the Shouters met at clandestine meeting spots and engaged in extended singing sessions that frequently broke down into a chorus of grunts, groans, and handclapping. The resulting cacophony was far from random, however. The hymns included here show an amazingly intricate vocal structure perfectly balanced between rapture and control. Sung in Caribbean English Creole, the lyrics combine the wages of sin sentiments of standard church hymns with a kind of wistful longing for African repatriation, making for a fascinating hybrid. "When the Saints Go Marching In" appears here as a slightly sad, minor-key hymn to Ethiopia, and the result is hauntingly beautiful. The gospel blues standard "Oil in My Lamp" morphs into a song of joyous exaltation. "Onward Christian Soldiers" becomes an exuberant, marching romp full of trills and vocalizations that mimic trumpets. The songs are generally very short, due to the restrictions of the technology of the day, which is perhaps unfortunate, since the longer pieces show how much these songs build toward a kind of vocal rapture.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1
Martha Saunders 01:40 Amazon
2
Dixon "Ebenezer" Philip 02:02 Amazon
3
Allan Lovelace / Henry "Rubberlegs" Williams 02:35 Amazon
4
Edna Wright / Margaret Wright 01:17 Amazon
5
Dixon "Ebenezer" Philip 02:11 Amazon
6
Henry "Rubberlegs" Williams / Edna Wright / Margaret Wright 03:49 Amazon
7
Allan Lovelace / Henry "Rubberlegs" Williams 01:35 Amazon
8
01:28 Amazon
9
Allan Lovelace / Henry "Rubberlegs" Williams 02:01 Amazon
10
Henry "Rubberlegs" Williams / Edna Wright / Margaret Wright 03:45 Amazon
11
Allan Lovelace / Henry "Rubberlegs" Williams 01:44 Amazon
12
Henry "Rubberlegs" Williams / Edna Wright / Margaret Wright 03:58 Amazon
13
Allan Lovelace 02:05 Amazon
14
Allan Lovelace / Henry "Rubberlegs" Williams 01:26 Amazon
15
Henry "Rubberlegs" Williams / Edna Wright / Margaret Wright 03:43 Amazon
16
00:54 Amazon
17
Allan Lovelace / Henry "Rubberlegs" Williams 01:10 Amazon
18
Henry "Rubberlegs" Williams / Edna Wright / Margaret Wright 04:01 Amazon
19
Allan Lovelace 01:42 Amazon
20
Martha Saunders 01:27 Amazon
21
Martha Saunders 01:18 Amazon
22
Henry "Rubberlegs" Williams / Edna Wright / Margaret Wright 03:52 Amazon
23
Allan Lovelace 01:41 Amazon
24
Edna Wright / Margaret Wright 01:37 Amazon
25
Dixon "Ebenezer" Philip 01:45 Amazon
26
Allan Lovelace 01:55 Amazon
27
Henry "Rubberlegs" Williams / Edna Wright / Margaret Wright 03:35 Amazon
28
Martha Saunders 02:18 Amazon
29
01:28 Amazon
30
Allan Lovelace / Henry "Rubberlegs" Williams 01:27 Amazon
31
Henry "Rubberlegs" Williams / Edna Wright / Margaret Wright 04:08 Amazon
32 Edna Wright / Margaret Wright 02:00 Amazon
blue highlight denotes track pick