Fern Jones

The Glory Road

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The Numero label has done it again. Their fifth release is by the smoking gospel singer Fern Jones, who was active in the late '50s and left music entirely in 1960. She recorded two albums before retiring. She wrote the gospel classic "I Was There When It Happened," which was a hit for Jimmie Davis and was also recorded by Johnny Cash (who performed it on his first Sun album and played it for the rest of his life), and the Blackwood Brothers. While her first album was self-released, it is her second offering, Sing a Happy Song (issued by Dot in 1959), that is the subject of this set. Jones was recorded in a studio proper with killer musicians -- pianist Floyd Cramer, guitarist Hank Garland, drummer Buddy Harman, and bassist Joe Zinkan, all of them top Nash Vegas studio cats in the '50s. The sound is a stellar mix of rockabilly, honky tonk, and gospel. Jones' voice is a big throaty instrument that walks the line between Patsy Cline and Wanda Jackson, with plenty of the latter's swagger and fire. Garland's guitar comes straight from the Elvis rockabilly school at Sun, cutting and burning through each tune with smoking fills and runs. There is also an unidentified male gospel quartet on backing vocals that keeps the sacred focus on what was probably considered something close to the Devil's music when it was issued -- the album sank without a trace. The deep burn of tracks such as "I Ain't Got Time," "I Do Believe," "Keep Me Busy," and Thomas Dorsey's "Take My Hand Precious Lord" is simply awe-inspiring. Jones' originals come right from the hard country boogie of honky tonk music, though her lyrics are clearly sanctified and she's right down the hardcore-fundamentalist-Southern-Assemblies-of-God line. In addition to the original album, there are four bonus cuts from Jones' original recording session, including a radical reworking of the Albert E. Brumley masterpiece "This World Is Not My Home." The Glory Road is a one-of-a-kind gem from a terrific stylist and songwriter who never got her due.

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