Most church services don't feature the wailing sounds of lap steel guitars. The electrified instrument's unctuous and weighty sound, which can be similar to that of a theremin, is more often associated with Hawaiian slack key recordings and blues bar bands than with sermons or homilies. However, among a handful of African-American Pentecostal churches in Florida, the instrument does play a powerful role in worship services. First introduced by brothers Willie Eason and Troman Eason in the 1930s, the art of playing lap steel and pedal steel guitars in a sacred context has since blossomed into a vibrant tradition. On The First Annual Sacred Steel Convention, sixth in the Sacred Steel series from Arhoolie, you can hear a bevy of these pedal and lap steel believers -- both young and old -- showcasing their talents. "Something's Got a Hold of Me," a shuffling blues tune stitched with the slippery and wah-wah affected sounds of Dante Harmon's pedal steel, opens the CD's 14 tracks. From Harmon's tune to the frenetic double-time "What's His Name?...Jesus!," the many steel players, backup bands, and singers presented here give impassioned recitals. As the primary goal of these musicians is to infuse their congregations with spirit, heavy religious sentiments are part of the package and go hand in hand with the incendiary steel performances. But even if you are not a devout churchgoer, don't worry. The First Annual Sacred Steel Convention is an interesting CD that should please secular blues fans, steel guitar buffs, and curious music seekers as well.
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AllMusic Review by John Vallier