Gospel Music

Apr 26, 2006 at 12:00 am

Liner notes could have told you that Sam Cooke is one of the Soul Stirrers heard here and that Wilson Pickett was once a member of the Violinaires. The notes could have expounded on the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet as a link between barbershop quartets and gospel to come. The notes might have pointed to Archie Brownlee of the Five Blind Boys as an influence on Ray Charles and pointed to Claude Jeter as the arguable granddaddy of the falsetto singers. They might have rolled out the carpets for James Cleveland as the prince of gospel and Mahalia Jackson as the queen, and they might have connected the dots from Mahalia Jackson back to blues queen Ma Rainey by way of Rainey's pianist and Jackson's mentor, the gospel giant Thomas A. Dorsey.

Instead veteran record producer Joel Dorn and photographer Lee Friedlander, the compilers of this amazing survey of gospel, argue that to do so would detract from the music's purity and its power. They keep their yaps shut and offer as context an iconic Friedlander picture of Jackson, swathed in white against her dark skin, blasted by late afternoon sunlight on an outdoor stage, her face radiant, her eyes closed, her hands cradling the mic — it's the moment before the ascension that the music promises.

But when Dorn and Friedlander hold back from listeners so much of what they surely know about the music, they render it ahistorical, deny it a story that surely merits telling, particularly to the rock and jazz audiences that the Hyena label has traditionally served. Even the most leaden of liner notes wouldn't have held down music like these 18 cuts.

W. Kim Heron is the editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].