LEGENDS OF SPIRITUAL & GOSPEL, FOLK & COUNTRY DVD
TROPICAL MUSIC (DVD68363)
Spiritual & Gospel Festival 1965: Bishop Kelsey/Reverend John Little, Sister Leena Philips Jones, Inez Andrews & The Andrewettes, Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi. (Duration 37.50)
Spiritual & Gospel Festival 1966: Bishop Kelsey & Ensemble, The Harmonizing Four, Dorothy Norwood Singers, The Gospelaires. (Duration 43.18)
American Folk & Country Music 1966: New Lost City Ramblers, Roscoe Holcomb, Tracy Schwarz, Cyprien Landreneau, Cousin Emmy, Stanley Brothers. (Duration 43.46)
The first part of this DVD was filmed by SWR TV Baden Baden, in 1965 in an empty church in the Black Forest. At first it seems a bit incongruous to present these artists and their gospel to rows of empty pews, but you get over it - especially when Bishop Kelsey lets rip with his hard hitting sermons - and it doesn't seem to bother Inez Andrews and her Andrewettes either. They get in the spirit immediately, warming the cool atmosphere with their fevered attack on holiness-filled songs like "What Love". The Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi and their electric guitarist Bobby Jackson follow with a demonstration of note-perfect harmony on the driving "Oh Why" and an intense preaching style on "Jesus Rose" where the lead singer hits notes you would normally only associate with Wilson Pickett!
The 1966 film has more atmosphere as it's recorded in a small hall in front of a living and breathing audience! Bishop Kelsey's boisterous preaching opens it up and then it's straight into the songs of the Harmonizing Four who hit a groove with their rock-steady rendition of "We're Crossing Over", even getting the audience to clap on the backbeat with no effort! The Dorothy Norwood Singers performances start in an easy manner but soon develop into a tension and depth that rocks the house and gets the audience dancing in the aisles. Songs like "Searching" and "He's A Shelter" certainly raise the temperature of their show. The Gospelaires of Dayton, Ohio are the youngest and most modern of the groups mixing a rejoicing preaching feeling with a soulfulness and energy usually only heard in deep soul music. They come across as the Chambers Brothers of gospel, thanks the insistent electric guitar and vocal performances reminiscent of Sam & Dave, especially on the fervent "I Feel The Spirit" where the group think nothing of throwing off their coats and testifyin' down with the audience.
The third part of this DVD covers The American Folk & Country Music show of 1966 and runs the gamut of American music from the high lonesome sound of Appalachia, back porch cajun from Louisiana and bristling bluegrass music to America's finest revival string band.
Filmed before a small audience on a rural set inspired by old Farm Security Administration photographs, it starts with a blast from the New Lost City Ramblers who scrape out traditional string band numbers with all the authority and brilliance of their mentors. The legendary Roscoe Holcomb does an unaccompanied version of the old mountain ballad "Barbara Allen" before strapping on the banjo and unleashing his high haunting tenor voice on the evocative "Old Smoky". Roscoe's music has been described as "profound and disturbing, the exultation of despair" and, even in these unnatural circumstances, that still shines through. The New Lost City Ramblers lighten the atmosphere with a rollicking take on "Liza Jane" and accordion player Cyprien Landreneau lets the good times roll on a couple of old time Cajun tunes which feature the high octave fiddlin' of his brother Adam. There's plenty of rough edges here but with joyous music like this, who gives a damn?
The film ends with The Stanley Brothers, whose beautiful harmonies float over dynamic banjo and ringing guitar licks, while the booming double bass, high energy fiddle playing and George Shuffler's precise finger-
picked guitar weave in an out of songs like "How Mountain Girls Can Love" - an adrenalin driven performance that is only just overshadowed by the exhilarating and introspective arrangements of their classic song "Rank Stranger".
This is a tremendous film capturing an historic time in the music of the hills of Appalachia - one to treasure.
Ask for Tropical Music DVD 68363. Only £21.95 plus p&p at Red Lick.
Review Date: March 2009