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Tompkins Square (TSQ2271 )

Rev Lonnie Farris, Elder Beck, Elder Roma Wilson, The Phillips Specials, Rev. Robert Ballinger, Snooks Eaglin, Mississippi Nightingales, Shaw Singers, Sister Goldia Haynes, Rayburn Brothers Quintet, Hickory Bottom Harmoneers, Willie Mae Williams, Abner Jay, True Loving Five, Sensational Skylights, Lula Collins, Little Ax and The Golden Echoes, E.L Burtis, Madam Ira Mae Littlejohn, Straight Street Holiness Singers, Mosby Family Singers and more..

As most black music fans know, gospel is a minefield. It seems that for every dynamite track there are dozens of insipid ones so you need to search out the gems and buy carefully. That's why this terrific package, along with the JSP box set reviewed on the back cover, is a very welcome item. While the JSP set covers every aspect of the music and presents absolute killers by some of the biggest names in gospel, this Tompkins Square anthology collects the most fascinating, quirky and riotously glorious rare moments that gospel has to offer. Between them they contain the finest religious music ever released.

On Fire In My Bones, the diversity of the music and uniqueness of the performances comes at you at a blistering rate of knots. This is God-bothering music from all kinds of sources - church services, folk festivals, radio broadcasts and field recordings along with tracks taken from 45s, 78s and long forgotten obscure LPs that have gospel singers hollering, screaming and moaning over pianos, lap-steel guitars, organs, electric guitars, drums and pianos and even, in the case of the Elder Roma Wilson Family's version of Better Get Ready, with four interweaving harp players!

Once you wipe yourself down after a particularly spine quivering piece of raw soulfulness another one comes along. For instance, the Reverend Lonnie Farris lulls you into a false sense of calmness with his controlled lap-steel instrumental Peace In The Valley before Elder Beck absolutely blasts in with Rock And Roll Sermon - a fire and brimstone rant at the newly discovered devil's music that is "about to bring about the disintegration of our civilisation". Meanwhile the backing band, and the guitar player in particular, rocks out harder than any rock band of the day! The Phillips' Specials continue in the same vein, ploughing through their upbeat I'm A Soldier with a guitar sound that James Brown would've been proud of while Reverend Robert Ballinger's swinging piano piece So Glad simply grooves along magnificently thanks to the cool treatment of the hip drummer's brushes.

Some more soulful stuff comes from the singers at the Madison County Senior Center whose 1983 a cappella number Wasn't That A Mystery is old style call and response gospel while Reverend Roger L. Worthy & His Sister Bonnie Woodstock breeze in with a relaxed Get Back Satan performed in a low-key Staple Singers style which sounds almost ghostly because of a haunting reverberating guitar backing and the mysteriously chilling echo-ridden percussion. It's fantastic! The Amazing Farmer Singers Of Chicago give us the improbably titled I Got A Telephone In My Bosom (most of us keep it in our pocket...) where a busy mix of piano, guitars, drums and tambourines beaver away behind the gravelly-voiced lead singer who develops a funky interplay with the fabulously full-blown vocals of the girl singers.

The acoustic guitar comes into play when The Two Gospel Keys get happy on a bruising version of You've Got To Move, a song Fred McDowell adapted and made his own but they're out-shone by Snooks Eaglin tearing things up on Down By The Riverside where his guitar, according to folklorist Harry Oster, "sounds like a richly chorded piano".

Honestly, I could go on for hours but space is at a premium so all I can do now is urge you to do yourself a huge favour and treat yourself to this for Christmas. It gets five stars from us and a big golden halo as well.


Review Date: November 2009

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