REVEREND JOHN WILKINS
YOU CAN'T HURRY GOD
Fat Possum/Big Legal Mess (BLM0259)
You Can't Hurry God, Jesus Will Fix It, Sinner's Prayer, Let The Redeemed Say So, Prodigal Son, You Got To Move, I Want You To Help Me, Thank You Sir, On The Battlefield.
Reverend John Wilkins is the son of the venerated blues singer Robert Wilkins who, as a member of the Memphis blues mafia in the 1930s, recorded all time classics like Rolling Stone, That's No Way To Get Along, Old Jim Canaan's and Fallin' Down Blues - tunes that are still thrilling blues collectors in 2011. Robert recorded about twenty tracks in total and spent a few years playing house parties, juke joints and barbecues before viewing himself as a sinner playing the devil's music so he changed his ways, becoming a regular church goer and then part time preacher. He still played his guitar but he sang new lyrics to his old blues tunes.
As a young man, John Wilkins had been thoroughly immersed the music his father made in church and gospel in general but when he heard the sounds coming out on labels like Hi and Stax, he fell in love with soul music. He hit the road, honing his craft with bar bands and finding occasional studio work, hitting a high spot in 1965 when he played guitar on OV Wright's single You're Gonna Make Me Cry. Like his father, he eventually returned to the church and by the early 80s he was pastor at Hunter's Chapel Church in North Mississippi preaching to Tate county locals who included fife players Napolean Strickland and Other Turner. Fans of Fred McDowell will know that this is the same church that Fred worshipped in and recorded his gospel album Amazing Grace for Testament in the 60s.
‘You Can't Hurry God' is a bit of a revelation; although John Wilkins plays a reverent acoustic version of his father's Prodigal Son and a bluesy electric guitar ramble on Thank You Sir, the rest of the album brings in a four piece band and backing singers who shake the rafters!
The first track You Can't Hurry God has the feel of a glorious slab of early sixties soul, almost like one of Percy Sledge's early hits. It opens with a lovely circular guitar line that rolls over the solid stabbing drumbeat while Wilkins pours his heart and soul into the vocals as the song heats up into a fervour that eventually boils over and brings the verse to a halt. Then it begins again with its perfectly timed chord changes and clanging guitars that, for me, makes it one of those special little masterpieces that only comes along now and then.
Sinner's Prayer is another great song that gives off a southern soul feeling similar to the one you get on James Carr's Goldwax recordings. Opening with some sublime guitar lines, it drops right into a funky, swinging groove with the drums and bass punching out the rhythm while John gets to grips with the preaching in his hoarse, leathery voice. Let The Redeemed Say So is an easy rolling song with nicely over-reverberated Staples Singers style guitar while I Want You To Help Me is a good old fashioned church holler filled with jangling guitars, a forceful backbeat, a throbbing Hammond and snappy back ground vocals. You Got To Move opens with a bang with tons of big fat licks on the guitar and drumming that sounds like it comes directly from the wildest RL Burnside session. It's the Fred McDowell song that can't quite decide whether it's a rocker or religious item but John knows exactly what it is and presses his point home as firmly as he can.
I originally played ‘You Can't Hurry God' to hear what the son of Robert Wilkins sounds like but soon realised that Reverend John Wilkins has, in his own right, made one of the most fascinating gospel records I've ever heard. Highly recommended to all blues, soul and gospel fans.
Review Date: Febraury 2011