REVEREND ROBERT WILKINS
Bear Family (BCD16629AH)
Jesus Will Fix It Alright, Thank You Jesus, Just A Closer Walk With Thee, Do Lord Remember Me, Here Am I Send Me, The Prodigal Son, Jesus Said If You Go, I’m Going Home To My Heavenly King, Old Time Religion, I Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down, It Just Suits Me, The Gambling Man, Biographical Statement
The first thing that you notice here is that the CD cover spoofs the sleeve of the Rolling Stones Beggar’s Banquet LP, the record that included a cover of Wilkins That’s No Way To Get Along, better known as Prodigal Son. Whether this spoof is intended to commend The Stones for helping raise awareness and appreciation of the music of Robert Wilkins or to rebuke them for not initially acknowledging him as the song-writer of this song is not clear, but either way, it works for me.
Robert Wilkins was one of the finest pre-war bluesmen returned to prominence with the folk and blues boom of the early 1960s. He originally recorded in and around Memphis in the late 1920s and early 1930s, leaving a small but impressive collection of country blues sides but quit the blues in the mid 1930s when he found religion, becoming an ordained minister in 1950.
Tracked down by blues researcher and scholar Dick Spottswood in the early 1960s, Wilkins was willing to return to playing and recording but would only feature religious material, involving his old songs only when he had re-worked the words away from their blues origins towards more acceptable religious meaning. It is these post-discovery records that are presented here on this rather special CD. Originally recorded in the mid 1960s, these tracks found their way onto albums released by Piedmont and Biograph but they were never widely available and have largely been unavailable for many a year. Thankfully, Bear Family has done the decent thing and brought them out here for the first time on CD.
Across the 12 tracks, Wilkins demonstrates he had clearly lost none of his powers as a subtle and inventive guitarist and as a powerful vocalist. This is strongly evidenced on this re-working of Prodigal Son along with the traditional Old Time Religion and Just A Closer Walk With Thee. By the time we arrive at the delightful closer, The Gambling Man, you are left in no doubt of the man’s quality and class.
As well as the enjoyment and impact of the music, this release is further enhanced by Wilkins 'biographical statement' at the end, a recorded piece where he gives a stilted but informative overview of his musical development and influences along with information on his life.
Needless to say, the presentation and packaging from Bear Family is exemplary, including an informative booklet with notes from Dick Spottswood, and an ideal complement to these historic and hugely enjoyable recordings.
Review Date: April 2014