20 December 2013

NASHBORO :: I Heard the Angels Singing: Electrifying Black Gospel from The Nashboro Label 1951-1983

fB // tompkins square records // 

If you are a fan of golden era gospel music, the new release by Tompkins Square Records,  I Heard the Angels Singing: Electrifying Black Gospel from The Nashboro Label 1951-1983, is sure to thrill you.

Having released two important gospel sets (Fire In My Bones: Raw, Rare, and Other Worldly African American Gospel 1944-2007 as well as This May Be My Last Time Singing : Raw African-American Gospel on 45RPM 1957-1982,) this third set comes as a bejeweled and hand-hammered golden grail to my soul (and my ears!) 

I used to try to collect gospel albums, but finding the good stuff proved difficult in my rural area of the pacific northwest. But on the occasion when I did find a stash of albums the rare record on Nashville's Nashboro label (also home to Excello Records (home of the great blues artist Slim Harpo)   always hit the spot. 

This Nashboro set lacks for none of the alive-ness, and the rawness of the previous Tompkins sets, it just has a slightly more...sophisticated/modern/pop sound than the other sets. Which only makes sense as these are more modern recordings, but there's nothing slick or cosmopolitan about any of these tracks. This is the well spring of modern day gospel.

Some of the tracks, like the high stepping 1977 recording by Flint, Michigan's Bright Stars doing It's Time To Serve The Lord sound like the link between Sam Cooke and Isaac Hayes, a '50s gospel mid-tempo shuffle with some groovy shifts, or Ethel Davenport's 1968 mostly spoken-word piece Free At Last, or the moody rolling piano on Bonita Cantrell's testifying, bottom-heavy swinging Wait On The Lord the set serves as a fine example of some incredibly talented, but obscure musicians that we might not remember if not for labels like Tompkins Square and dudes like Kevin Nutt, Mike McGonigal, and Josh Rosenthal keeping the faith alive.  

The gems on this set are...well, pretty much all of 'em, but I consider The CBS Trumpeteers Milky White Way as a sort of a gold standard and it is included in this four disc set. Gospel praise music hardly gets any better than this stuff. It belongs in the library of every one of you sinners.

I asked Mike McGonigal, co-producer with Kevin Nutt, a few questions about this project:

I'm wondering how the project came about? Where were the tracks sourced from both your and Kevin Nutt's collections?
How many tracks did you start with, and how tough were the cuts? Did you do it all via email, or did you get together at some point to pick tracks? Did you have an intention when compiling this set, like, were you looking for an overview of the label or...? Are you working on anything now? Any new projects? What're you listening to lately? If I came over to yr house today and you had a 5 disc changer, what would be on it?

Mike McGinigal :: This compilation was first proposed to Josh at Tompkins Square four or five years ago. I produced it for Tompkins because I have a good working relationship with the label, and that was the only way I knew how to do it. You see, Tompkins is distributed by Fontana, which is owned by Universal, who own the Nashboro material and have since the ‘90s at least. 

Josh has previously worked at major labels, so I trusted him to work with Uni to allow us to do this collection from their vaults. The track listing went through several revisions in part because we had to provide not just the track listing and music for each song, but a scan of each label. We had to work very hard to prove to them that they actually own this stuff! It was so weird, and a lot of work – but super worthwhile. 

Didn’t (and don’t) want to make too big a deal of the fact, but the entire set had to be mastered from vinyl sources – 78s, 45s, a few LPs – mostly 45s, though. Most are from mine and Kevin’s collections. Kevin sourced the majority of the set, that was his main thing he did, which was a lot! A few tracks were lent by other gospel collectors. My track listing changed a bit, mostly due to situations when we didn’t have as good a transfer as we’d thought – or when we realized that a lot of the Nashboro 45s in my own collection are kind of beat to shit. I own a lot of Nashboro records, but I’m sort of a slob and not enough of a condition freak as I should be. He lives in Alabama, and I’ve been living in Oregon while we worked on this so it was all emails and phone calls and stuff. 

Opal Louis Nations wrote the liner notes independently, because he knows this material backwards and forwards. I wanted to provide an overview, yes. I wanted the word to know what my gospel collecting friends know – Nashboro gospel is amazing stuff. Of course, you could say the same thing about Peacock Gospel but I don’t know how to license through whoever owns the ABC catalog which owns Peacock. 

This set reflects my own tastes, so there might be more down and dirty or weird / ethereal type cuts than the flat-footed and straight-ahead style gospel others maybe prefer? But only a little bit. The last disc, of the ‘70s-‘80s material, that’s not exactly my jam – it’s not my favorite of all the Nashboro stuff, for sure. To me, the music by the Radio Four (led on their ‘50s sides by Nashboro’s A+R guy Morgan Babb) and the Hightower Brothers and the Consolers … it’s so incredible, that stuff. It would have been all centered on that era except I just thought it would be more judicious to do an encompassing profile – also I don’t think anyone had ever tried that. 

I have a lot of really fun projects in the works. I hope to oversee the reissue of the great bluegrass gospel Cooke Duet’s first LP for Tompkins Square. And to do a Jamaican gospel compilation for Honest Jons. Then for my own label, which gets a real kick in the pants very soon after I move to Detroit shortly, I hope to oversee some reissues of the Straight Street Holiness Group and Rev. Lonnie Farris—Pentecostal pandemonium. 

There’s an LP called ‘I Have A Radio Television in My Heart,’ which is *new* recordings by Rev. Raymond Branch which are beyond beautiful things – it’s like Washington Phillipps meets Laraaji meets Lonnie Holley. This music is very strange, beautiful, ethereal—maybe no one will like it but I have to get behind it. 

This week I’m listening almost exclusively to the self-titled Bells of Joy LP for Checker, the Tony Conrad with Faust record, and ‘Don’t Forget to Boogie’ by Tetuzi Akayama. That’s basically my whole schtick right there – God, Drone + Boogie.    

Thanks a lot to Mike for taking the time and for sharing the music. Go buy it. 

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