Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bluesy Messages

Mid-week Gospel

Here we go again ... back to The Loving Sisters from Arkansas. Last time, on Easter Sunday, I presented the group for the first time and you could listen to two songs from their 1974 LP »The Sisters And Their Sons«. Today, I would like to introduce one of their albums released in 1973 on Peacock / ABC Dunhill.

Peacock LP # PLP-187
The album is called »A New Dimension« and as was usual with the group, all songs were composed and arranged by lead singer (and driving force behind the Loving Sisters) Gladys Givens McFadden. Once more we have here a wonderful album, with ten songs of different moods, styles and flavours. The LP was released, for all I know, in September 1973 and shortly (though with almost lavishing praise) reviewed in the September 22, 1973, issue of BILLBOARD (see below). In particular, the reviewer stresses the gospel-soul crossover appeal of this album: »... one of those rare sets that manages to capture a true gospel flavour while also incorporating strong traces of soul which can move the LP into other areas besides the somewhat limited gospel field. ... This set ... could easily provide one of the few gospel-soul crossover sets.«

This is true, and in some ways it isn't. It all depends on how you define »soul«. My guess is that the reviewer took »soul« here to mean »secular black music« in general, because half of the songs on the album are not in the Soul-mould at all. I'd rather stress the variety of musical styles on this LP: The first song, »It's Jesus, Y'All«, is »cold funk«, a mid-tempo funky piece of however detached vocals (mixed into the background with a noticeable, »distancing« hall effect). Then, there are some downright blues-gospel songs, two of which you can hear below. There is one shout-song at a frenzied speed, aptly entitled »Cry Loud«, with much light-speed tambourine-shaking and manic hand-clapping, just the type of song which, unfortunately, came to dominate a large part of contemporary gospel music (today rendered the more a nuisance by being performed by giant choirs which leave you with a »wall-of-sound« experience of undistinguished vocal chaos - well, it's a matter of personal taste ...). Finally, there are several soul-gospel ballads with a more or less funky undercurrent, one of these with the voice of Gladys's son Leonard Givens.

On the whole, this album is remarkable for its variety. There may not be a single song that stands out but the complete package is quite an achievement. It didn't go anywhere near commercial success, to my knowledge. What is more, the Loving Sisters went about very programmatically in creating different shades of »the right sound of today«, as the sleeve notes proudly proclaim, and that explains the equally proud title of the LP: »A New Dimension«. Well, it was right that but people wouldn't notice much at the time. Maybe this was due to the fact that Aretha Franklin in 1972 had given gospel a great push by returning to religious tunes in her widely acclaimed »Amazing Grace« album. For one thing, this may have overshadowed other gospel recordings issued at the time. For another thing, Aretha stuck to a very »classical« mode of gospel: the old songs, the old ways of performing them. She did it very well all right but she didn't dare attacking convention. Actually she avoided to make gospel sound like soul or r&b-tunes and rather tried to keep her distance from the secular field. This is, of course, easily explained by her previous »secular« career, and the many who criticized her for returning to gospel at all could only be pacified by offering them the conventional package. Not so the Loving Sisters.

One word about the album as such: It was released on the Peacock label (# 187). Peacock since May '73 belonged to ABC-Dunhill. Then, in late 1978, ABC was sold to MCA. The entry on Peacock/ABC on www. gives some further details about what happened then: »MCA reissued 100-plus Peacock and Songbird gospel LPs in the early Eighties on with references to Peacock and Songbird eliminated from the covers and new MCA catalog numbers stamped in gold.« In fact, the LP I possess has that golden MCA-stamp on the front cover, but the Peacock and/or ABC references are not in any way removed. So I guess all the remaining original releases were »re-branded« as well, not only the re-issues. I don't even know whether this LP of the Loving Sisters was ever re-issued.

The two songs I would like to present here are the two »bluesy« songs of the album. The first, »Why«, is as good an example of blues-gospel as you are ever likely to hear. And the song is not a religious song in the proper sense but laments the selfishness of people: »So many nights, I was all alone. I didn't have no one to call my own. I even tried to call a friend of mine. I just couldn't reach them on the line ... I wanna know why do I understand everybody and no one understand me now ...« She listens to others' problems, but nobody would listen to her when she's in trouble ... »people nowadays seem so selfish you can't find a friend«. The song is beautifully performed, with a very touching message. The lead voice and the backing vocals are mixed separately to the right and left channel, respectively, something which I until now can't make my mind up whether this was a happy idea or not. Judge for yourself! The second song, »I Owe It All To The Lord«, is rather similar, in its »bluesy« mood and overall harmonies, to the first song. It is introduced with a pretty »Hawaiian« sounding steel guitar which continues to crop up throughout the song, giving it a slightly exotic flavour. And the song is more overtly religious: »Of all the good things that I have I like to say: I owe it to the Lord ...«

The Loving Sisters (feat. Gladys McFadden):
»Why« / »I Owe It All To The Lord« from the Peacock LP 187 (1973):

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From BILLBOARD, Sept. 22, 1973

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