Sunday, July 15, 2012

Heilbut Was Right, Wasn't He?

A cloudy sunday ... maybe the right day to dig deep into the crate. Out came a HOB 45 released in June 1973 (according to the stamp on both labels; it actually says »June 27 1973«).

HOB # 1379 has two songs by the Greater St. Paulettes. Reference is to the Greater St. Paul Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina. The former local pastor, Dr. W.T. Bigelow, is mentioned as arranger of »He Touched Me« on the A side; the song itself is the famous hymn written by William (Bill) J. Gaither and first recorded in 1964. Now, Durham is known not only as the birthplace of Pigmeat Markham and John D. Loudermilk but also of Clyde McPhatter and Shirley Caesar (few names, but what a bunch of artists!). Unfortunately, by 1973 black gospel (and not only black gospel) had already started to move into its »mass choir-phase«. This may have reflected changes in the forms of worship and may have been due to enhanced technology as well, but musicallywise it proved a disaster (it still does). Anthony Heilbut lamented bitterly, and oh so justly, that by taking this turn gospel music buried the vocal qualities of individual singers. What is more, mass groups are pretty much unfitted to perform quieter and less frantic (indeed less frenzical) songs; some also said, correctly I think, that the mass-choir style tends to stress rhythm over harmony and thus resembles the development from soul to disco during the early to mid-1970s. You'll hear all this on this 45. The B side is a prime example of what went wrong (at least if you're looking for vocal artistry). However, there is still a recognizable individual voice that stands out on the A side, a voice I find quite intriguing.

For the record, I have no idea to whom the voice belongs (is she Dorothy Fox, mentioned on the labels as arranger of the group?). Nor do I know anything about the Greater St. Paulettes. This was their only 45, but in early 1974 Scepter-HOB also released a LP entitled Gospel Train (HBX-2166) and containing ten songs in all, including those two you can hear now. Happy Sunday all!

The Greater St. Paulettes: »He Touched Me« / »Working In The Vineyards« on HOB # 1379 (1973):

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