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Mike Farris & the Roseland Rhythm Revue

Shout! Live

(Columbia; US: 14 Apr 2009; UK: 14 Apr 2009)

Let’s push through the backstory. Former Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies frontman finds God and changes from his hard-rockin’, hard-livin’ ways. He comes back and cuts a record (2007’s Salvation in Lights) that’s a take on gospel music (primarily spirituals) and shockingly good. The record meets with deserved critical success, and things start to pick up. Less than two years later, his next album comes out, and the happy story keeps rolling.


There’s a bit of an oddity here, though. Farris (with the Roseland Rhythm Revue and the McCrary Sisters) decides to cut a live album as his follow-up. With only one album to pull material from (given that 2002’s Goodnight Sun has been almost entirely overlooked) and only that studio disc serving to support the career, it seems a strange choice to continue the career re-launch with a live album drawing heavily from one studio disc.


Farris has a couple elements on his side, though. By all accounts, he’s first and foremost an amazing live performer (and this was true with the Wheelies). Salvation showed off his great vocals, but nobody the same in the studio. Second, he’s mixed in a few extra cuts that change things up, including “Good News”, a re-writing of the Sam Cooke classic, and “Dig a Little Deeper”, which highlights the McCrary Sisters (though more on this one later). Finally, in 2008, Farris and his band did a series of live shows called the Sunday Night Shout, so he and his band were tight and ready, then marked its occasion with a live release.


For much of this disc, Farris and the Revue absolutely nail it. The songs from Salvation aren’t so substantially re-worked that these serve as necessary new versions, but the live element is a noteworthy factor here for the usual reasons (high energy, passionate delivery, etc.). The band sounds more glued to gospel/soul traditions than to rock influences here, and it works well.


The release also provides a sequencing order from various shows that flows much like a single concert should, with proper pacing. The transition from an increasingly rowdy “Good News” to the sit-down-catch-your-breath moment of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” shows an excellent sensibility. “Can’t No Grave Hold My Body Down” uses one of the disc’s funkiest grooves to rebuild the energy.


Unfortunately, the album takes its only stumble (a more significant one than it should be) when the McCrary Sisters follow with an a cappella rendition of “Dig a Little Deeper”. While the Sisters have the pedigree (their father Samuel of the Fairfield Four provides the source for this song) and the vocal performance impresses, the track marks such a shift in style and type of energy that it brings the album’s momentum to a halt.


The disc never fully recovers despite a solid, but unspectacular take on the Staples Singers’ “I’ll Take You There”—here performed as “Take Me (I’ll Take You There)”—which never quite reaches the crescendo it aspires to. “I’m Gonna Get There” essentially provides a mid-tempo outro to the disc (and essentially, the set), just as it did on Salvation, and it’s fine in its place. The CD-only bonus track “Green Green Grass of Home” is significant in its way, but not groundbreaking, and probably would have worked better sequenced into the mix, rather than placed at the end of an album that somewhat tailed off.


Shout! Live captures impressive performances from a great vocalist with strong backing. That said, it’s not quite essential this early in the Farris solo years, but at the same time it’s more than a completists-only sort of work. The fade over the last few songs of the album has as much to do with the strength of the first two-thirds as it does the weakness of the closing tracks (and primarily just the one) and the 74-minute run-time of the recording. If you haven’t discovered Farris yet, this one would be a great place to start; if you’re familiar with him, consider this one as the next, surprisingly logical step—one you’ll probably want to take, too.

Rating:

Justin Cober-Lake lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife, kids, and dog. His writing has appeared in a number of places, including Stylus, Paste, Chord, and Trouser Press. His work made its first appearance on CD with the release of Todd Goodman's first symphony, Fields of Crimson. He's recently co-founded the literary fly-fishing journal Rise Forms.


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