[17 January 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
At this point in history, we have a healthy number of field recordings available of religious music from the South, some more interesting for historical reasons than musical ones. This collection, originally released in 1975, is unique from those. Subtitled “A Survey of Rural Black Religious Music”, Sorrow Come Pass Me Around contains religious music not recorded in churches, and generally separate from official religious practices. It shows how pervasive religious songs were in this time and place—the South of the ‘60s—even among blues singers with names like Blind Pete Burrell. It’s also unique in what a diverse collection of music it is, even within such a narrow context. Even though some of the songs are quite familiar, like “I Shall Not Be Moved” or “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”—the performances are not, and are riveting. The pop-music lover in me has fallen for “You Got to Give an Account” (Dorothy Lee, Norma Jean and Shirley Marie Johnson with Robert “Nighthawk” Johnson), which has the melody and vocal tone of a radio hit. On the opposite side are stark guitar-and-vocals blues numbers like ‘Can’t No Grave Hold My Body Down” by Robert Johnson—not the one you think, but from the same region. His story, like those of the other singers, is well-documented in the liner notes. I’d chalk the fascinating notes up to Dust-to-Digital’s thoroughness, but they’re from the original 1975 release.