Music

Various Artists: Fire in My Bones: Raw Rare & Otherworldly African American Gospel (1944-2007)

Michael Miller

Bizarro-world gospel music that will make you re-think the genre.


Various Artists

Fire in My Bones

Subtitle: Raw, Rare & Otherworldly African-American Gospel (1944-2007)
Label: Tompkins Square
US Release Date: 2009-10-26
UK Release Date: 2009-10-27
Label website
Amazon
iTunes

“I want you to lift your voices, to sing like you’ve been born again,” Rev. G.W. Killens says to the Mt. Calvary Congregation near the end of disc two of Fire in My Bones, a wonderful collection of 80 rare black gospel tunes. What follows is a voyeuristic kind of field recording of distant voices singing in unison. It’s terrifying, and not just because the only thing this writer worships is hedonism. The voices themselves sound hedonistic. The pleasure of singing the gospel is almost sexual in the joy it brings.

Fire in My Bones, a genre-bending, expectation-defying collection spanning from 1944 to 2007, is filled with bizarre, contradictory moments like this. From the opening song, a beautiful instrumental rendition of “Peace in the Valley,” with a Hawaii pedal steel playing the melody, carried along by a shuffle beat, nearly perfectly bridging the gap (and it’s a small but important one) between country, blues, and hymns, Fire in My Bones is awash in the flame of emotional intensity.

“Subject: Rock and Roll. Can I get an amen?” Elder Beck asks in “Rock and Roll Sermon.” The congregation gives it to him. “The disintegration of our civilization!” he shouts like Howlin’ Wolf while an electric guitar dirtier than anything Chuck Berry has ever played burns away in the background. The church hollers and screams. The tune rocks harder than most rock songs to ever grace AM radio. Even the best gospel collections—Dust-to-Digital’s Goodbye, Babylon, disc four of The Anthology of American Folk Music—leave a great many gaps in the music’s history. The electric guitar, for instance. How did gospel music deal with girl group pop, with '70s funk, with white rock and roll? The genre’s skill has always been to synthesize piety with popular melody, yet few collections of gospel music have been this historically thorough. Spanning 1944-2007, though many of these songs fall in the earlier portion of that broad timeframe, this collection covers nearly every imaginable genre of music (but no, not hip-hop), all tied together through that ever-familiar, transcendent theme.

There’s the bubble-gum pop of “I’m a Soldier;” the frighteningly punk rock guitars of “You Without Sin Cast the First Stone;” the delta blues of “If I Could Not Say a Word”, and the dirty funk of “Help Me.” The strength of Fire in My Bones is its representation of gospel music’s diversity. It’s not just church organs and choirs, though those do make appearances. In the heyday of rock and roll, gospel produced some of the most fiery exercises in that genre. In the era of delta blues, the gospel musicians nearly created the template for the syncopated polyrhythm of the deep south. Even in the era of grandiose funk and disco, gospel music managed to assimilate within the structure of antithetical music.

And what of religion? What does the sinner do when approaching this music? Well, the one interested in anthropology will find quite a bit to enjoy here, with tape recorders catching people at some of their most vulnerable moments. The scarred growl of Rev. Louis Overstreet’s “Working on a Building” feels like a private moment, like we shouldn’t be allowed to listen to it. Yet musically, the virtuosity on Fire in My Bones is enough to impress anyone: Christian, atheist, Satanist even. The Singing Son of Zion’s gravelly yelp on “I’ll Never Turn Back” will send chills up your spine, whether you believe in what he’s singing or not. The catharsis of Grant & Ella’s “John Saw” is enough to make any listener sweat.

If there is a weakness here, it’s that nearly four hours of music about organized religion can be a burden to sift through. This music is best digested a few songs at a time. No matter how many different styles and sounds are contained on Fire in My Bones, it’s all held together through a single subject: Jesus. Hearing about him over and over and over can become—arduous. Still, with a truly nasty guitar riff, or a hard-edged beat set behind the stories of the Man, these songs are something to worship.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.