Music

Elizabeth King and the Gospel Souls Rejoice with 'The D-Vine Spirituals Recordings'

This archival gospel soul release never flags, as Elizabeth King fulfills a true calling.

The D-Vine Spirituals Recordings
Elizabeth King and the Gospel Souls

Bible & Tire

20 September 2019

Looking to uncover the gospel that's been lost in soul and the soul that's been lost in gospel, Fat Possum's Bruce Watson launched Bible & Tire Recording Co. The new Memphis-based label seeks to bring both new releases and archival recordings to public attention, focusing on "deep soul gospel music". The series starts strong, with the release of new music from the Sensational Barnes Brothers and a collection of old material from Elizabeth King and the Gospel Souls, The D-Vine Spirituals Recordings. The latter album brings some strong music, but it's King's voice that carries the album.

King joined the group in 1969, and the fit seems to have taken from the start. She takes the lead vocals on eight of the ten tracks here. Her strength and tone are obvious, but as the album progresses, her flexibility stands out. The group performs a variety of gospel variations. Some songs tend more toward soul, and others echo early rock 'n' roll, but King performs as required by each cut. She's clearly into it, but her control means that when she goes for a big moment (as she does late in "I Heard the Voice"), it pays off.

Despite that variety, the album marks an interesting release at the start of Bible & Tire's run, given its stated goals. The record only sometimes approaches deep soul (aside from the gospel influence, of course), but it often sounds like a forerunner of funkier gospel soul music. Much of the album feels transitional, as when "Stretch Out" marks a step from blues to rock 'n' roll, a step between Muddy Waters and, say, Aretha Franklin's "Save Me". The liminal position the recordings hold makes sense as an introduction to where the label's headed.

All of which is inherently neither good nor bad and the group carries enough force that pinning them down becomes irrelevant. When King goes hard for "Down Here Waiting", her crisis becomes fully realized. When she releases her love on "I Found Him", her conversion becomes pivotal. Even when the other vocalists Walter Boone and John Powell take the lead, the group doesn't suffer (though their appearances seem like an odd choice). The gospel message comes through forcefully in burgeoning R&B.

The album closes with "I'll Fly Away". Instead of a sweet Baptist take or a pretty old-timey version, King and the Gospel Souls get after. This spiritual exit excites them, so come out from those pews and join in some golden age rock 'n' roll. The finish works; the group doesn't restrain its enthusiasm. Tracks like "Wait on the Lord" might imply patience, but they utilize a more kinetic faith. Exiting on an expressive version of a classic makes sense. Of course, King never really exited anything. She still sings in church and on Memphis radio. Her music's a calling, and she fulfills it well.

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