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NorthernBlues Gospel All Stars: Saved!

Chip O'Brien

Northernblues Gospel All Stars


Label: NorthernBlues Music

Saved!, a collection of classic and original gospel music, features the vocals of Hiram Joseph, Danny Brooks, Amoy Levy, and John Finley. However, it is the NorthernBlues Gospel Allstars chorus that is the spiritual nexus of this album. The album opens with an a cappella version of "Down by the Riverside", featuring Joseph's confident and spirited vocal and the lush harmonies of the NorthernBlues Gospel Allstars chorus. Hiram Joseph possesses the most traditional gospel voice on Saved!. This song lasts a mere fifty-one seconds, a tasty morsel of what's to come. Joseph's second track, number three on the album, is "A Place Called Hope", composed by Babbie Mason. Michael Fonfara accompanies Joseph with big church piano chords at the outset and, before long, the chorus and band enter, taking us on one of the more convincing gospel journeys of Saved!. Joseph sings in a restrained fashion until the bridge, where he begins to testify, inspiring the chorus to new vocal heights. After a modulation there is yet another peak, which the band and vocalists ride to the song's conclusion like a wave to the shore. Joseph's performance of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" is safe but soothing; it is difficult to ruin such a wonderful song. And his reprise of "Down by the Riverside", with full band, offers everything one would expect of a competent gospel singer performing one of the most frequently recorded gospel classics.

Joseph's female counterpart on Saved! is Amoy Levy, who is featured on two tracks, "24/7/365", a traditional-sounding gospel tune written by Danny Brooks, and the traditional "Higher Ground". Levy's performance of "24/7/365", which is more or less a country blues, is fun, and her vocal pleasant when not too nasally. Bob Yeoman plays a clean, strat-like guitar solo, and the NorthernBlues Gospel Allstars chorus makes all the difference. Levy's best moments occur on "Higher Ground", where the nasal quality of her vocal is less apparent and she achieves a grooving symbiosis with the chorus and band.

Danny Brooks, a bluesman gone gospel, appears not to have left his roots too far behind with his Greg Allman-esque vocal delivery and bluesy compositions. Brooks' vocal on "Still Standing Tall", however, sounds a bit too much like Allman and is a bit of a disappointment. But Brooks redeems himself later on with "Righteous Highway", a Delta blues gospel ditty. The production is simple, just vocal and acoustic guitar, and a bluesy harp, for which no one is given credit in the liner notes. Brooks is joined in key spots of the melody by the chorus, providing the element that keeps the track relevant. Brooks' vocal is also featured on what might very well be the most solid composition on the album and arguably the most inspired performance, "Saved". The song, not surprisingly, was written by the bassist, Tim Drummond, and a not-too-shabby songwriter by the name of Bob Dylan in 1980 when Drummond was touring with Dylan.

John Finley also contributes two lead vocal performances, "The Promise", composed by Finley, and "A Change Is Gonna Come", written and originally performed by the legendary Sam Cooke. Both are piano/vocal productions, and each tune is placed perfectly within the context of Saved!. Finley's performances on both tracks, particularly on "The Promise", hearken back to Stevie Wonder's recordings from the early seventies. "A Change Is Gonna Come" is the only track on Saved! on which the NorthernBlues Gospel Allstars chorus does not sing, making this track somewhat irrelevant.

The glue and spirit that holds this album together is the NorthernBlues Gospel Allstars chorus, which is featured on the most moving track, a deceptively simple choral arrangement of the sixties' civil rights classic "We Shall Overcome". Now, if there'd only been a little more of that �..

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