The Sensational Barnes Brothers Build a Legacy with 'Nobody's Fault But My Own'

Photo: Bill Reynolds / Courtesy of Nick Loss Eaton Media

With their gospel soul, the Sensational Barnes Brothers kick off a new label with an old sound, providing good news for everyone.

Nobody's Fault But My Own
The Sensational Barnes Brothers

Bible & Tire

20 September 2019

Soul music has always had its Saturday night and its Sunday morning components. The music took its share of influence from the parties; a band had to keep people moving, or they might as well just go home. It also took its sound from the church, from the vocal deliveries and the groove and harmonies present in gospel music. The middle of the 20th century was rich with crossover artists. The gospel side of the music has gotten lost at times, a move that's both musically and historically short-sighted. Fortunately, a new label should help bring balance.

Fat Possum's Bruce Watson has launched Bible & Tire Recording Co. to present both new and archival gospel releases, a series of cuts that won't require the Holy Spirit for you to get your hands up (even if that won't hurt). Watson says, in what reads like a mission statement, "Deep Soul Gospel Music is Soul Music without the sex. The message is different, but the spirit is the same. I don't hear that in modern gospel music." Hence the start of Bible & Tire, with its sound that has more to do with Sam Cooke or early Stax than Kirk Franklin or (of course) Kanye West. It's old school soul, but everything's made new again.

The first set of new music comes from the Sensational Barnes Brothers and their Nobody's Fault But My Own. The siblings – Chris, Courtney, and Calvin II – come from a musical family. Dad Calvin (Duke) was a solo artist, and mom Deborah sang backup for Ray Charles. The ties to history go deep on the label. The brothers drew the songs for their album from Designer Records, a Memphis-based gospel label. They also recruited artists like Liz Brasher (amid her own impressive start) and Will Sexton to support them. The combination of family influence, cultural deposit, and current art works well.

The album could have turned out to be a vanity project, a dig into the past to honor parentage and test out the music world. Fortunately, the Barnes family can pull it off. The songs carry that easy soul groove and run the necessary range of experience (gospel is more than simple praise music). "Why Am I Treated So Bad" uses a horn riff well-executed harmonies to pose an eternal existential question. It doesn't have an answer; instead, it has rhythm.

"I Made It Over" bounces more, following a crisis with celebration. The title cut is pure Memphis soul, a touch swampy, deep in the groove, and riding a solid hook. "Let It Be Good" slows everything down, and the vocalists hold up fine while more exposed. It's a nice piece of sequencing. The brothers run through a spectrum of moods and modes in their gospel soul, often bridging the gap between, say, the Soul Stirrers and Stax, all the while keeping a local flavor. Watson and his Bible & Tire might be on to something, but it wouldn't matter if they weren't able to find artists like the Sensational Barnes Brothers who are capable of carrying a legacy.

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