Whether Unearthly Black Gospel is really as good as I say is debatable, but for reasons I don’t normally employ—objectivity—it’s worth enough as a time capsule that any music lover should check it out. I’ll worm it into my best-of list at some point; some other 2014 releases I still gotta get around to reviewing.
VERCKYS ET L’ORCHESTRE VEVE – Congolese Funk, Afrobeat & Psychedelic Rumba 1969-1978 (Africa Analog): I would say most definitely on the funk, not so much the Afrobeat, and a slim maybe on the psychedelic rumba, so disregard the sloppy album title, toss in some soukous on the side, and sprinkle a healthy pinch of lightly improvised jazz sax, which is Verckys’s (aka Georges Mateta Kiamuangana’s) instrument of choice. Thing is, that funk and that soukous—the latter tendency heavily influenced, inevitably, by Franco’s O.K. Jazz outfit—stand in such stark contrast that the transitions from track to track are jarring, so much so that it sounds at times as though you’re alternating between two different albums. A second-tier group’s best. B PLUS (***)
When I Reach That Heavenly Shore: Unearthly Black Gospel 1926-1936 (Tompkins Square): 3 discs, 42 songs, 131 minutes. Rarities collector Christopher King’s dusty archive of archaic recordings of various Southern, black choirs and reverends—whether in a cappella choirs or rambling, sing-song sermons—is amazing in that it exists at all and more so as an historical artifact of a world that no longer does. These are songs of salvation, perseverance, and in some cases moral instruction—Washington Phillips’s disc 3 leadoff teaches how to “Train Your Child,” and Rev. T.E. Weems recites a compelling parable of how Satan casts his fishing net—that incorporate more than the soul-warming and rough harmonization of primitive gospel, but also the jazzy improv in scat recitations of words from the good reverends and hard-edged blues of a people who’d marched a long way to still be on hard times. More than most other comps I know, the alluring magnetism of ghost voices lives up to its title Unearthly to a tee; these are people no longer of this mortal coil, who’ve moved on and, hopefully, reached that heavenly shore. A MINUS