By Bob Marovich
The Zion Jubilees remain the flagship artist for Sharp Records. The quartet’s new CD, Jesus Is All I Need, recorded live in the group’s hometown of Bryan, Texas, proves there is still power in the traditional gospel quartet sound.
Since its founding as the Reed Brothers in the late 1950s, the Zion Jubilees has dished out wooden church wisdom steeped in sweet harmonies and hard gospel lead singing. Making records for Stan Lewis’s Shreveport-based Jewel Records in the 1970s, the group released albums on its own until signing with Sharp several years ago.
The inevitability of death and life in the hereafter are recurrent themes in gospel music, and they are on this CD, no doubt because members such as the Reverend Roy Reed are looking this fact square in the face, as are the quartet’s more senior enthusiasts. For example, on “Going Up Yonder,” an album highlight (but not the Hawkins classic), Reed admits he doesn’t know how long he’ll be singing down here, but no matter when he leaves, he wants to go where Jesus is. The song is rendered in the congregational singalong style “like the old folks used to sing.” “Mother’s Request,” a story song in the Pilgrim Jubilees’ tradition, is about a mother who is not concerned about where she will be buried but whether she died in Jesus.
Notwithstanding these more somber subjects, the album contains plenty of optimistic messages. On “You Can’t Stop Me,” the leader reminds the listener that he’s come too far and “I ain’t gonna stop now.” “It Must Be a Change” implores for universal brotherhood and love as ways to solve the world’s problems. “Jesus Lifted Me” is an energetic quartet version of Chicago’s First Church of Deliverance Radio Choir classic, “I’m So Glad Jesus Lifted Me.” The lead vocal shouting on this exceptional track is reminiscent of the Clarence Fountain-Jimmy Carter exchanges on Blind Boys of Alabama programs.
Behind the Zion Jubilees’ hard singing are sweet quartet harmonies, none sweeter than on the title track. Add guitar curlicues, chirping organ, and movable lyric couplets, and Jesus Is All I Need has the goods for fans of traditional gospel quartet singing.
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “Going Up Yonder,” “Jesus Lifted Me”
By Bob Marovich
The Original Gospel Creators of Atlanta deliver a decent album in Blessed by the Best.
Buoyed by crisp electric guitar work from Terrain Foster (first cousin to the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi’s Sandy Foster), the ten selections find the quartet toiling lyrically and melodically in a traditional bent, though the tracklist includes new songs as well as old favorites.
One of the new songs, “Oh Lord,” is an unabashed request for Jesus to return. It opens with a cappella singing and transitions to a mid-tempo clap-and-stomp beat. The singers rue about shootings in the church and “murders everywhere,” and can’t wait for the Second Coming when Jesus will change things for the better. Popular church maxims propel the title track and “He Lives,” the latter about God’s life-giving power made manifest.
Organized in 1998 by Terrain Foster, Lawrence Dean, and Anthony Kelly, the Original Gospel Creators added more members the following year and hit the gospel highway. Since then, the quartet has toured extensively and, starting in 2001 with Standing in the Need of Prayer, recorded several albums for various record companies.
The quartet’s version of “This May Be the Last Time” is a revisiting of the classic gospel hymn used by protesters during the Civil Rights movement to stave away the fear they felt in prisons and prior to major campaigns. Here, the Gospel Creators consider that this could be the last time “that we all sing together.” Nevertheless, the driving “Got to Have Faith,” with its funky guitar intro, reminds the listener that no matter what the future holds in store, we cannot face it alone. And if you don’t know what faith is, the Original Gospel Creators are there to remind you during the audience-engaging “Anybody Know what Faith Is?” “God Has Smiled on Me” is a soulful rendering of another gospel chestnut.
Blessed by the Best showcases a group that, although young by quartet standards, demonstrates more than a modicum of lyrical mother wit and musical acumen gained by participating actively in the gospel music circuit.
Three of Five Stars
Picks: “Oh Lord,” “Got to Have Faith.”
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