In much the same way as did Moe Asch of Folkways and Orrin Keepnews of Riverside Records, Kevin Nutt is traveling the road less taken with his CaseQuarters imprint. CaseQuarter’s first CD release – God’s Got It, a reissue of the impossible-to-find Booker and Jackson 45s by Reverend Charlie Jackson – was a superb debut, with equally impressive liner notes.
Nutt, host of the vintage gospel music radio program Sinner’s Crossroads on WFMU, has followed up the Jackson CD with the work of guitarist/vocalist Isaiah Owens: You Without Sin Cast the First Stone. If we didn’t know that Owens was a member of the Flying Clouds of Montgomery, a quartet that recorded for Savoy Records in the mid-1960s, we’d assume, upon hearing this recording, that he had entered a time capsule in the days of Bukka White and Skip James, and emerged in 1998 to perform his enigmatic amalgam of country blues and gospel, unaware that blues had moved on since the 1930s.
Owens is cut straight from the guitar evangelist mold, with his emotional exhortation and wandering, ad hoc electric guitar work. You Without Sin captures Owens performing for Ann Talbert’s Cheerful Angels broadcast on Montgomery’s WMGY, providing a glimpse of the local color of small AM radio stations, a color rapidly fading in the face of corporate conglomeration and satellite radio.
Other tracks feature Owens in the Alabama Center for Traditional Culture studio, reworking gospel songs such as “I’ll Fly Away” and “Wake Me, Shake Me” to fit blues guitar chording. Talbert, who passed away in 2004, is present on some of the tracks, all but one recorded between 2000 and 2001, singing with and otherwise encouraging Owens forward with his testimony.
You Without Sin Cast the First Stone will appeal more to music historians, ethnomusicologists, and roots/country blues fans than the traditional gospel crowd, as it is more a study of indigenous folk music and not band box-neat, radio-friendly gospel. Nevertheless, CaseQuarter is like a refreshing, old-fashioned roadside stand on a musical highway populated by major franchises. Keep the releases coming, Kevin!