CD Review: Roy Tyler and New Directions – Three Way Calling (Severn, 2004)

A former member of the Grammy-nominated Gospel Hummingbirds, quartet singer Roy Tyler is going in a new direction. After a musical hiatus, Tyler is ready to reclaim his stake in gospel music. This time, his contribution is steeped in a music he calls, most appropriately, “swamp gospel.”

On Three Way Calling, his new CD for the predominantly blues-oriented Severn Records, Tyler and his group New Directions serve up a tasty gumbo of blues guitar licks, gospel shouting, rocking beats, quartet singing, and even a dash of rock steady. Every second of the music is supported by crisp production. Think Highway 61 meets Highway to Heaven, and you have Three Way Calling. It’s an inspired match, too, given a blessing by no less a gospel luminary than Clarence Fountain of the Five Blind Boys of Alabama who contributes his considerable vocal efforts on “Leaning.”

Other highlights of Three Way Calling are the moody “Jordan River,” Tony! Toni! Tone! founder and neo-soul artist Raphael Saadiq lending his gorgeous vocals to “Tired of the Game,” and a superb version of the Jeff Lynne-Tom Petty penned “I Won’t Back Down.”

Three Way Calling may appeal more to fans of roots music and the blues than to the urban contemporary gospel fan. All the same, Tyler’s “swamp gospel” is as old as the soul of humankind and has just as much character. It also demonstrates the transparency of American musical boundaries. After all, good music is good music, no matter what you call it.

Grade = A

About Bob Marovich

Bob Marovich is a gospel music historian, author, and radio host. Founder of Journal of Gospel Music blog (formally The Black Gospel Blog) and producer of the Gospel Memories Radio Show.