The Bells of Joy: The Collection (1951-1954)
Acrobat Records 2005
While the Bells of Joy did not possess superstar lead vocalists as did Peacock labelmates the Sensational Nightingales (June Cheeks), Spirit of Memphis (“Little Axe” Broadnax) and the Dixie Hummingbirds (Ira Tucker), leads A.C. Littlefield and Robert Dawkins were more than capable shouters. And like the Radio Four, the Bells of Joy stayed true to its country quartet roots – despite personnel changes – producing hand-clapping, muscle-twitching, steering wheel-pounding quartet gospel for four different record labels.
On Acrobat Records’ reissue of the quartet’s 1951-54 sessions for Peacock Records, you’ll find six of their seven original Peacock releases (including the monster gospel hit of 1952, “Let’s Talk About Jesus”) and a handful of unissued Peacock sides that first saw the light of day some years ago on the Japanese P-Vine label.
For a taste of the Bells’ best early work, check out “Let’s Talk About Jesus,” “Stop Right Now, It’s Praying Time,” “How Sweet it Is,” “Since Jesus Changed this Heart of Mine,” and “Leak in this Old Building.” These sides, with their infectious beat and rhythmic call and response singing, have a power that leaps right off the grooves and into your nervous system. “Never Let it be Said Too Late,” with its ruminations on the Flood of 1953, has a renewed poignancy, given all the wreckage caused by the recent hurricanes.
From the unissued tracks, the standouts are “Do Lord Remember Me” – arguably the best version of that song ever captured on wax – and “Every Day and Every Hour.” The Southern Tones’ recording of “Every Day and Every Hour” for the Philadelphia-based Grand label borrows heavily from the Peacock arrangement. Not surprising: as Opal Nations’ liner notes point out, for a period of time, the Southern Tones were the Bells of Joy on tour and record.
While the Bells of Joy’s output might sound dated to devotees of the late 60s and 70s quartet sound, it is a great example of quartet singing emerging from the a cappella jubilee days and embracing the Big Beat to stay relevant in the RnB era.