Various Artists – Texas Gospel: Come on Over Here (Volume 1: 1951-53)
Acrobat Records ACMCD 4209
Once again, Acrobat Records of England has given us a sampling of rare gospel recordings from the 1950s, many tracks that have not, until now, been available on a commercial reissue.
This collection could easily have been titled, “Early Recordings from the Vaults of Duke/Peacock,” for that is what Acrobat has given us. Hence the Texas appellation, since Don Robey’s Peacock and Duke labels were headquartered in Houston, though the featured artists hail from cities such as Chicago and Memphis.
The quartet recordings are mostly in the a cappella tradition, though some include guitar and Peacock’s thumping drum beat that, like a bass singer’s booming, moved quartet rhythms up the intensity meter to grab the attention of the secular music audience.
You have to love a CD that begins with tracks recorded in 1951 by the Christland Singers, an aggregation comprised largely of former Soul Stirrers, such as quartet pioneer R.H. Harris. “Peace in the Land,” included here, is one of the group’s finest tracks. Also included on the collection are Memphis’ Southern Wonders; the Golden Harps of Chicago, a female quartet performing in the male quartet tradition rather than the piano-accompanied style more often associated with female groups; the obscure Gospel Tone Singers’ 1951 “Rest from my Labor,” featuring remarkable hard-singing lead by A.D. Batchelor; and recordings by the Stars of Hope, Swanee Spiritual Singers, and the Wilson and Watson Singers, the latter obvious emulators of the Roberta Martin Singers.
Worth the price of the collection is hearing the curious two-part “God’s Chariot” by the Gospel Travelers, the recording that launched the Duke imprint. While a now politically incorrect statement of God’s wrath on His people through a tornado that devastated southern states on March 31, 1952, “God’s Chariot” is nevertheless unforgettable and dramatic quartet singing backed by sound effects of rolling thunder and howling winds. Opal Nations’ liner notes on the creation of this song and on Duke’s subsequent sale to Robey make for interesting reading.
The aural quality of the CD is decent, with individual songs’ clarity dependent on the condition of the 78s used to create them, though most of the vinyl sounds VG+. Texas Gospel: Come on Over Here is sure to warm the hearts and quicken the pulses of quartet fans, particularly those who like their singing a cappella.