The Jewell Gospel Trio
Many Little Angels in the Band
NarroWay Records (release date: October 18, 2019)
By Bob Marovich (as originally featured in Living Blues magazine)
Any discourse on music of the Church of the Living God, Pillar and Ground of the Truth, Jewell Dominion typically turns to its sacred steel tradition with only incidental mention of the singing that takes place within denominational walls.
Filling this void is Many Little Angels in the Band, NarroWay’s superb survey of the Jewell Gospel Trio, a female group from Nashville, Tennessee, raised in this African American Pentecostal sect.
The Jewell Gospel Trio (aka Jewell Gospel Singers) famously produced from its ranks the pop singer Canzetta Staton. As disco sensation Candi Staton, she recorded the 1976 dance floor smash “Young Hearts Run Free.” Before that, she was a Muscle Shoals recording artist dubbed the First Lady of Southern Soul.
Before Candi’s pop fame, she, her sisters Maggie and Maria, Naomi Harrison, and later Sederia Boles and Shirley Ann Boyd (whose late 1960s-early 1970s solo selections are included here) sang as the Jewell Gospel Singers. The group was named for the Jewell Dominion, headed by Chief Overseer Mattie Lue Jewell.
What we hear on this collection is a group of preteens singing within the era’s piano- and organ-led gospel ensemble style, albeit with drums and bass guitar (an early adoption in gospel). Their voices possess youthful vibrancy but their snug harmonies and veteran church soloist techniques—shouts, squalls and growls—belie their age. Sederia Boles is a sandy-voiced evangelical firebrand, Nettie Mae Harrison is reserved and melodic, and Candi is a relentless vocalist from the Caravans school. “Jesus is Listening” is a fine example of Candi’s skill, though it doesn’t give an indication of the power diva to come.
Although Jewell Dominion steel guitar is notably absent from the girls’ recorded output, it does show up on their debut single for Aladdin, 1953’s “At the Cross” and “Rest, Rest, Rest,” and from no less a sacred steel pioneer as Naomi’s father, Lorenzo Harrison, who helped the group get their first record deal.
Since the collection relies on the best available recordings for source material, some tracks are aurally cleaner than others. Nevertheless, care is clearly taken to produce the best sound possible, and the label’s attention to detail is evident in its through discography, use of historic images, and the liner notes, written with authority by Opal Nations. Many Little Angels in the Band is a compelling and fascinating survey of an unfortunately underappreciated gospel ensemble.
Five of Five Stars
Picks: “Jesus is Listening,” “At the Cross”