No Other Love: Midwest Gospel 1965-1978
Tompkins Square (release date: November 8, 2019)
By Bob Marovich
Its playlist culled from the seemingly-limitless catalog of indie artists and labels, Tompkins Square’s various artists collection No Other Love is full of honest, unbridled soulfulness. There is no large record company smoothing out the rough edges for commercial viability.
Unlike the top gospel stars of the day who sustained their ministries by singing full-time, the artists on No Other Love typically limited their appearances to weekends because they had day jobs (that included the pastors). They appeared on local programs, often for little more than a “love offering.”
To keep going financially, artists needed phonograph discs to sell at gospel programs. Some cut their own discs, but most got their product made by local independents like Peace, Righteous, One-Way, Host of Gospel, and Davis Records. They’d order 100 to 300 records at a time and sell them until they ran out of inventory. These are the records No Other Love highlights.
The Reverend Mack McCollum’s “I’m Gonna Stand Still and Do My Master’s Will,” also known as “What You Gonna Do when the World’s On Fire,” is by far the best and most professional sounding of all the cuts on the collection. It is also the best representation of the Chicago gospel sound—that no-holds-barred choral attack. The disc was originally released on promoter Joe Hunter’s Host of Gospel label, which chronicled many Chicago church choirs. Brother Randy Wilson’s powerful and encouraging “It’s Going to Pay” is another strong side.
Arguably the rarest disc curated here is the Reverend H. H. Harrington’s “Christmas in Heaven” and “Black Pride,” pressed on his Atomic-H imprint. There are better selections on Atomic-H, such as by the McCauley Spiritual Singers and the prewar Alabama and Georgia Singers, but none more difficult to find and more in touch with the times than Harrington’s release.
“Christ Rose,” by the Reverend John Thomas and the New Christian Fellowship Church Choirs, features a wonderful bass vocalist and one jarringly out of tune chorister. The fan favorites are “Journey” and “Rocky Road” by the duo of Joanne and Sonny, the latter presumed to be Sonny Mitchell (the identity of Joanne is unknown as of this writing).
Given the bare bones production of the independent labels–despite the handwritten “Multimillion $ Project” in the cover art, these companies were anything but–the sound quality varies from track to track. As always, Tompkins Square does a remarkable job massaging as much clarity as possible from tired and dusty grooves, since the original tapes are often hard to find or long gone.
Ramona Stout’s liner notes not only provide information on the artists, especially on Pastor McCollum, but also reflect on the songs’ meanings in a broader sociopolitical context. It’s a refreshing perspective when too many reissues, I fear, are driven more by the funkiness of the music than by the fullness of the message. Not made to fill up a dance floor, these songs were written, sung, and recorded to provide hope and encouragement to people who were categorically denied fundamental rights as human beings.
Although No Other Love represents only a tiny segment of the gospel music tradition—the top artists, naturally, were signed to bigger labels—had the men and women featured here not taken the financial risk to make records, posterity would have lost aural examples of their singing. Had Ramona Stout not treasured these sounds and Tompkins Square not issued some of them on CD, they would be lost to the larger listening public.
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “I’m Gonna Stand Still,” “It’s Going to Pay”