Harlem Gospel Travelers
He’s On Time
Colemine Records (release date: October 11, 2019)
By Bob Marovich
If He’s On Time included audible pops and scratches, one would think the Harlem Gospel Travelers’ debut album was a reissue of a forty-five-year-old vinyl LP discovered while crate digging. Even its Harvey Williams-inspired cover, created by artist Matt Chinworth, hearkens back to a different generation.
Instead, He’s On Time is as current as right now. It’s the product of a group of young men, ages 18 to 21, who come from throughout the New York metropolitan area to Harlem to train under singer and musician Eli “Paperboy” Reed at the Gospel for Teens program. In the program, created by educator Vy Higginsen and gospel music legend Dr. Emily “Cissy” Houston, Reed exposes teens to recordings by classic quartets. They then use this foundation to construct their own classic arrangements and style, and are supported by a small band that sounds equally retro.
The album is a mix of familiar and new songs. Of the familiar, there’s a psychedelic treatment of the spiritual “Motherless Child” that incorporates Blind Willie Johnson’s 1927 “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” “Do You Know Him” is a cover of Brother Joe May’s 1950 original as channeled through a 1970s quartet. The album ends with a sparking rendition of “Shine on Me” which moves into a medley of old church hymns.
Led by Reed’s athletic guitar work, the title track sounds like a garage band cut. The album’s first single, “Am I Doing Enough?” employs a no-nonsense, straight-ahead R&B rhythm section to articulate believers’ self-doubts on whether they are being appropriately Christian.
One of the album’s highlights is the haunting “If You Can’t Make it Through a Storm.” It’s led by Thomas Gatling, the group’s youngest member who is responsible for all of the album’s original songs.
The Harlem Gospel Travelers have mastered the tight, high harmonies made popular by the Violinaires but retain the looseness of a piano-led gospel group. Reed produced the album and successfully straddles the line between providing crystal-clear production and evoking the more restricted recording technology of yore. It’s deliciously retro and will especially appeal to collectors of gospel music vinyl, quartet fans, and enthusiasts of Americana roots music.
He’s On Time is on Terry and Bob Cole’s Ohio-based Colemine Records. Their father, Tim, is a well-respected, knowledgeable, and longtime record collector and seller, so the acorns didn’t fall far from the tree.
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “If You Can’t Make It Through a Storm,” “He’s On Time”