The Jones Family Singers
Live from Mt. Zion
Arts + Labor (2015)
By Bob Marovich
At one point in Live from Mt. Zion, Alexis Jones, the force of nature who is the Jones Family Singers’ primary lead vocalist, says the group gets asked why they don’t sing rock and roll.
Oh but we do, she explains. “I can rock in Jesus and I can rooolllll in the Holy Ghost!”
Spiritual rocking, rolling, swaying, and dancing are compulsory accompaniments to the Jones Family Singers’ devotional repertory—from the group, the live audience, and the at-home listener. And for good reason. Live from Mt. Zion, a recording made at the family patriarch’s church, Mt. Zion Pentecostal Holiness Church (Church of God in Christ) in Markham, Texas, captures the gospel group at its finest.
The Jones Family Singers of Bay City, Texas, is one of gospel music’s great success stories. Headed by Bishop Fred A. Jones Sr., the group—five daughters, two sons, and three family friends—toiled locally and without much consequence for a long while before catching the attention of Texas journalist Michael Corcoran. Corcoran facilitated their performance at the legendary SXSW music festival, which inspired a documentary and companion CD, The Spirit Speaks. Next thing you know, the group is singing in New York’s Lincoln Center and touring Russia.
Listening to Live from Mt. Zion explains the group’s popularity. For fifty-plus minutes, the group charges through paeans to God’s goodness that could make an avowed atheist join the altar call. The sisters sing, Bishop Jones prays and shouts like a veteran quartetter (he is), and the brothers and friends offer a rhythm section that sounds straight outta Muscle Shoals. Jesus is praised with a multitude of similes and references from popular culture, including “the best thing that has ever happened to me,” and Campbell Soup: he’s “mm mm good.”
But it’s Alexis Jones who steals the show. Her singing is likened in the album notes to Janis Joplin, which is actually quite accurate. Her effortless interaction with the audience and sassy vocals that run from recitative to gospel shout also evoke Tina Turner and Lisa Knowles. She evangelizes, too, even taking time to drop in humorous comments, such as on “He Took the Key,” where she explains how superhuman Jesus’s sacrifice was in dying for the world. “If it were me,” she says, “I wouldn’t have done it for y’all!”
With the exception of the opening and closing tracks, each song is an extended workout, with “You Woke Me Up This Morning” the up-tempo aisle walker you knew was coming from the start of the program. The song’s 1960s “Shout” chord structure inspires Bishop Jones to want to “do the mashed potato.”
The audience/congregation is only faintly heard in the background but is most assuredly there, responding to and encouraging the singers. By the conclusion, with Alexis having all but sung herself to exhaustion after the hypnotic “I Love You,” what’s left is doxology. Bishop Jones offers the closing message in a gentle but confident voice: “the Lord loves you.” After nearly an hour of praises on high, this final blessing confirms that the circle of love remains unbroken.
Live From Mt. Zion is a stunning performance, offered humbly but with great conviction, and God gets all the glory.
Five of Five Stars
Pick: “You Woke Me Up This Morning.”