The Frierson Brothers
J.E.F. Records (release date: November 23, 2020)
By Robert M. Marovich
There are so many links to gospel music history on the Frierson Brothers’ Breakthrough that it would be hard for the album to not feel a little like a church revival.
First, the album, produced by Derrick Lee and east coast gospel stalwart James Perry, was recorded live at Newark’s Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church under Pastor Elton T. Byrd. With his wife Louberta “Lady” Byrd, Pastor Byrd has ministered for years over records and radio. Second, Rev. Milton Biggham offered the use of his Mount Vernon Baptist Church for the group’s rehearsals. Third, Bishop Sam Williams of New York does the introduction. Finally, the album contains songs by Biggham, Alvin Darling, and Donnie Harper. There are likely more links to gospel’s roots, but we’ll hold it there.
What the twin Friersons–Revs. Frederick and Franklin—offer on Breakthrough is traditionally-rooted gospel music with a contemporary bounce. Their meaty two-part harmonies evoke the O’Neal Twins and the Boyer Brothers—they even sing the Boyers’ breakout hit, “Step By Step.”
The album is filled with classic and traditionally-rooted material. For example, “Lifetime” is Lee’s arrangement of the Thompson Community Singers’ “I’ll Trade a Lifetime.” The song gets an able assist from a chorus of background singers, including the phenomenal San Franklin. The title track and single, written by Darling, also has that churchy feel.
Hearkening back to an older style of gospel is not surprising, as the brothers grew up singing with their father, Joe Frierson Sr., in the Queen City Gospel Singers of Kingstree, South Carolina. As children, they recorded as the Frierson Singers for Delene and M&M Records, and sang with other groups and choirs. JGM reviewed their 2007 CD Over There, also produced by Lee. In other words, they’ve been at this a long time.
There are a few selections aimed at a younger audience. These include a quasi-hip hop version of Harper’s “He’s Coming Back,” complete with a rap interlude by K-Proetic. “He’ll Do You Right” is a contemporary quartet piece with smooth harmonies. Though the lyrics of both songs fall within traditional gospel’s boundaries of encouragement and thanksgiving, the best tracks on the album are the churchier ones.
Whether at the live recording the “Praise Break Out-Tro” occurred sequentially after “Step By Step” or whether it was repositioned to follow this track, it makes sense that the holy dancing follows the most traditional of all songs on the album. During this praise break, the singers perform a musical role reversal: the background vocalists take the lead, singing “we’re gonna win” repetitively, and the brothers exhort in support.
Sadly, the group has lost two of its members, Joe Frierson Jr. and Jerome Sykes. Nevertheless, the Frierson Brothers continue pressing on, keeping the spirit of the old church alive for a new generation.
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “Lifetime,” “Step By Step”