Shakin' the Rafters

The Abyssinian Baptist Choir

album cover

What 120 Zealous Souls Can Do

The rhythm sections that toil behind gospel choirs can usually be found way in the back of the mix, providing unobtrusive backbeats designed to send the singing higher with as little fanfare as possible. Professor Alex Bradford, a stage personality, pianist, and singer who was the music minister at Newark's Abyssinian Baptist Church in the 1960s, alters that approach on this live recording, to thrilling effect. The musicians serve as catalysts, not accompanists—their crisp, unified attack sets the tone for the soloists. It galvanizes the choir. Runs the show.

The three mortals who make up this screaming locomotive of a rhythm section jolt the 120 Abyssinian voices out of the Sunday-services routine into near-ecstatic communication they sustain from the beginning of this disc to the end. The songs are mostly Bradford originals, expressions of faith and praise that emulate the works of legendary gospel composer Thomas A. Dorsey (see p. 233). Several of them belong alongside Dorsey's best, including "Said I Wasn't Gonna Tell Nobody," which is resolute from the opening line, and the 6/8 blues "He Is Such an Understanding God." Loaded with crackling call-and-response exchanges and outbreaks of intricately contrapuntal soul-clapping jubilation, these feature hot solo singing from Calvin White and Margaret Simpson, but they're never really solo vehicles. The choir is right there, contributing asides and shouts, blasting past doubt and despair with a contagious energy most often associated with the early days of rock and roll.

Genre: Gospel
Released: 1960, Columbia (Reissued 1991, Sony Legacy)
Key Tracks: "Said I Wasn't Gonna Tell Nobody," "He Is Such an Understanding God"
Next Stop: Gospel Soul Children: Gospel Soul Children of New Orleans
After That: Various Artists: Jubilation! Great Gospel Performances, Vols. 1 and 2
Book Pages: 4–5

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#1 from T.B., around - 02/15/2009 4:01

Music can allow us to express that which is otherwise inexpressible. In a religious context, all of these aspects of music come together.

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