Title: The Devil Ain’t Got No Music
Artist: Lurrie Bell
Label: Aria B. G. Records
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: January 1, 2012
On The Devil Ain’t Got No Music, blues musician Lurrie Bell pays tribute to gospel, the musical tradition in which he was raised. Bell says, “I had always wanted to make a record to show my gratitude for gospel music. I’m a bluesman but I’ve also played a lot of gospel songs for myself and for my family when I’m at home. The music gives me a sense of peace that I can’t find anywhere else.”
Although many soul and blues singers—Aretha Franklin, Etta James, B. B. King, and James Brown—first began their singing career in the Black church, Bell started off playing the blues, as taught to him by his dad, a blues harmonica player. While growing up, Bell met notable Chicago bluesmen like Muddy Waters, Eddie Taylor, Big Walter Horton, and Eddie Clearwater, who frequented Bell’s home to visit his father.
At the age of 10, Bell and his brother moved to Lisman, Alabama, to live with their maternal grandparents. While down South, Bell began playing guitar in the church at which his grandfather preached. “Once I began to play with the singers and learned about the gospel music I began to love it. I played acoustic guitar and was already very familiar with the blues so I would listen to the singers, and well, the music just came naturally to me,” he remembers. Since “the straight ahead blues” was prohibited in church services, Bell integrated elements of the blues into the gospel repertoire.
On the album, Bell is joined by a coterie of talented musicians, such as Billy Branch on harmonica in “Trouble in My Way,” Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith on percussion, and New York blues and gospel musician Bill Sims, Jr. Additionally, singer, guitarist, and songwriter Joe Louis Walker adds his guitar voicings to “Peace in the Valley” and “It’s a Blessing.”
On the gospel standard “Swing Low,” Bell sings soulfully over guitar accompaniment and hand-claps, demonstrating the power of minimalism. Listeners will also enjoy Bell’s guitar playing and warm vocals on “Why Don’t You Live So God Can Use You.” Songs such as “It’s a Blessing” and “Don’t Let the Devil Ride” illustrate the skillful ease with which he marries blues and gospel music. Bell pays tribute to Thomas A. Dorsey, the father of gospel music, by covering his compositions “Search Me Lord” and “Peace in the Valley,” and also gives his rendition of gospel songs by the notable bluesmen Rev. Gary Davis, Muddy Waters, and Mississippi Fred McDowell.
The title track, “The Devil Ain’t Got No Music,” was written by Bell and his longtime friend and producer Matthew Skoller. Interestingly, Skoller’s inspiration for the song came from a quote by Mavis Staples, lead singer of The Staple Singers. When asked if the blues is really the Devil’s music, Staples answered, “Come on, the Devil ain’t got no music. All music is the Lord’s.” Mavis’s quote distills Bell’s own attempt to blend Black secular and sacred music genres. Following is a live performance of the song at the recent Chicago Blues Fest in June 2012:
Lurrie Bell demonstrates what blues and gospel have in common: both musical styles give emotional support to those seeking to overcome life’s difficulties. The Devil Ain’t Got No Music showcases this seasoned musician’s ability to transcend genres and to give personal voice to Black traditional music.
Reviewed by Yukari Shinagawa