January 6th, 2011
Title: Rev. Gary Davis: At Home & Church (1962-1967)
Artist: Rev. Gary Davis
Label: Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop
Format: 3 CD set
Release date: March 16, 2010
During the early 1960s, Rev. Gary Davis released several great country blues and gospel albums, crossing the sacred-secular boundaries on Harlem Street Singer and Say No to the Devil. Around this same time, Stefan Grossman began taking lessons from Davis, traveling up to the Bronx, sometimes with his Tandberg tape recorder in hand along with his guitar. Over the next seven years, while continuing his apprenticeship with the blues master, Grossman recorded Davis both at home and at his storefront church. Now these rare recordings have been remastered and issued on a 3 CD set, with liner notes by Grossman.
The first two discs were recorded in Davis’s home and feature a wide range of styles, from folk and country blues to rags, gospel and tin pan alley songs, with his wife Annie adding her voice on occasion. Davis tells a few stories which help to clarify the roots of certain songs, and performs on a variety of instruments, including six-string guitar, five-string banjo—played in both clawhammer and frailing styles—and harmonica. Titles include “Sally, Where’d You Get Your Liquor From,” “Babylon Is Falling,” “Sun Is Going Down,” and Italian Rag,” just to name a few. The third, and most historically valuable disc, was recorded in church and features a portion of the Reverend’s sermon and accompanying music, ranging from “Amazing Grace” to “Steal Away” and “Lord, I Feel Just Like Goin’ On.” His interaction with parishioners adds further authenticity to the experience.
Grossman has made a valuable contribution to blues and gospel scholarship, not only by releasing this material, but by having the foresight to record it in the first place, and by preserving it over the course of the last forty years. The Rev. Gary Davis: At Home & Church is definitely worth adding to your collection.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss