September 6th, 2006
Texas plays a central role in the early development of African-American gospel. Texas was home to blind pianist Arizona Dranes, who is credited for bringing “barrelhouse” styled piano into gospel in the 1920s. Texas also claims among its children the innovative vocal group The Soul Stirrers, who first broke with established Jubilee style of quartet singing to develop a lead and harmony approach soon to become the norm in gospel vocal group harmony. Acrobat Music’s Texas Gospel Volume 1: Come on Over Here is a collection of gospel groups that recorded for Don Robey’s Houston-based Peacock label between 1951 and 1953. Robey himself is the thread that holds this collection together, and in a sense the title seems a little misinformed, as few of these groups were based in Texas, and thus this does not represent a coherent regional tradition as the title implies. To add to the confusion, Acrobat Music makes clear on their website that this is a label survey and not a regional one. However, it appears that relatively few of these sides have been re-issued before, so this collection is certainly most welcome.
It is with a group closely related to The Soul Stirrers that Texas Gospel Volume 1: Come on Over Here kicks off. Weary of its incessant touring, The Soul Stirrers’ great lead vocalist R. H. Harris quit the group in 1950 and settled in Chicago, founding The Christland Singers. They are represented here by four 1951 sides made for Peacock. Harris is an amazing vocalist, and it is easy to relate his style to those who followed his example–on “I Know My Jesus is the Light” he sounds like Sam Cooke, who replaced him in The Soul Stirrers. In “In a Few More Days” Harris sounds like Ray Charles, and Charles later made a specialty of Harris’s song “Walk Around.” Although he ultimately left The Christland Singers and the group continued without him, Harris did not do a great deal of recording after his departure; indeed, a vocal injury prevented him from singing at all late in life. So these four songs with The Christland Singers remain especially precious testaments to Harris’ vocal artistry.
The remainder is both a mixed bag and an embarrassment of riches, even among recordings of artists about which nothing is known-–and there are many of these. It shows that Robey was a man with a good ear for gospel, even if he didn’t rely on local talent exclusively to populate his Houston-based label. So even though the premise is a little off kilter, Texas Gospel Volume 1: Come on Over Here still delivers the goods in a big way.
Posted by Uncle Dave Lewis
Review Genre(s): Gospel Music and Spirituals