The Racy Brothers’ There’s Not a Friend: Live in Little Rock, released in 2005 on MCG Records, is a tapestry of gospel melodies that is as warm as a grandmother’s quilt. Like that quilt, it is pieced together of elements that, alone, would be considered ordinary: scripture, three-part harmony, sayings, sermonettes… Together, however, these elements create a bold and brilliant pattern, and the Racy Brothers are a testament to the classic qualities of gospel quartet music that will survive the ever-changing gospel music industry.
The Racy Brothers were formed in 1988 around the nucleus of brothers Bobby and Vernell Racy, and their two nephews, Walter Witherspoon and Pervis Holly. They sing in the tradition of groups like the Might Clouds of Joy, the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, and the Dixie Hummingbirds. Historically, quartets like these are credited with bridging the secular and spiritual worlds of black music.
Like these groups of old, the Racy Brothers sing gospel renditions of hymns and spirituals along with new gospel compositions. There’s Not a Friend includes their renditions of classics like “Build a Fence,” and “Remember Me.” The Racy Brothers breathe new life into these Baptist church standards, using the space of the repeated refrain to minister to the live audience with improvisation.
While each song features tight, 3-part harmony that follows the lead of a soloist, the real star of this recording is a voice that isn’t physically heard. The Racy Brothers’ late “M’dear” appears numerous times in the form of wisdom, sayings, and songs the close relative passed down to her family. It is her spirit that pushes the group through original songs about Heaven, like “What a Time” and “Walk Through the Streets.”
Spirit is a component that is central to the Racy Brothers’ musical performance, as is evident in “God’s Been Good, Parts 1 &2”. As the audience feels the spirit that the Racy Brothers invoke, the group extends the short song for as long as they are led.
There’s Not A Friend will satiate the hunger of those who have grown to love the ministry of the Racy Brothers.
Posted by Asha Layila French
Editor’s Note: This review refers to the CD release; the DVD includes additional tracks. Look for an in-depth interview with MCG founder James Bullard in the upcoming issue of the AAAMC newsletter, Liner Notes.