Sweet, Sweet Spirit

{Please note how smoothly I slipped Spiritualized in there.)

The heavenly harmonies and raw passion of classic gospel artists like Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the Soul Stirrers have inspired musicians as diverse as Elvis, Dylan, Little Richard, and Spacemen 3.

Librarians collecting gospel music might be tempted to fall back on old-time favorites—understandable, given the primal fire that fueled so much early gospel. But if you don’t stay current on some of the more recent outputs, you run the risk of your collection becoming as dated as a Tennessee Ernie Ford album cover.

Keep abreast of contemporary artists and developments in the genre through websites like Gospel News Today and reference tools including Uncloudy Days: A Gospel Music Encyclopedia (Backbeat, 2005).

The selections below run the gamut of gospel and include compilations as well as a few oddities/rarities to add eclecticism to any collection.

Yolanda Adams. Mountain High…Valley Low. Elektra/WEA. 1999. UPC 075596243926.
The breakthrough album for one of gospel music’s most popular female performers was produced by the crème de la crème of R&B producers; a crossover smash hit.

Awake, My Soul (original soundtrack)/Help Me To Sing. Awake. 2008. UPC 616892983224.
Shaped note singing, the oldest American form of devotional music, is a ramshackle, communal roar almost closer to punk rock in its immediacy and joyous atonality.

Aretha Franklin. Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings. Rhino. 1999. UPC 081227562724.
When the Queen of Soul turns her powerful pipes to gospel—she recorded this double album live in a packed church—what else can you do but yell, Amen!

Sam Cooke with the Soul Stirrers. Specialty. 1996 (1991). UPC 022211700920.
The Soul Stirrers had already been going for 20 years when Cooke joined them in 1950 and gave them even more soul and vocal power. Includes the young upstart’s first five solo recordings.

Kirk Franklin. God’s Property. Gospocentric. 1997. UPC 757517000725.
Kirk Franklin. The Nu Nation Project. Gospocentric. 1998. UPC 757517001326.

Franklin’s smooth, R&B sound brought gospel to a new generation; God’s Property, his collaboration with a 50 member–strong youth choir, remains the best-selling gospel album of all time.

Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal. Numero. 2006. UPC 656605834825.
Good God! Born Again Funk. Numero. 2010. UPC 825764103022.

Imagine ecstatic confessions of spiritual commitment yoked to a salacious, down ‘n’ dirty funk swing; two discs’ worth of forgotten funk believers.

Fred Hammond. Pages of Life: Chapters 1 & 2. Verity. 1998. UPC 012414311023.
Hammond is kind of like the Kanye West of contemporary gospel, a producer on hit albums (Yolanda Adams, etc.), and a best-selling singer/performer in his own right.

Mahalia Jackson. The Essential Mahalia Jackson. Columbia/Legacy. 2004. UPC 696998906723.
All respect to Aretha, Jackson (d.1972) is the true Queen of Gospel Music, a title she earned through 30-plus albums, a long string of hit songs, and electrifying ­performances.

Donnie McClurkin. Live in London and More…. Verity. 2000. UPC 012414315021.
One of contemporary gospel’s bona fide superstars. Several platinum albums attest to McClurkin’s talent; becoming a preacher at the height of his fame attests to his faith.

Spiritualized. Royal Albert Hall October 10 1997. Arista. 2004. UPC 078221903226.
Spiritualized had been mixing druggy space-rock with gospel influences for years, but it was on this live album that their music reached a transcendent pinnacle; with a gospel choir and a cover of Edwin Hawkins’s “Oh Happy Day.”

The Staples Singers. The Best of the Staples Singers. Stax/Fantasy. 1990.
UPC 025218300728.

Roebuck “Pops” Staples (d.2001) led his First Family of Gospel Music into uncharted musical territories on trailblazing songs like “I’ll Take You There.” Daughter Mavis still carries the torch.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The Gospel of Blues. MCA/Deca. 2003. UPC 602498001363.
The electric guitar–slingin’, testifyin’ ­Tharpe (d.1973) delivered the Good Word with bluesy passion and grit in smoky clubs and churches alike. These 18 tracks span 1938–48.

From Library Journal’s September “Music For The Masses” column.

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