Sunday, May 06, 2007

TBGB Reviews...The Spiritualaires of Hurtsboro, AL

The Spiritualaires of Hurtsboro, AL
Singing Songs of Praise
CaseQuarter 2007

For every gospel quartet that made a record, even if it was only a vanity single, there are a dozen quartets that never even stepped into a recording studio. That doesn't mean that only the best quartets made it on vinyl. On the contrary, many local groups that hold legendary status among quartet fans never signed a recording contract.

Thanks to producer Kevin Nutt and CaseQuarter, one of these unsung, unrecorded quartets finally gets a hearing outside its Alabama home. The Spiritualaires of Hurtsboro, Alabama -- Sam Relf, Robert Marion, Willie J. Smith, Rufus Jordan, Jimmy Anthony, and Curtis Harris on guitar -- appear on CD for the first time, despite being founded in 1948 and holding down a steady radio broadcast for more than 40 years.

On their debut project, Singing Songs of Praise, the Spiritualaires sound as if they walked into a living room, plugged in an amp, and began to sing. Their sound is part-gospel, part-jubilee, and all Alabama in -- as Nutt points out in his excellent liner notes -- their preference for slow arrangements that enable the harmonies to breathe.

Founding member and bass singer Robert Marion adds plenty of depth to the quartet's tight chord harmonizing on "Packing Up Our Clothes," and on his lead in "Come Over Here," he channels the quake-inducing low register of Jimmy Jones.

"I've Got Somewhere to Lay My Head" is not a variant of the Highway QCs and Sensational Nightingales' hit, but is memorable nevertheless for its loping tempo and catchy interplay between voices and guitar. The Spiritualaires do an admirable job on the Swan Silvertones' arrangement of "The Lord's Prayer," a song almost compulsory for any self-respecting old school quartet. Their "Some Folk Say" demonstrates that the separation line between gospel and country is not as pronounced as music historians would have us believe.

True to CaseQuarter's practice of providing not only the music but a glimpse into the world of gospel radio, Nutt squeezes in two spoken snippets from the quartet's regular radio broadcast, including in-studio advertisements (the ad for the "Cement Man" will bring a smile to your face).

Singing Songs of Praise reminds us of how many local quartets are still out there, waiting to be discovered or just enjoying the fellowship and worship experience. It also leaves us longing for the "good old days" when tuning into a fifteen- or thirty-minute radio program of quartet singing was as comfortable and dependable as a pair of favorite denims.

Three of Four Stars


Rob D said...

This is really a terrific CD. As a blues/soul/RnR fan, I have always loved the gospel side of my fave artists like Fred McDowell and Wilson Pickett. A lot to explore and your blog is a terrific tool to do just that.
Cheers from Canada!

Bob Marovich said...

Rob - thank you for your kind words! I am glad you are enjoying the blog and invite you to return often!