This CD reissue of the 1971 vanity LP (and crate-digger favorite) by Pastor Barrett and the young people’s choir from Chicago’s Mount Zion Baptist Church shows what a profound influence Edwin Hawkins and the Northern California State Youth Choir of COGIC had on the modernization of gospel music after their "Oh Happy Day" became a surprise runaway hit in 1969.
In less than two years, the west coast revolution reached the city limits of Chicago, birthplace of the gospel chorus and home to some of the churchiest ensembles ever to sit behind the pastor. In their midst was Mount Zion’s Youth For Christ Choir. Here, tambourines shook in metronomic motion to a laid-back musical soundtrack that had more in common with Sly Stone than the Soul Stirrers.
On the album, the Youth For Christ choir sings with energy and exuberance, but the talented musicians and Pastor Barrett’s lead vocals are what really sell it. Soul icons Philip Upchurch and Richard Evans lay down funky bass lines while Gary Jones blends the sacred and secular with stylish flourishes on the keys. Barrett gives the proceedings a taste of the old school with his lead vocals on songs such as “Wonderful,” the album’s true gem. A sung testimony, “Wonderful” is quintessentially Chicago in Barrett's studied timing and range of dynamics, a gospel art song in the truest sense of the form.
The pastor also shows deftness on the keyboard, which I’ll return to in a moment. Gene Barge, whose talent graced Chess Records, supervised an album that, though it didn’t sell in the numbers of Edwin Hawkins’ debut, was just as rich, musically satisfying, envelope-pushing and -- most importantly -- reached the youth in ways their parents' gospel could not.
Praise be to Light in the Attic Records for reissuing this album with care and respect, and to Chicago’s Peter Margasak for his thoughtful and well-researched article on Pastor Barrett and the evolution of the album.
The final track, “Blessed Quietness,” is a jazzy instrumental on which Barrett plays piano in subconscious homage to COGIC keyboard wizard Geraldine Gay Hambric. In these last few minutes, Like A Ship (Without a Sail) suggests that while the album’s vibe may be rustling with Bay Area breezes, the soul is 100 percent Chi-town.