Jonas Bernholm and Per Notini’s Stockholm-based Gospel Friend label has been an invaluable resource to the gospel music community.
It’s inexplicable that Golden Age stars such as J. Earle Hines and the St. Paul Baptist Church Choir of Los Angeles, Wings over Jordan and Georgia Peach lacked a decent reissue for years, but thanks to Gospel Friend, their music and story live on.
On Gospel Friend's latest compilation, South Carolina Gospel, producer and historian Notini turns his attention to Rev. Norris Turner and the Original Golden Stars of Greenwood, South Carolina. The CD essentially serves as a retrospective of the first twenty one years of Turner’s recording career (1958-79). The first half of the album contains Turner and the Golden Stars’ work for Hoyt Sullivan’s eponymously-titled label and Waymon Jones’ Pitch Records. The second half focuses on additional Turner collaborations.
The Golden Stars’ high, tight harmonies, propelled by insistent electric guitar work, are especially notable on “Jesus’ Blood” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” These recordings are excellent examples of how gospel quartet’s influence on pop music boomeranged in the late 50s and early 1960s to bestow its parent with the street-corner rawness of rock and soul. All the while, Turner yodels with the elasticity of Sam Cooke (whom he knew personally) and the rawness of Spencer Taylor.
The 26-track compilation includes two tracks from Turner’s brief stint as a member of the Selah Singers. On the group's bluesy arrangement of the hymn, "Softly and Tenderly," Turner enters Claude Jeter territory with rocket-like launches of falsetto. Several examples of Turner’s late 1960s and early 1970s collaboration with the Mt. Moriah Gospel Church Choir close out the album. What the 1970s tracks demonstrate, more than anything, is that Turner’s voice remained amazingly vibrant after more than three decades on the gospel highway.
Notini’s liner notes are fascinating and informative, assisted greatly by personal reminiscences he collected while visiting Turner and other members of the Original Golden Stars, such as Alphonso and Rev. George Devlin. Alphonso's hard-shouting lead is featured on several of the tracks, including a gorgeously-rendered version of "There is a God Somewhere."
South Carolina Gospel is a musically rich journey along the blue highways of traditional gospel singing.
Five of Five Stars
Picks: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Stop, Get Religion,” “Softly and Tenderly.”