Sunday, July 30, 2006

Get On Down With The Gospel Truth!

Clarence Smith - I Don't Know Why Jesus Loves Me (Oh Yes I Love Him)
(Warning: This is a big file - 18MB)

Last week's Sunday gospel post covered Stax's short-lived Chalice label. After Chalice folded, save for the 1969 Volt 45 "Hello Sunshine" b/w "Amazing Grace" by Maceo Woods, Stax stayed out of the gospel business until it established the Gospel Truth imprint in the early '70s. Since Stax was no longer the mom-and-pop operation it was in the Chalice days, R&B industry pros like the legendary promoter Dave Clark (from Duke/Peacock) and Gene Barge (from Chess) were brought in to join the Stax staff with these recordings. The label's biggest successes came via the Rance Allen Group, whose recordings such as "Hot Line to Jesus" and "Just My Imagination (Just My Salvation)" brought gospel into the soulful '70s. When Stax's distribution arrangement with Columbia Records began to go south in 1974, Stax rebranded the label as "Truth Records" and released soul, pop and country recordings along with gospel in an unsuccessful attempt to put out material outside of the distribution agreement (an approach also taken with the heretofore spoken word/political soul Respect label).

Today's selection came from the 1973 Gospel Truth LP Whatever Happened to Love, a Tom Nixon production on Clarence Smith. The album is a virtual "who's who" of the Stax staff at the time: Nixon had produced Rufus Thomas' funk hits and had hit with the Temprees on his own We Produce imprint; singer/songwriter/producer Mack Rice (who had written hits for the Staple Singers and others) wrote some of the material for the album and sang backup along with several other Gospel Truth and We Produce artists; and the Movement (Isaac Hayes' band), along with the South Memphis Horns (whose leader was the former Bar-Kay Ben Cauley), provided accompaniment. Although the LP's funky take on the spiritual "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" is the best-known cut, as it has made some noise among beat heads, I'm partial to Smith's cover of Andrae Crouch's "I Don't Know Why Jesus Loves Me." At first the song doesn't sound like anything special, as Smith sings the verses pretty plainly, but a majority of the 8-minute track is spent on Smith's personal testimony. As he tells the listener of his own path to God, the strong groove and the "Jesus" refrain from the backup singers spins a hypnotic web, and by the end of the track Smith moves into a falsetto that soars over the groove to cap things off.

No comments: