Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Keep a Light in the Window!

J.W. Alexander - Leave A Light In The Window Until I Come Home

J.W. Alexander's gospel group, The Pilgrim Travelers, were one of the more popular gospel groups of the late '40s and early '50s, with their tight harmonies and toe-tapping rhythm giving them hits with records like the deep "Mother Bowed" and up-tempo things like "Jesus Hits Like The Atom Bomb." By the end of the '50s, despite further good recordings, the latter of which including Lou Rawls as a new lead, and the group's even trying their hand at pop ("Teen Age Machine Age," credited to "The Travelers"), commercial success had evaporated and the group called it a day. Alexander, who had no qualms about taking on secular music as well as gospel, hooked up with his friend Sam Cooke, whom he had known since the gospel days (when Sam's Soul Stirrers overtook the Travelers in popularity) to form SAR Records. The label yielded hits and great records with the Soul Stirrers, the Valentinos, Johnnie Taylor, L.C. Cooke and Johnnie Morrisette, but Sam's untimely death in 1964 shuttered the label. Alexander would keep his hand in the business, mainly producing and writing but, as in today's selection, occasionally singing.

"Leave A Light In The Window" was a one-off 45 Alexander did for Mirwood, and it's a nice one. J.W.'s light tenor gracefully delivers the gospel-bent ballad about a soldier's yearning for his woman. The single was not successful, but it made enough noise for Solomon Burke to cover it on one of his later Atlantic singles. Burke's version is very good, but I prefer Alexander's. Overall the song's message is very appropriate during our current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, although the last verse ("I know the cause is right") is not.

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