Sunday, December 02, 2007

King James' Version

James Cleveland - The Love of God

The late Reverend James Cleveland's gruff yet crooning vocals and innovative arrangements made him a significant figure in the evolution of gospel in the '60s and early '70s. Cleveland had been in gospel almost since the genre's literal beginning, making his performing debut as a child soprano(!) at Chicago's Pilgrim Baptist Church, whose music minister at the time was no less than Thomas A. Dorsey. Once his voice changed he switched to being a pianist, songwriter and arranger, working with luminaries such as Robert Martin and then Albertina Walker and the Caravans and becoming widely known in gospel circles for his influenced songs and arrangements. By the early '60s Cleveland began a solo career in earnest, and over the next three decades he marked the gospel landscape with his songs, his choral projects (he started the Gospel Singers Workshop Convention and founded the Southern California Community Choir, who appeared on Aretha Franklin's classic LP Amazing Grace and in the famous movie The Blues Brothers), and his continuing innovation, including the use of jazz, pop and soul elements and orchestrations in his later works.

"The Love of God" had been a hit for the Johnnie Taylor-led Soul Stirrers in their final years on Specialty, but Cleveland's take on the record from 1960 or 1961 gave him his first solo hit. The lightly-swinging rhythm of the Soul Stirrers version is replaced by a stately arrangement featuring almost over-recorded background vocals by the Voices of the Tabernacle, and Cleveland's version effectively moves from a meditative whisper to a growling roar and back again, with the background voices being this/close to being a little over-the-top (I think the soprano is saying "the love of good" in several places) but somehow framing Cleveland's vocals nicely. It moved me when I first heard a skipping copy of the record as a child (via a tape our pastor made for my parents), and it still moves me today.

No comments: