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Church of Betty: Swirled World
by George Graham
(Independent Release As broadcast on WVIA-FM 10/14/2015)
About a dozen years ago, there started to be a revival of interest in traditional folk songs, after decades of the singer-songwriters dominating the scene. Groups and performers ranged from those giving very authentic treatments to the old songs, to those who took a punk approach and shredded the old chestnuts from the hootenanny days. Part of the folk tradition, even going back to the folk music revival of the 1960s, are the spirituals, the African American Gospel songs. Artists like Mike Ferris and Ollabelle recorded albums of mainly spirituals, and then various other rock and folk groups have been including some old Gospel and freedom tunes on their albums. And in 2013 there was Bobby McFerrin’s brilliant Spirit You All, which paid tribute to his opera-singer father who recorded albums of spirituals in the 1950s, The younger McFerrin very much re-fashioned those old Gospel songs into something very imaginative.
This week we have a Los Angeles based group called Little Faith, who have just released their third album called Eternity. The group takes a fairly traditional-sounding approach with both the old-time songs as well as original material, and old 1960s classics that all sound as if they came out of a hymnal but with the energy turned up high.
Little Faith was launched in 2010 by keyboard man Jack Maeby, and who worked as stage keyboard man and/or session musician with Etta James, The Chambers Brothers, Odetta and Carly Simon to name a few. When he was in a mixed-race R&B group, one of his band-mate’s father was a preacher, so the band-mate urged Maeby to come to the service, and he was immediately hooked by the intensity of the music. So he eventually started to form what would become Little Faith. Other key members include Canadian vocalist Nadia Christine Duggan Danish drummer Jesper Kristensen, guitarist Craig Ferguson, plus additional vocalists John Michael Knowles and Ray Wolfe, along with a horn section. The CD was produced by Michael Baker, who was the musical director for the late Whitney Houston, and who also wrote one song for the album, which became the title track. After hearing Little Faith play, Baker sought out the band for a collaboration.
The band’s publicity bio says that the members are an eclectic bunch, from three countries and are described as including a confirmed atheist, a devout Christian and a “New Age seeker.” And while they do old spirituals on the album, this is definitely a more secular project in terms of its lyrics that you might expect. In addition to the traditional material and the compositions by the members of the band, the group covers songs by Sam Cook, Eddie Floyd and, interestingly, Tom Waits.
Little Faith’s sound is big and hard to resist, with three lead vocalists and a prominent organ, church style, in additional to the conventional rock band instrumentation. It’s rather like a very good soul session. That is exemplified by the opening track All the People Shout, which is an original song very much in the soul Gospel style complete with a horn section. <<>>
The first of the traditional songs on the album is Didn’t It Rain which has more of a religious message. The band gives a very spirited performance that is one of the best on this album that will surely get you up and moving. <<>>
Little Faith’s version of the familiar spiritual Wade in the Water is given a kind of swampy blues sound with prominent slide guitar, taking it in a rather unexpected direction for those who know the song well. It’s another example of the band’s creative arranging and strong performances. <<>>
The Sam Cooke song they cover is Change Is Gonna to Come. The band do a nice version of the tune, taking it in a more introspective mood to go with the lyrics. <<>>
The song by Memphis soul man Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper, is Raise Your Hand. It combines elements of the Memphis soul sound with the band’s own style in another track that is likely to have you on your feet. <<>>
One of the best of the original tunes on the album is Last Train which shows that the band can create their own old Gospel songs on the par with the best. <<>>
Tom Waits and Gospel would not seem to have much in common, but Little Faith does a Tom Waits song Come On Up to the House and shows that the song, as arranged by the band, can indeed have a righteous sound. <<>>
The CD ends with the title track Eternity which was written by Whitley Houston producer Michael Baker in the wake of Ms. Houston’s death. Not surprisingly, the track takes a more conventional pop direction. <<>>
Eternity the new album by the Los Angeles based group Little Faith, is one of the best of the recent spate of younger performers who have turned their attention to spirituals. Little Faith hit just the right balance between keeping some of the traditions and trying to do something completely different with the songs. They also prove that they can write their own songs that sound as if they were from decades past. The musicianship is first rate and the production is lively and lets the band rise to their righteous occasion.
Our grade for sound quality is nearly an “A.” The recording is nicely done all around, with good clarity and no attempts to give it a sound like an old-fashioned recording. Even the dynamic range, how well the recording reproduced the ebb and flow of in the loudness of the performance, is above average, giving a sound that is bright and punchy.
A lot of R&B, soul and rock & roll has at its roots some of the African American spirituals, with their energy level, soulful vocals and infectious beat. It’s nice that a new generation of performers are exploring the influence of the music. Little Faith is one of the best, and interestingly they do it from a rather a secular standpoint. The result that is music that can be righteous and also great to dance to.
(c) Copyright 2015 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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