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Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Abyssinian Baptist Choir: "Shakin' The Rafters"

The Abyssinian Gospel Choir
"Shakin' The Rafters"
Columbia (1960)
1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die

It’s tough for a gospel group to get credit among the current generation of music listeners. Even if someone is advanced enough to embrace less mainstream genres like classical and jazz, the whole God element gets in the way. Not many people look for God in music outside of church. It’s not hip, and it’s a shame because they're missing out on groups like The Abyssinian Baptist Choir.

It doesn’t take an appreciation of religion to dig the setup of an organization like ABC. There are 126 bodies on the stage: The leader, two soloists, three musicians and 120 members of the chorus. The best part is that, at most, only six are professional musicians. The 120 members of the chorus are just churchgoing folks who were enthusiastic enough to create a recording this excellent.

Of course, the crux of the credit goes to “Professor” Alex Bradford, one of the professionals involved in the recording. Bradford, the leader of the soul group the Bradford Singers, was also the music minister at the Abyssinian Baptist Church. As the leader, he also took several vocal solos, including “The Lord Will Make A Way.” He wrote all of the tracks on the record, except “The Lord’s Prayer.”

Professional vocalists Calvin White and Margaret Simpson (no jokes) take the lion’s share of the leads. White was in the Bradford Singers with Bradford, but Simpson takes the cake with her performance in “Said I Wasn’t Going to Tell Nobody.”

Moon gives the three-man rhythm section a good deal of credit in his analysis, but frankly, it can’t compete with the vocal front. It does provide ample accompaniment for most songs, but when it drops off, the chorus still shines.

The backing vocals are unprofessional in the best of ways. Improvisation is the best feature of all historically black music, and the urge is too much to overcome for these singers. Their catcalls and shouts are essential to “feeling” this music. In “He Stays in My Room,” it sounds as if they are carrying conversations during the solo sections, but that’s okay. The music wasn’t meant to sound clean, it was meant to sound honest, and it is.

If you aren’t a religious individual, don’t let that stop you from checking this record out. Passionate music is something that everyone can believe in.

INTERESTING FACT: Many mistake the titular church as the famous Baptist place of worship in Harlem, where Nat King Cole was married. The Abyssinian Baptist Church of the album is actually right across the river in Newark, NJ.

Said I Wasn't Gonna Tell Nobody by Abyssinian Baptist Gospel Choir on Grooveshark

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