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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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SISTER ROSETTA THARPE

The One and Only Queen
of Hot Gospel

Upbeat URCD 242

 

 

1. Rock Me
2. I Looked Down The Line (And I Wondered)
3. God Don't Like It
4. The End Of My Journey
5. Sit Down
6. Just A Closer Walk With Thee
7. Trouble In Mind
8. Rock Daniel
9. Four Or Five Times
10. That's All
11. Didn't It Rain
12. Beams Of Heaven
13. Up Above My Head I Hear Music in The Air
14. Precious Memories
15. Strange Things Happening Every Day
16. How Far From God
17. When I Move To The Sky
18. Jesus is Here To Stay
19. This Train
20. Family Prayer
21. Use Me Lord
22. Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?
23. The Bells Of St. Mary's
24. The Wedding Ceremony of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Russell Morrison
 

Sister Rosetta Tharpe - Vocals, guitar, plus:
Lucky Millinder & his Orchestra (tracks 7-10)
Marie Knight - Vocals (tracks 11-14)
Sam Price Trio (tracks 11-21)
James Roots Quartet (tracks 22, 23)
Rosetta Gospel Singers (tracks 22, 23)

 

The title of this album is a fair but partial desription of Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She was certainly a gospel singer and was hot even when she performed with just her own guitar accompaniment. But she was also a blues singer and she was probably the first vocalist who blended the blues with gospel to make music that was widely acceptable. Some of the music here originated as gospel songs (e.g. Just a Closer Walk with Thee) and others are clearly blues (e.g. Trouble in Mind) but Rosetta managed to combine them in such a way as to make the connections between them more evident.

This album samples her oeuvre from her very first recording, Rock Me (in 1938) to her own composition Use Me Lord, from 1951. Right from the first track, you can hear the passion which permeated so much of her work. Her guitar playing has the same direct appeal, taking on a metallic sound in the later tracks.

Jazz fans will be particularly interested in the songs she recorded with Lucky Millinder's band in 1941. These tracks have a hint of early rhythm-and-blues, and Rosetta throws herself into the proceedings with gusto. Nearly half the tracks have Sammy Price's trio accompanying Tharpe, some with her singing in duet with Marie Knight. The combination of Tharpe's voice with Knight's lower pitch increasesd the power of the songs which they performed together. It is good to hear Price's bluesy boogie-woogie piano accompanying Rosetta, and they provide invigorating counterpoint in Strange Things Happening Every Day. Beams of Heaven is a good example of Rosetta's melismatic vocal style in slow numbers.

The final track is a rare recording of Rosetta's third wedding ceremony, which was followed by a concert. The ceremony was conducted in typically theatrical manner by the Rev. Samuel Kelsey, who I remember affrectionately from an EP which mixed his preaching with gospel singing. Kelsey assures the massive audience: "I know how to marry people: I know how to put them together; if they don't stay together it's not my fault!"

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a pioneer: not only in fusing blues with gospel music but in foreshadowing the careers of such singers as Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin, who made the succesful transition from gospel to soul.

Tony Augarde
www.augardebooks.co.uk



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