Sunday, July 17, 2005

'Independents' Day . . .and the House of Blues

If you’re ever passing through Southern California, take a few minutes and stop in at Rhino Records in Claremont Village. (No, that is not Gospel Gal waving from the door.)This independent record store (across the street from a neat Folk Music Center and some fun novelty shops) features a broad and quirky selection of new and used CDs, including a vinyl section. When I visited over Independence Day weekend, I found a couple of gospel gems:

Mary Lou’s Mass, Mary Lou Williams. This amazing woman—and this interesting, challenging and mind-broadening jazz mass—deserve their own blog entry. It’s a-comin’.

Live In Chicago, Shirley Caesar. This album—which includes favorites like “Feel the Spirit” and “Hold My Mule”—features the late Rev. Milton Brunson and the Thompson Community Singers. The Thompson Community Singers were one of the first widely known mass choirs (If you’d like to get into an esoteric debate, pose that question—who was first--among a group of gospel lovers). They disbanded fairly recently—I think the last performance was in 2004—but there’s been some whispering about a reunion album.

Anyway, if you want to know what people mean when they refer to “the Chicago sound,” recordings of the Tommies are a good place to start. The Tommies launched a lot of great gospel careers, including those of folks like Darius Brooks, Percy Bady, and Smokie Norful. The album also includes a duet with Albertina Walker. If you’re jealous that I’ve secured a copy of this album, well, I don’t blame you. So why not check out your local independent record store and report on your great finds in the comments section? Then it’ll be my turn to be the jealous one.

Later that week, I went to the gospel brunch at the House of Blues, Sunset Strip. This is something you can do if you live in/near the following cities. I enjoyed a lot of great Southern food—some repentance is probably in order, amen—and an excellent set by the Sons of Christ quartet. The set list included “I’m Sanctified,” “Amazing Grace,” “Already Been to the Water/Since I’ve Been Changed,” and “I Can’t Make It Without You.” At the end, they merged some themes from “Makes Me Wanna Holler” (Marvin Gaye) and “Get On Up” (James Brown). Very nice.

I haven’t confirmed this yet, but I think the mistress of ceremonies—a regal woman in gorgeous green, with a gold chapeau that rivaled any crown—might have been one of the Clara Ward Singers. Anyway, when I saw how she danced—despite wearing some killer gold heels—I realized I couldn’t kick off my stilettos any time soon. After all, if the queen of the house could dance, the least I could do was keep my shoes on. That’s just the right thing to do when folks are havin’ church.

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