I have been an unabashed promoter of the excellent series of reissues from the High Water label during the 1980s. These albums and 45s were part of a project by Dr. David Evans at Memphis State University to document the blues and gospel traditions of Memphis and the Mississippi Delta. What makes these recordings so great was that they were made not for any kind of commercial gain, but rather for the sheer love of the music.
High Water's best-selling record was Book Of The Seven Seals, by long-time Memphis gospel singers The Pattersonaires. In proclaiming this reissue as my Flashback of the month, I know that some readers will immediately click on to another page, thinking that they have absolutely no interest in gospel music. But my advice is to keep reading, especially if you like stirring and soulful vocals. It's a short step from the gospel vocal tradition to straight soul music. And blues owes much of its emotion and energy to the music of the church.
Originally formed in 1953, The Pattersonaires were greatly influenced by Memphis minister Rev. W. Herbert Brewster. Half of the songs on Book Of The Seven Seals are his original compositions.
What separates this collection from other gospel recordings is the strength of The Pattersonaires lead singers. They're all distinct in their own style, and repeatedly provide a marked contrast from the background chorus. I especially like the singing of James Shelton, whose soulful and raspy baritone is best heard on the Brewster original "I Feel Something Drawing and Pulling Me On."
Another Brewster-penned number, "Old Landmark," is a very spirited, driving song featuring the more downhome vocals of Willie Neal. This number will get your foot to tappin' right from the start. Neal also takes the lead on the excellent James Cleveland song "I'm His, He's Mine."
The Pattersonaires version of "Go Down, Moses" is highlighted by the piano playing of Willie Gordon, and Shelton gives this old standard a rather unique and more soulful treatment.
The bluesiest number among the ten cuts is "Call Me (Here I Am)," again showcasing Shelton's resonant vocals.
HMG will soon be releasing a live album from The Pattersonaires, recorded not long after these 1984 studio sessions. If it's anywhere near as good as Book Of The Seven Seals, I'll be anxious to hear it.
--- Bill Mitchell.
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