Blues and rock artists like Robert Cray, Huey Lewis, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds were singing the praises of the Gospel Hummingbirds before their debut release, Steppin' Out, first came out in 1991. The accolades were well-deserved. I first reviewed this disk in the March 1992 issue of the Phoenix Blues Society's Blues News. Here's the text of that article, which came right after a review of Ray Charles' excellent box set The Birth of Soul.
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Now let's take a few steps further into the sanctuary. Too many blues listeners are turned off when they hear the word "gospel." Forget any pre-conceived notions you might have about gospel. The music from this Oakland-based group is as funky as anything you'll hear at your local nightclub. The Gospel Hummingbirds' blues connections are pretty tight, as their rhythm section is made up of members of Robert Cray's regular band. They've also appeared on recent albums by both Huey Lewis and the Fabulous Thunderbirds.
Comprised of James Gibson, Josh Lowery, Joe Thomas, Clarence Nichols and Roy Tyler, the Gospel Hummingbirds have been around for 20 years. Steppin' Out is a fine representation of the music they present to both gospel and blues audiences. Their fervent shouting vocals on "Don't Move The Mountain" raised the hair on my back when I listened to it. "Don't Let The Devil Ride" features some fine blues guitar by Tim Kaihatsu, and the H-Birds really get rolling on "Judgement Day" and "Here I Am." But the hottest number is their version of "Swing Low Sweet Chariot," with impassioned harmonizing that would put any atheist down on bended knees beggin' the Lord for mercy!
- Bill Mitchell
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