Every unjustly maligned genre deserves a three-disc savior, and for modern gospel music—often considered the exclusive terrain of bright-eyed church choirs wrapped in matching robes, swaying on risers—the redeemer is Fire In My Bones, a collection of scrappy, distorted, burning good news.
Expertly compiled and produced by Mike McGonigal, who clawed through a slew of private collections and archives, Fire In My Bones: Raw + Rare + Other-worldly African-American Gospel [1944-2007] functions as a kind of postscript to John Fahey’s American Primitive Volume 1: Raw Pre-War Gospel (or Dust To Digital’s Goodbye, Babylon box), showcasing the breadth and peculiarity of the last 63 years of black gospel in America. In the grand, metaphysical spirit of Harry Smith, each disc is defined thematically (“The Wicked Shall Cease From Troubling,” “God’s Mighty Hand,” “All God Power Store”), and in spite of the temporal and geographic differences, the message is (mostly) consistent throughout: hope, reverence, and the ecstatic celebration of What’s Good.
Still, gospel being defined more by creed than by sound, the messengers couldn’t be more varied. The collection opens with Rev. Lonnie Farris’s 1963 rendition of the stalwart “Peace In The Valley,” performed on a lap-steel guitar with barely there accompaniment, before segueing into a rousing, spastic, semi-insane anti-rock ’n’ roll sermon delivered—with rock aplomb and squealing blues guitar—by the spectacular Elder Beck in 1956. Fire In My Bones embodies all the wild contradictions of religion—the stories of sin and salvation howled on street corners and in recording studios—and will give even the most determined atheists a holy chill.