McCrary Sisters – Our Journey – McC Records, 55:19 [10/25/11] ****:
(Featuring Ann McCrary – vocals; Deborah McCrary – vocals; Regina McCrary – vocals; Alfreda McCrary – vocals; Rob McNelley – guitar; Todd Sharp – guitar; Bob Britt – guitar; Tommy Sims – acoustic guitar; Kevin McKendree – keyboards; Dwan Hill – organ; Michael Hicks – organ; Dennis Taylor – saxophone; Chris West – saxophone; Quentin Ware – trumpet; Jon Paul – trumpet; Anton Nesbitt – bass; Steve Mackey – bass; Derrick Phillip – drums; Lynn Williams – drums; Delbert McClinton – guest vocals; Patty Griffin – guest vocals; Mike Farris – guest vocals)
Gospel music is at the core of American culture. An expression of Christian beliefs, the narratives detail spiritual, communal and personal themes. These are captured in a variety of music styles (blues, r&b, country, pop and even rock) that reflect both urban and rural perspective. Edwin Hawkins’ “O Happy Day” (recorded in 1967) became an international hit, setting the stage for crossover success. Gospel has influenced (or according to some… been co-opted by) nearly every genre of popular music. From the Broadway romantic grandeur of Porgy and Bess, to the pop bravado of Bridge Over Troubled Water, an indelible legacy has permeated the world culture.
A lifetime of gospel music began early for the daughters of Reverend McCrary. Performance experiences with the family church set a precedent. The McCrary Sisters have an impressive resume, recording with Johnny Cash and Wynona Judd. Regina has performed with Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley and Stevie Wonder and recorded a solo album (I Made A Vow) in 2007. Ann performed with The Winans, Donnie McClurkin and Yolanda Adams. Alfreda has released a CD titled, Songs From The Heart. Deborah has not embarked on a singing career, but performs with her sisters on a part-time basis.
The debut national release of The McCrary Sisters is titled “Our Journey”. The opening track is a bluesy Delta cover of Bob Dylan’s (who made headlines in 1979 with his similarly arranged slow groove “Gotta Serve Somebody”) anthem, “Blowin’ In The Wind”. The group vocal is mesmerizing in a repeat chorus (reminiscent, though not derivative of the Staple Singers) Regina collaborated with Dylan on another song, “Give Him My All”. She provides a tough, funky vocal lead that brings to mind the soulful music of Stax/Volt. On another co-written piece, “Other Side Of The Blues”, she gets to showcase considerable blues chops, sharing the lead with Delbert McClinton. A searing guitar solo (Rob McNelley) and horn/organ coloration simply blow the roof off.
Ann McCrary also shines on this album. “Follow Me Up” tells its story of inspiration with uncomplicated elegance. Processional cadence inhabits the acoustic vibe of “Know My Name” Steady tempo and stirring vocals (Ann on lead, with guests Mike Farris and Patty Griffin) speak to the power of gospel music. A more traditional feel encompasses the sweeping diversity of faith on “Bless ‘Em All Y’all”. Kevin McKendree gives Sunday-best accompaniment on piano and organ. Alfreda McCrary offers a moving rendition of Julie Miller’s “Broken Pieces” The fragility of life (…you can have my heart, if you don’t mind broken pieces…”) is transformed into harmonic symphony by these extraordinary singers. Deborah can be heard on the a capella “Dig A Little Deeper”. Her deep alto blends in perfectly with the tight precision of the McCrary chorus.
More than straightforward religious music, the intrinsic, melodic beauty of Our Journey should introduce the McCrarys to a wider audience.
TrackList: Blowin’ In The Wind; Follow Me Up; Bible Study; Broken Pieces; Know My Name; Give Him My All; He Cares; Dig A Little Deeper; Bless ‘Em All Y’all; Other Side Of The Blues (Since I Met You); Shines A Light; Our Journey
Bill Withers – Just As I Am – Speakers Corner Records
This is vibrant analogue update of a notable recording debut.