Aug 30, 2008 - 7:24 PM
In an industry teeming with producers hell bent on creating a glossy finished product, it’s refreshing to get back to basics. Not Christina Aguilera ditching the drag queen get up back to basics, but stripping down musically. No synthesizers. No drum machines. And absolutely no dubbing. The various artists on Como Now: The Voices of Panola Co., Mississippi decided to take that concept a tad further, eliminating instruments altogether on this a cappella gospel compilation.
This album literally brings the listener to church and that isn’t a coincidence. The singers were recorded live at Mt. Mariah Church in response to an ad placed by Daptone Records. Judging by the powerful end result, all of rural Como’s finest must have turned out. The opener of Como Now is a stirring duet by Brother and Sister Walker, “I Can See So Much.” Don’t think that just because they are the pastor’s parents they got an automatic in. Brother Walker had performed with gospel groups as a young man and now in his eighties isn’t afraid to show off his pipes.
Several of the acts on Como Now are not just talented singers but have a gift for writing as well. Irene Stevenson’s original “If It Had Not Been for Jesus” is arguably the best solo on the album. Her voice is absolutely amazing. She could sing “The Wheels on the Bus” and make it Grammy worthy. The Jones sisters are the youngest vocalists (ages 21-28) on the compilation but their sound is just as seasoned as their older counterparts. “Talk with Jesus” displays their incredible knack for blending harmonies.
Gospel by default is soulful. However it doesn’t necessarily have to be a boring “Kum Ba Ya” type of vibe. “It’s Alright” sung by The John Edwards Singers (no relation to the presidential candidate) has a doo-wop feel sugary enough to cause diabetes. Listening to this album, it’s easy to see why American Popular music has pulled so much from the gospel genre.
The hometown acts on Como Now make mainstream soul and r&b singers sound like amateurs. Without instruments and a wizard producer behind the curtain pulling knobs, we’re left with talent in its purist form. Amen to that.
Visit http://www.daptonerecords.com/comonow/ to watch a documentary on the making of Como Now: The Voices of Panola Co., Mississippi.
Kimberly Turner is Oh Dang! Magazine's resident music critic and pastry fiend. And No, she's not fat.