CD: 14 Songs, 50:29 Minutes
Styles: Magnificent Gospel Covers, Piano/Keyboard Mastery
What better way to start 2017 than with a soaring CD entitled Lift Me Up? All of us could use a little wind beneath our wings to bolster our resolutions. Readers, if you’ll recall, The Sirens Records released one of last year’s masterpieces, Erwin Helfer’s Last Call. This is another surefire winner from 2016, a recording of a studio session one year earlier than that. The back of the CD cover states, “On August 20, 2015, The Sirens Records gathered six keyboard masters and stewards of the Chicago gospel keyboard tradition…Lift Me Up engenders a spirited Sunday church service in the studio and moves each musician to play with fervor, so that their music reaches new, unprecedented heights.” Indeed: One gripe from blues fans may be that this is not a blues album. Nevertheless, blues and gospel have always been fraternal twins: born from the same musical womb, with one being ‘light’ and one ‘dark,’ the ‘black sheep’ of the family. While gospel melodies praise the Lord, blues has often been called “the Devil’s music.” Like yin and yang, the two rest side by side in synergistic balance. You can’t have one without the other.
The “six keyboard masters” showcased here are Richard Gibbs (also on bass), Elsa Harris, Bryant Jones (also on vocals), Lavelle Lacy, Terry Moore, and Eric Thomas. Performing along with them are tambourine player Donald Gay, De Andre Patterson, and Dorothy Robertson on vocals, Curtis Fondren on percussion, and Gregory Gay on tambourine. What is astounding about these keyboard virtuosos is their sheer artistry, both collective and individual. They can pack notes in like sardines, without having them seem all crammed together when they issue forth from their instruments. These wonders from the Windy City make their pianos and organs tell stories, specifically of a personal fall and redemption through Christ. The word “gospel” means “good news,” and the high-energy, iridescent tones of the tunes here promote it. One will hear familiar favorites here, like “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and “I’ll Fly Away.”
Out of the fourteen cover tracks on Lift Me Up, these three will propel listeners the highest.
Track 01: “Swing Down Chariot” – The album’s opener, also known as “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” is usually played in a melancholy, contemplative way. Not this time. Descending on a trail of fire instead of tears, this “Chariot” blazes with high-tempo glory. Eric Thomas pounds his piano as if there were truly no tomorrow, and Terry Moore’s outstanding organ follows suit.
Track 02: “Without God I Could Do Nothing” – According to most Christians, their Lord doesn’t only provide salvation from sin. He is the motivating force behind all of life, as Donald Gay humbly sings. “Without God, I would be nothing. Without Him, I would fail. Without Him, my life, my life would be rugged, like a ship without a sail.” Richard Gibbs stars on piano and organ during this medium-slow number. It doesn’t plod, but it does give one ample time to reflect.
Track 11: “He’s My Everything” – This instrumental goes from sweet and lilting to a hand-clapping, foot-tapping good time with the smoothest of transitions. Eric Thomas stars on organ, and Bryant Jones takes the lead on the ivories. Together, they’re the perfect keyboard pair.
Gospel and blues fans, if you’re feeling down, tell these Chicago keyboard greats, Lift Me Up!