Empire Roots Band – Music from the Film Harlem Street Singer | Album Review

empirerootsbandcdEmpire Roots Band – Music from the Film Harlem Street Singer

Acoustic Sessions Recordings


11 tracks

The Reverend Gary Davis took the blues and gospel from the deep south to New York City. He took what he learned in South Carolina as a child and teen up to the Big Apple during the height of the folk and rock scene in the 1960’s.  The film Harlem Street Singer is a biography of the great musicians life and impact on American music.  Four “Noo Yawkers” provide the music for the film and it is captured here in this “soundtrack” of sorts.

Billy Sims, Jr. provides the vocal duties and does an admirable job delivering great performances with his own style and charm melded into Davis’ work.  Sims pays homage but also shows what he can do with these cuts while both being fresh and retaining a period feel to the songs.  Woody Mann is on guitar and sings background, Dave Keyes is on piano and also sings background, and Brian Glassman plays upright bass.  The four of them do a fine job delivering an authentic feel to the music while also making the music theirs.  The CD features the unedited takes from the film and previously unreleased tracks.  All the songs were written or are traditional songs performed regularly by Reverend Davis.

They get things started with the classic, “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” and let me tell you that if you don’t have any spiritual feelings you might be moved otherwise after listening to this song.  Sims does a superb job while Keyes, Mann and Glassman show restraint as they do yeoman’s duty in support.  “Search My Heart” follows, a spiritual with some grit to it, and then they get into “Mean Old World.”  Very soulful stuff!  The latter is done very down tempo and subdued and it works well.  “There’s Destruction In This Land” is great commentary along with being a judgement day song and “Soon My Work Will Be Done” is a great lamentation.

“Trying to Get Home” then follows, picking up the pace a bit.  A Sunday church medley keeps the pace going and gets more than a bit of a groove going.  “Twelve Gates to the City” is another deeper spiritual with “Hesitation” sandwiched in between it and the medley.  A ool little instrumental, it’s a refreshing ditty that automatically will make your foot tap.  “I Am the Light Of This World/ I Belong To The Band” end the soundtrack and are some more sweet praise songs.  “Orangitang Rag” is a great instrumental bonus track with some nice finger picking by Mann and piano work by Keyes.

Gary Davis was a legend and these guys do a great job showing us why he was.  Whether you went out and saw the movie or not, this is a finely crafted album by some really good musicians who deliver Davis’ work with feeling and authenticity; they go beyond giving us straight up note for note covers. I enjoyed this CD and I give it a big “thumbs up!”

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