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A celebration of rock's gospel roots

Gospel/Early Rock

Various Artists, "Jesus Rocked the Jukebox: Small Group Black Gospel (1951-1965)"  (Craft/Concord, two discs)

It was Ray Charles who made it so blatant that, to the pious, it was a '50s scandal. He turned the Southern Tones' 1954 "It Must Be Jesus," into "I Got a Woman" and James Cleveland's "That's Why I Love Him So" into Ray's "Hallelujah, I Love Her So."

Rock's theft from gospel music was a great tradition. Reverend Claude Jeter's interjected line "I'll Be a Bridge Over Deep Water" on the Swan Silvertones' classic record of "Mary Don't You Weep" gave Paul Simon his title for "Bridge Over Troubled Water." He went so far as to hire gospel's Dixie Hummingbirds to back him on his 1973 hit "Loves Me Like a Rock."

Sure rock, especially early rock, transformed country and R&B but if you really want to talk about where its soul and ecstasy came from, you've got to pay close attention to gospel. For lovers of vintage American rock and pre-pop, this is heaven on two discs -- 40 selections by some of the very best gospel performers from 1951 to 1965.

You'll hear the Blind Boys of Alabama's version of "This May Be The Last Time" which inspired the version by the Rolling Stones. You'll hear one of the greatest of all early soul singers, Sam Cooke, in the music with the Soul Stirrers that anticipated and cleared the way for his R&B stardom. The Stirrers are here for five tunes. Lou Rawls, who turned into one of the most beloved embodiments of chitlin circuit soul jazz, is here as the lead singer of the Pilgrim Travelers. The Harmonizing Four, with  their falsetto lead, are just a hop, skip and a jump from the Ink Spots and Doo-Wop. A treasure and a delight from beginning to end.

4 stars (out of four)



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