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V/A - Good God! Born Again Funk

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Artist: V/A

Album: Good God! Born Again Funk

Label: The Numero Group

Review date: Feb. 10, 2010

Numero Group’s Good God! Born Again Funk is a collection of what might be called secular church music. Its 18 songs set gospel’s preach to funk’s groove; they are the sound of the good word getting on the good foot. Together, they make for a rapturous listening experience that neither apostle nor apostate can deny.

In 2006, Numero Group released a previous Good God! record using similar sources. The songs here are culled from obscure vinyl published nearly four decades ago. Most are 45s and all seem to have been harvested from the dusty recesses of some grandfatherly deacon’s attic. Recorded by groups hailing from the Midwest, Chicago especially, the songs on Good God! represent different attempts at claiming popular music as an instrument of the lord. And not just any popular music — we’re talking about funk, one of the earthier genres America’s produced. That’s no small mission.

James Brown’s an obvious influence on the bunch — his frictionless guitar, plucking the same phrase with the steady timing of a clock’s gear, left a particularly deep impact. Sacred Four’s “Somebody Watching You” and Andrew Wartts & the Gospel Storytellers’s “Peter and John” are two of the more indebted acts to the Godfather. Other secular inspirations can be spotted, too. The Inspirational Gospel Singers’ beautiful “The Same Thing It Took” is an ode to, if not imitation of, Aretha Franklin (who, it goes without saying, straddled the popular and the parochial throughout her career), the synthesized keys of Lucy “Sister Soul” Rodger’s “Pray A Little Longer” register like a more lockstep riff on Innervisions, and damned if the Chicago Travelers’s singer doesn’t sound like a ruffled Bill Withers.

Of course, the material on Good God! lacks the production value of its mainstream contemporaries. But that doesn’t impede here — if anything, it makes these songs motor harder. Credit that also to the relatively stripped accompaniments. The instruments are largely limited to the rhythm section — guitar, bass, drums — with sometimes a piano or keyboard added. Horns are notably absent. Without any brass or the depth of a mixing board, the songs find themselves supported on two pillars: the competing forces of the beat and the word. That, of course, is the very duality that Good God! wants to showcase. But that simple juxtaposition is more than a novelty. It is the reason why these songs are so urgent — it’s why they sound so immediate 35 years after the fact.

“Like a Ship,” Good God!‘s opener, places a piano, drums, Pastor T.L. Barrett’s calls, and a towering children’s chorus in a room seemingly brimming at capacity. The closeness of the space — the way that the players seem to overpower what the microphones were capable of capturing — may render some of the words unintelligible. But it also produces something haunting, a feeling or connotation that exceeds the lyrics of salvation. “Like a Ship” is soul — not the soul of pop music, but the soul of the spiritual — and is Good God!‘s most moving track.

Other songs move too, though in a more physical sense. Take “If Jesus Came Today,” which sounds like a precursor of Parliament’s more tailored efforts, or Ada Richards’ rocker “I’m Drunk and Real High (In the Spirit of the God),” which, with its dichotomous title, makes Good God!‘s point succinctly. It’s enough to make you question the conventional distinction between secular and religious in pop music. Who knows? Maybe James Brown was getting at something other than a bodily high when he was singing “I Got the Feeling.”

By Ben Yaster

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