Monday, June 13, 2016

The Brothers and Sisters - 1969 - Dylan's Gospel

The Brothers and Sisters 
Dylan's Gospel

01. The Times They Are A Changing 2:43
02. I Shall Be Released 4:18
03. Lay Lady Lay 3:38
04. Mr. Tambourine Man 4:03
05. All Along The Watchtower 3:30
06. The Mighty Quinn 3:30
07. Chimes Of Freedom 4:30
08. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight 2:21
09. My Back Pages 5:11
10. Just Like A Woman

Bass – Jerry O. Scheff
Drums – Gene Pello
Organ – Evelyn Freeman
Percussion – Joe H. Vaerga
Piano – Gene Page
Vocals [The Brothers] – Andrew Herd, Billy Storm, Chester Pipkin, Don Wyatt, Ed Wallace, Fred Willis, Jesse Kirkland, Joseph Green
Vocals [The Sisters] – Barbara Perrault, Brenda Fitz, Carolyn Willis, Clydie King, Edna Wright, Georgetta Finches, Ginger Blake, Gloria Jones, Gwen Johnson, Hazel Carmichael, Julia A. Tillman, Lolietha White, Marjorie Cranford, Merry Clayton, Oma Drake, Patrice Holloway, Ruby S. Johnson, Sherlie Matthews, Sherrell Atwood, Shirley Allen

Sometimes exploitative impulses yield good art. Despite the way it’s presented, Dylan’s Gospel, the sole album by the Brothers and Sisters (aka the Brothers & Sisters of Los Angeles, aka the Los Angeles Gospel Choir — it’s been reissued a few times), did not arise from a group of L.A. area gospel singers deciding what they really wanted to do was record some Bob Dylan songs. The idea came from producer and Ode Records chief Lou Adler, who can’t help but have noticed that the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ “Oh Happy Day” had recently become the first full-on black gospel choir recording to hit the Pop Top Five.
Adler’s choir and soloists had, indeed, mostly learned to sing in church. But the “Brothers and Sisters” were recruited from the L.A…

…backup-singer circuit—if you’ve seen 20 Feet from Stardom, you’ve seen a lot of their names, and if you’ve ever listened to classic-rock radio, you’ve heard their voices on other people’s records. Over two days in July, 1969, the group recorded churchified versions of 10 familiar Dylan tunes, including his then-current single “Lay Lady Lay”, a song that’s about as secular as Bob has ever gotten. This is formally the same kind of record as, say, a set of Imagine Dragons songs arranged as lullabies, rather than a direct antecedent to the terrific 2003 tribute-with-the-honoree’s-input Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan.

That said, it’s way better than it has a right to be: it’s always at least interesting, and often pretty delightful. If you didn’t catch the words, Dylan’s Gospel could pass as a solidly played, splendidly sung “contemporary gospel” record, and if you can overlook the choir keeping a straight face as they raise the roof about “her fog, her amphetamine, and her pearls”, it can pass as that even if you do catch the words. By the time Adler’s choir assembled, Dylan was still a decade away from writing overtly Christian songs, but he’d internalized the whole gospel songbook by the time he started writing his own stuff: the language of “Chimes of Freedom” and “The Times They Are A-Changin'” makes the stylistic transition beautifully. His lyrics were also open wide enough to interpretation that it wasn’t hard to come up with a reading of, say, “The Mighty Quinn” as an impassioned if slightly eccentric parable about Christ’s return, which is exactly how the great Merry Clayton delivers it here.

A few iffy aspects of the project reveal its origins as a cash-in. The vocalists are credited in a list, but the lead singers weren’t initially identified as such—”because of contractual obligations,” Adler claimed to Rolling Stone at the time. (The new reissue’s liner notes indicate that it’s definitely Gloria Jones on “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”, for what that’s worth, and Honey Cone’s Edna Wright on “Lay Lady Lay”.) Master session bassist Jerry Scheff, who would play on Dylan’s Street-Legal nine years later, was identified on the original sleeve as “Jerry O. Scheft.” Some of the singers also don’t seem to have been too familiar with Dylan’s material: whoever sings the “My Back Pages” verse containing “mutiny from stern to bow” makes that line rhyme with “slow,” a mistake you’d only make if you were reading it off a lyric sheet and hadn’t noticed how every verse ends.

Still, sometimes exploitative impulses eventually yield things nobody anticipates. One of the Sisters on Dylan’s Gospel was Clydie King, who’d been recording hither and thither since she’d made her first single as Little Clydie as a 12- or 13-year-old in 1956. (If that’s not her ripping it up on “Mr. Tambourine Man” here, it’s somebody with a very similar voice.) King spent most of the 70s as a top-flight backup singer for rock bands: 11 years after she sang with Adler’s ad-hoc group, she started dating Dylan, and became his creative collaborator for the next few years, often singing solo during his gospel-era concerts and duetting with him on stage and on record. “Clydie’s one of the greatest singers ever,” Dylan said. “I get chills when I hear her just breathe.”

Of all the great back catalogs in the history of rock, Bob Dylan's is among the most covered, his acolytes ranging from The Byrds to Adele via Manfred Mann and Guns N' Roses. But something tells us you won't have heard anything quite like Dylan's Gospel by The Brothers and Sisters, a choir of Los Angeles session singers brought gloriously to the fore for a very special, one-off record.
Originally released in 1969 on Ode Records, this rare and sought-after album finds the California collective covering a clutch of Dylan classics in the era's revolutionary gospel style. Produced by Lou Adler, soon to work his magic on Carole King's mega-successful Tapestry, and arranged by Gene Page, noted for his work for Motown, the performers were largely unknown, but many went on to find great acclaim. Merry Clayton, the powerhouse singer best known for sparring with Mick Jagger on the Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter (and star of the recent documentary 20 Feet from Stardom), appears here, as does Edna Wright of The Honeycones and Gloria Jones, who recorded the original version of Tainted Love in 1965.

The cast of 27 singers also includes Ruby Johnson, Shirley Matthews, Clydie King, Patrice Holloway, Julia Tillman and more. The tracks include some of the best-loved Dylan songs from the singer songwriter's most productive decade, including Lay Lady Lay, All Along The Watchtower, My Back Pages and Just Like A Woman.

The genesis of the project was Lou Adler, the music business visionary who staged the legendary Monterey International Pop Festival. He imagined a project that combined the songs of Dylan with L.A.'s most sought after session singers, most of which began their singing in the Baptist churches of South Los Angeles.

''Listening to Dylan's songs, I felt there was a gospel-like feel to them, both spiritually and lyrically,'' Adler says in the liner notes. ''So those two ideas, to work with these singers and to explore that side of Dylan - came together.''

Recording sessions at Sound Recorders Studios in Hollywood were a four-day party, with food, drink and far more musicians than were ordered, many of the singers bringing along cousins, mothers, partners and more. Carole King came to hear, as did Peggy Lipton and Papa John Phillips. It was a rock 'n' roll version of a gospel church.

''Lou just put on a big, crazy party,'' remembers Edna Wright. ''He had all these people together, all this raw talent. And we were there for nothing but the love of singing.''

1969 Ode records release. The project originally produced by the legendary Lou Adler, contains 10 tracks of Bob Dylan composed classics performed by The Brothers and Sisters.

The playing time totals 37 minutes, which by today's standards would be considered more of an EP then an LP.

The material was recorded at SRS in Hollywood, considered one of the top tier West Coast recording studios. The session was arranged and conducted by Gene Page, who also played a prominent role on piano. Mr. Page's professional reputation is well earned, having worked on more then 200 gold and platinum albums.

Armin Steiner, the Sound Engineer, worked on over 100 gold and platinum albums. In recent decades, Mr. Steiner expanded his musical career acting as the scoring engineer for countless major film soundtracks.

The session musicians were simply the best gospel/soul artists available, of special note, was the organist, Evelyn Freeman (Ernie Freeman's sister). She was an extremely talented gospel artist. Her 1958 Bell-Canto records release of" Didn't It Rain" is legendary within the music industry. The 1964 United Artist re-release of this tune went on to become a major hit throughout Western Europe, particularly in London and Paris.

Five decades later, it remains a cult favorite in dance clubs throughout Eastern Europe.

The vocalists, eight male and twenty females, were the top gospel/soul/ R&B singers on the planet. Examples include, Billy Storm who had already established his credentials with the R&B super group "The Valients". Jesse Kirkland continued to release successful solo albums with major labels as Columbia, ABC and A&M records. Chester Pipkin co-w rote the soul hit"Love is in the Air". He also co-founded the group"Africa" with Billy Storm. The group recorded and released the legendary album,"Music from Lil Brown".

Carolyn Willis, Shelly Clarke and Edna Wright (Darlene Love's sister) went on to create the wildly successful R&B group "Honey Cone". Clydie King, Merry Clayton and many other of the" Sisters" build their reputations ,through the decades, as in demand backup singers for major artists both in the studio and on tour.

These Bob Dylan compositions contained on this CD readily lends itself to a gospel/soul interpretation. The arrangements are brilliant and the vocals are both fiery and passionate.

Some examples include Merry Clayton's "The Mighty Quinn" and Edna Wright's soulful rendition of" Lay Lady Lay".

Gloria Jones sexy and soulful voice brings"I'll be your Baby Tonight" to a level even the composer may not have conceived. The musicians, featured vocalists and mighty chorus all conspire to elevate Dylan's work to a new musical plateau.



  2. On the aftermath of the horrors that just happened in Orlando and thinking of a good friend who lost his son today I grabbed this album from the stack of to listen stuff to find some solace

  3. Thank You for sharing...My sincere condolences to your friend, and to all the families and people who lost anyone today in Orlando...I am beyond words.

    Just saddened and angry.

    Thank You for the musical offering Zen...

    Peace and Love

  4. I actually neither like Dylan nor Gospel, but this record is simply massive. Incredibly original, "honest" and moving. McLemore Avenue came to my mind. Sounds like "hope" put into music, perfect for dark times. Play this loud. Thanks very much.