"Chris Barber’s spoken introduction for Sister Rosetta Tharpe in Manchester on 9th December 1957 is now a historical document in itself. It marks the start of the only known recording from Sister Rosetta’s five months in Europe at this time, when she had left Decca Records in the US and her popularity in her own country was a decline. These titles, up to the reprise of ‘Old Time Religion’ are really of mainly historical interest – I doubt somehow that a traditional gospel audience would have found much to excite them in Eddie Smith’s Dixieland banjo playing, or Sister’s under-amplified guitar work – but they present a side of the music that was lost more or less in a few years with the rise of The Rolling Stones et al, though Chris of course still carries on. Yes, some of this set is, from today’s vantage point, corny – ‘Old Time Religion’ especially – but just listen to the audience response after many numbers: ‘Down By The Riverside’ ends to absolutely thunderous applause. It would have been good to have been able to see what was going on – there is obviously a lot we are missing with only an audio record – bit these tracks are totally enjoyable, and Sister and the band had obviously worked hard on their mutual understanding.
The remaining titles on the first CD were recorded back in New York in September 1958 with The Sally Jenkins Singers in a Church Of God In Christ establishment, and the contrast with what just preceded it is perhaps unfair. This is Gospel in its natural environment, all declamatory vocals, swinging chorus, loud organ, plenty of two-way rapport with the congregation, and with many numbers Tharpe had not previously recorded. Rosetta’s lengthy introduction to ‘Bring Back Those Happy Days’ is a fond reminiscence of her youth – or is just to please the down-home audience ? Whatever, the track itself sports some fine, ringing guitar work – and this version of ‘Didn’t It Rain’ is a very lively and loud solo item. The first dozen titles on the second CD originated from the Omega label (though material from it has since appeared on many others labels), with piano, organ, bass and drums backing Sister and a choir billed as either ‘The Southern Mission Choir’ or ‘Down-Town Sisters-New Haven’. Sister left her own guitar at home for this session and the music is generally rather more formal and restrained – though ‘The Family Prayer’ is something of a stormer – and there are subtle echoes of late fifties pop music in places, but overall the material is worth a listen. And ‘Blow Ye The Trumpet In Zion’ would have been a good one to record with Chris Barber! Less worthwhile is Sister’s 1959 album for MGM, from ‘I Believe’ to the ends of the CD. The songs are generally pop-flavoured, the backing vocals unbelievably square, and the arrangements totally unsuitable – I’m being polite. ‘Twelve Gates’ is laughable, with its only redeeming feature being that it mercifully is well short of two minutes long. Thank God for the skip button! Don’t quite go to the eject button straight away though – the budget ran out for the closing number and someone remembered Rosetta could play guitar. ‘Take My Hand Precious Lord’ is a fine performance with Tharpe’s playing sounding very much like Guitar Slim! Sandwiched between the two albums on CD2 is the Marie & Rex title, a poppy duet with doo-wopper and later soul singer Rex Garvin, recorded for Carlton and often attributed to Marie Knight, who did sing the flip. The song itself is an updating of Rosetta’s 1941 recording, ‘Sit Down’, and just scraped into the r&b charts.
A collection like this is of course of most interest to those who have followed the series so far, and whilst this does not contain ‘the best’ of Tharpe’s discography, it does show just how consistent she could be. Those Chris Barber recordings are also of immense interest to anyone wanting to examine the impact of African-American music in Europe in the 1950s."
Norman DARWEN – BLUES & RYTHM