Good God! Born Again Funk (Numero Group)
The church has produced R and B stars from Sam Cooke to Beyoncé. This isn’t exactly a secret, but at the same time it’s not nearly as obvious as the fact that many country greats also came up singing from a prayer book. That’s because, in the country tradition, it’s okay to sing both sacred and secular tunes. For many African American musicians, though, the wall between Heaven and Hell has been a lot higher, which means that it’s sometimes hard to remember that saints and sinners are, to all intents and purposes, sitting in the same pew.
The Numero Group’s recent Good God! Born Again Funk will provide a reminder. Like 2006’s Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal, the tracks here are rare examples of a moment in the ’70s when a few bands on a few sides updated their gospel with funk. But while these tracks may be newfangled in some sense, what’s most striking about them is how seamlessly new and old fit together. The Victory Travelers “I Know I’ve Been Changed” certainly has the sweaty groove, but it fits behind singing that comes directly out of the vocal quartet tradition. The Gospel Soul Revivals’ “If Jesus Came Today” makes it clear that James Brown should always have been backed by a gospel choir; “Packing a Grip” shows that the Davis Sisters or the Ward Singers should always have been backed by hot guitar and burping bass.
The line between the flesh and the devil in black music kept those kinds of crossovers from happening more often. That’s our loss—but at least this album and its predecessor, with their surprisingly fitting aberrations, gives us a sense of what might, in another world, have been the norm.