The Austin Chronicle

The Boxing Lesson

Box sets grow up and out

By Ed Ward, December 20, 2013, Music

I Heard the Angels Singing: Electrifying Black Gospel From the Nashboro Label, 1951-1983

(Tompkins Square)

No corner of American roots music remains as overlooked as postwar gospel. Vast amounts of music on the Chess, Savoy, Jewel, and Songbird labels lie in vaults awaiting rediscovery, but at least Nashboro finally gets a 4-CD overview from the label that gave us eccentric gospel collections Fire in My Bones and This May Be My Last Time Singing. Nashboro resided in the rural Southern mainstream, which partially accounts for the sound: early sides recorded at funky radio stations. In 1955, they signed Sullivan and Iola Pugh, a Miami duo calling themselves the Consolers, and became players: Sullivan's raw guitar and the act's powerful stage presence made them stars on the gospel circuit, and the records sold well. The other major act was the Fairfield Four, whose a capella program headlined bills well into the Seventies. Other notables include Slim & the Supreme Angels, capable of scary, no-holds-barred performances; Brother Joe May, the "Thunderbolt of the Middle West," here singing "Silent Night"; the Chosen Gospel Singers from Houston (without Lou Rawls on 1962 track "Let Your Life Speak Out"); and Rev. Cleophus Robinson. I Heard the Angels Singing doesn't hint at treasures yet to be heard until the last disc, when Nashboro hosted singers from larger labels that let them go at the height of their powers: Dorothy Love Coates & the Gospel Harmonettes peeling paint with "Heaven, I've Heard So Much About It," for instance. Welcome to the music that gave us soul.

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