Good God: A Gospel Funk Hymnal
MG HELP SERVICE TO BE HELPED IN DISTRESS & OTHER PROBLEMS. IT IS BEST TO BECOME A MEMBER BEFORE YOU GET IN DISTRESS…”
So reads a sign decorating the inside cover of Good God: A Gospel Funk Hymnal, placed no doubt outside a church in a distressed neighborhood, written in broken English, capital letters, and all seriousness. It’s not all that bad a marketing scheme: members get help. Others: maybe.
Though any devout ______ will tell you that their music exists for praise purposes, there’s a certain amount of product placement going on as well. Without trying to be inflammatory, churches use music much the same way The Gap does: to bring you in, to keep you in, and to hopefully establish a lifestyle.
Good God’s liner notes take great care to explain that “Gospel Funk” was never an established genre or movement, but rather an idea pasted together using buried album tracks and b-sides, but it’s not as if these cousin genres were ever that far removed in the blues/gospel/soul/funk lineage. Odd bedfellows, mayhaps, and we could go on about how this gospel-funk mixes the devotion and single-mindedness of gospel and the titular, fleshy flesh of funk, but it’s unlikely these musicians were aware of such academic theorizing. Rather, gospel-funk is the result of the invasive 60s and 70s culture shifts worming their way into holy places. Movement or not, groups of musicians all over the country, for more than a decade (the tracks here range from 1968 to 1981) decided they could praise or inspire praise more effectively with funk, damn the subtext.
However it came about, the music is stunning: flighty funk infused with gospel’s call and response energy, jams truncated to praise-worthy lengths. Roughly cut rhythms are Good God’s backbone: Trevor Dandy’s “Is There Any Love” froths and foams, the Horace Family’s “God Will Dry My Weeping Eyes” struts importantly. The no-dry-eyes stunner comes by way of Voices of Conquest, a working Detroit choir backed by a rambunctious drummer. “O Yes My Lord” rumbles menacingly, the choir barely outstripping the floor tom. Ascension, apocalypse, repeat.
It’s not all so gruff; the ornate, string-laden smooth-talk joints seem rambunctious, silly even, like their fervency was forced just so the band could get away with slinky, thrusting rhythms. The 5 Spiritual Tones turn a rollicking, Shaft-worthy bullet into a missive for the underprivileged, while the Mighty Voices of Wonder’s “I Thank the Lord” is an abbreviated, unstructured James Brown screech, the lyrics indecipherable. These tracks aren’t necessarily less potent, but they do conjure the hilarious image of a small-town gospel troupe breaking out an Isaac Hayes baritone and smooth talking folks into penance. Moreover, there is a perverse, joyous glee when these genres mix awkwardly.
Just as often, however, Good God’s singular subject matter burns and boils over, overcoming its heathen underpinnings and coalescing into a furious whole. Bass player’s got a bulge, and good thing the singer’s God-fearing, because the drummer don’t sound like he fears shit. There’s an arrogance to this music, so brazenly connecting the carnal and the heavenly, that’s hard to fuck with. “Thoughs Were the Days” [sic] closes the album, its narrator a haughty devil. Better times, he says, when hell was a “some kinda swinging place / We had a waiting list you couldn’t believe / Statistics show we got three out of every four clientele over our competitors / And we partiiiiiiiiiiiied!” Conga drums, doo wop girls, pa-rum-pa-pum-pum. Hell’s grand but God is this—bass!—much—Farfisa!—better.