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When Canadian blues icon Jim Byrnes called Vancouver based gospel singer Marcus Mosely on the phone a few years ago to ask if he could round up a few friends to record some back up vocals for a new album, no one could have guessed what would happen next.
From the moment Mosely and his pals, Will Sanders and Ron Small stepped up to the microphone and began singing, they realized that they had something very special going on. When Byrnes dubbed the trio The Sojourners the name stuck and – as they say – the rest is history.
Formative years spent singing in the churches of Mosely, Small and Sander’s hometowns – Ralls, Texas, Chicago, Illinois and Alexandria, Louisiana respectively – give The Sojourners’ sound an authentic edge that only comes with experience. This is real gospel - blessed with a soul that can’t be faked.
While it wouldn’t exactly be right to call the Sojourners a new act – given that each member of the group has been in the music business for around fifty years - the sound, energy and commitment they conjure any time they get together would be the envy of singers half their ages.
Hot on the tail of their session with Byrnes, the Sojourners went into the studio with roots music whiz Steve Dawson to record Hold On, their first solo album in 2007. Two years and many sessions later, Mosely, Small and Sanders have taken all they’ve learned in between and returned to record a second CD simply entitled The Sojourners.
No longer the new kids on the block, the trio had definite ideas of how they wanted their follow up record to sound, and one listen through the songs they’ve captured here shows that they’ve succeeded beyond their wildest expectations.
Working again with Dawson as producer, The Sojourners have recreated a classic gospel sound this time around - replete with the warm tones of Mike Kalanj’s Hammond B 3 organ and Dawson’s dirty blues guitar. With Geoff Hicks and Keith Lowe returning on drums and bass, and a soaring cameo from Jesse Zubot on ‘By and By’, The Sojourners have found a band that keeps pace with the power of their vocals.
This is not music that strives to be polite. In the Sojourners’ universe, echoes of doo wop, R&B, country and blues weave together to create a unique sound that has all but vanished from today’s world.
This is gospel music that can take a punch and remain standing. Singing praise music with their own special ‘stank’, the Vancouver based Sojourners sound just as at home in a road house bar as they do in a revival tent.
Never has travelling the hard road between sin, loss and redemption sounded as glorious
as it does on these eleven timeless recordings. Listening to these seasoned vocalists breathe new life into classic tunes like Doris Akers’ ‘Lead Me Guide Me’ and The Violinaire’s ‘Another Soldier Gone’ is as transcendent an introduction to gospel as anyone could ever hope for.
Other highlights include a chilling reading of Gary Davis’ ‘Death Don’t Have No Mercy’ – a song long associated with the Grateful Dead. In this version, the Sojourners are at full strength as Ron’s haunting leads set a dark tone that is offset by sweet harmonies from Will and Marcus.
To hear all three singers’ distinct vocals meet at the crossroads in this song is to experience the signature Sojourners sound as different gospel traditions come together and blend mellifluously as one.
An uplifting cover of Los Lobos’ ‘Peace in the Neighbourhood’ serves to remind listeners of the connection between civil rights, social justice and gospel that Mosely, Small and Sanders have explored throughout their careers.
The Sojourners are a rock solid unit and proof positive that faith can move mountains. But, don’t let that scare you away. Sinner or saved - wherever you are on your own personal journey, you should listen to The Sojourners. You’ll feel better for it.