Several years ago, Canadian blues singer Jim Byrnes needed some backup vocals for a new album. He called his friend, Vancouver-based gospel singer Marcus Mosely, who contacted two of his friends, Will Sanders and Ron Small. When the trio began singing, they knew that they had stumbled onto something special. During the session, Byrnes gave them the name The Soujourners, and an act was born.
After the session with Byrnes, they teamed with roots music producer/performer Steve Dawson to make their own recording, and then they made a name for themselves appearing on numerous sessions. Their latest self-titled release, on Black Hen Music, is an excellent showcase for their vocal talents, honed over a combined 150 years of musical experience. Re-enlisting Dawson as producer, the trio is presented in a traditional classic gospel setting, highlighted by Dawson’s stellar blues-based guitar work and Mike Kalanj’s soulful Hammond B-3, and a tight rhythm section (Keith Lowe – bass and Geoff Hicks – drums).
The eleven tracks include several traditional tunes, such as a breathless version of “Brother Moses Smote The Water,” an exuberant “Great Day,” and “Another Soldier Gone,” which features a moving vocal from Sanders. Though most of the vocals are done in unison, each singer gets a lead vocal of their own. Small does a fine job on Doris Akers’ “Lead Me Guide Me,” Mosely nearly brings the house down on “Great Day” and “Strange Man,” and Sanders’ lovely take on “When I Die” is another standout.
Those wonderful group harmonies are the selling point of the disc, however, and the trio is at their best on tracks like “Nobody Can Turn Me Around,” Los Lobos’ classic tune, “The Neighborhood,” the country-tinged “It’s Hard To Stumble (When You’re On Your Knees),” and a mesmerizing reading of the Reverend Gary Davis’ “Death Has No Mercy.” A superb “By and By” featuring Dawson on Weissenborn and Jesse Zubot on mandolin closes the disc.
The Sojourners’ vision of gospel music has roots in soul, country, blues, and doo-wop. Whatever your religious leanings may be, you’ll find that there is a lot to love in their music.
- Graham Clarke