One of the many surprises about the Sojourners is that they hail from Canada - not usually thought of as a hotbed of gospel music. That's just scratching the surface, as there are plenty of other surprises on their eponymous second effort.
Keeping traditional gospel at the center, the trio offers nods to Blues, mountain music, and even brings in a little rock & roll vibe in some parts. The entire disc is anchored by powerful vocals and tight harmonies with Marcus Mosely, Will Sanders, and Ron Small taking turns in the lead spot. Good harmony comes through as one voice with layers, and these guys nail it every time.
The backing band is no disappointment, either. Much of the record features Mike Kalanj on organ (Hammond B-3 and the more subtle Wurlitzer), adding texture and levity. There's also outstanding guitar work from Steve Dawson, who also produced the album. Ranging from Delta slide to dirty Blues to electric funk, Dawson adds flourishes in just the right places.
The disc opens and closes with solid traditional gospel numbers, with some more experimental tracks sandwiched in the middle of the set. One of the standouts is the David Hidalgo composition "The Neighborhood" strays from gospel and dives into urban funk, with powerful guitars and thumping bass. "Death Don't Have No Mercy" (the Gary Davis number) starts off as a deep Blues, but slowly eases into a New Orleans-style funeral march.
I think my favorite track is the closer, "By and By," which takes a turn to hillbilly gospel, featuring Jesse Zubot on mandolin. Hard not to imagine being in a country church on a hot summer Sunday during this one.
Deep, masculine vocals carry the disc from start to finish. Authenticity always gets my attention, and as the Sojourners wind their way through various forms, it's always centered on gospel.
Eric Wrisley is a senior contributing editor at FolkWax.