The Sojourners: the name of the gospel-roots, Vancouver-based trio cleverly named and brought to the forefront of the Canadian roots music scene by Steve Dawson (Juno-award winning producer, multi-instrumentalist and big poppa of the premier-ranked Vancouver roots labels, Black Hen Music).
“When we started working on Jim Byrnes' House of Refuge album, I knew they had a great sound and had a good feel for singing together, so we started talking about recording their own thing shortly after that project,” says Dawson. “Having been to lots of folk festivals, I knew that there was a real need in the country for a really authentic gospel band.”
A really authentic gospel band, indeed.
The original line-up of Marcus Mosley (Ralls, TX), Will Sanders (Alexandria, LA) and Ron Small (Chicago, IL) was put together for the purpose of backing vocals for Byrnes’ 2006 album, which went on to win a 2007 Juno for Blues Album of the Year.
“Marcus and I have been singing together off and on for the last 20 years,” explains gospel singer Will Sanders. “Jim (Byrnes) just called us up for some background. That’s all it was – some session work to begin with. That’s when we met Steve (Dawson). We got to work on the House of Refuge together… it just kind of all came together.”
Over the last five years, the guys have built a solid foundation with Dawson, who produced their last two albums, Hold On (2007) and The Sojourners (2010). 2011 has been the bearer of a Juno nomination, a Western Canadian Music Award (WCMA) for Contemporary Christian/Gospel Recording of 2011, a tour of the Netherlands with Jim Byrnes and no shortage of festival appearances.
It seems as though things are only beginning for what was once thought to be an impromptu, temporary group of backing vocalists.
“Gospel in itself means good music,” says Sanders. “It’s music that makes you feel good. At times, it can lift your spirits — even if you’re not spiritual, it has a tendency to touch your soul.”
With the addition of soul singer, Khari McClelland (originally from Detroit, MI) — who has filled the boots of former founding member, Ron Smalls, who recently departed the group due to health reasons — the newly found trio is anxious to bring their newest addition into the studio for an anticipated 2012 album release.
“We actually met Khari when we were getting ready to do the Vancouver Folk Festival,” remembers Sanders. “He brings youth to the group, so naturally the energy goes up within the group. He understands the genre, he knows it and has an ear for old school music.”
To say the harmonies of The Sojourners is part of their appeal would be an understatement. Harmonies are a key element of gospel music, a genre that is intrinsically linked to the blues, stemming from the southern U.S. and rapidly growing in popularity this side of the border, as well as in Europe.
After a recent performance at the 2011 Grey Cup with Jim Byrnes, The Sojourners are kickin’ it soul style on a tour through Alberta, where they will be taking the stage with Dawson’s favourite powerhouse rhythm section, Keith Lowe (bass) and Geoff Hicks (drums) as well as rockabilly guitarist, Paul Pigat.