Reviews

March 21, 2015
 

Soul Stirring Joy

soul-stirrers-joy

 

JOY IN MY SOUL: THE COMPLETE SAR RECORDINGS

Soul Stirrers

ABKCO Records

www.abkco.com

 

The first ABKCO compilation of Soul Stirrers recordings on the legendary SAR Records was released more than a decade ago. With 16 tracks, the Stirrers had the lion’s share of sides on the gospel portion of that two-CD set, but that was all; the rest of the set featured other SAR artists.

Gospel quartet enthusiasts as well as Soul Stirrers fans will rejoice in Joy In My Soul because it is all Soul Stirrers. And of the 33 selections on two CDs, four sides are previously unreleased. How often do you get a chance to hear unreleased Stirrers sides?

The Soul Stirrers, ‘Listen to the Angels,’ from Joy In My Soul: The Complete SAR Recordings

When Specialty folded in 1959—with owner Art Rupe exhausted from operating an independent record company for more than a decade—the Stirrers were a major gospel quartet in need of a label home. This inspired Sam Cooke, J.W. Alexander of the Pilgrim Travelers and Senior Roy Crain of the Stirrers to form their own company, SAR, an acronym for Sam, Alex and Roy.

Music historian Bill Dahl states in the album notes that by 1959, when the Stirrers entered Chicago’s famed Universal Studio on Walton Avenue to make their first SAR sides, there was little left for the group to prove. Nevertheless, the SAR discs provided brilliant new examples of the fresh, youthful sound the Stirrers had exuded since Sam Cooke replaced R.H. Harris in early 1951.

The Soul Stirrers, ‘Time Brings About a Change,’ from from Joy In My Soul: The Complete SAR Recordings and also featured in the Academy Award-nominated film Selma. (Lead vocal: Jimmy Outler)

This new two-CD set covers the Soul Stirrers 1959-1964 period, when Cooke was in the producer’s chair and new leads such as Johnnie Taylor, Jimmy Outler and James Phelps emulated and extended Cooke’s handsome pop sensibility and gospel yodel. An amalgam of gospel and R&B musicians, including guitarists LeRoy Crume and Clifton White and bass players Johnny Pate and Sonny Mitchell, gave the quartet significant crossover appeal. The SAR-Soul Stirrers partnership lasted until late 1964. Cooke’s untimely death in Los Angeles in December of that year effectively ended SAR.

Since ABKCO has access to the original tapes, the sound leaps off the CD. The voices and musicians are as crystal clear as if they were performing in your living room. Even though I have many of these cuts on vinyl, they sound fresher on Joy in My Soul.

The Soul Stirrers, ‘Free At Last,’ from Joy In My Soul: The Complete SAR Recordings (lead vocal by Jimmy Outler)

On January 27 ABKCO also released a compilation by the Valentinos. Lookin’ For a Love: The Complete SAR Recordings includes four of the group’s religious tracks under their gospel handle, the Womack Brothers (the group started its music career in Cleveland as the Womack Brothers). Not surprisingly, many of the Valentinos’ secular sides captured the gospel beat.

SAR Records was a bold and successful, if tragically brief, experiment in African American artists taking control of their own recording destiny. Had Cooke not perished, one can only imagine what more of an impact SAR would have made on American popular music.

NOTE: Joy In My Soul includes the song “Time Brings About A Change,” featured in the soundtrack to Selma.

 

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