Tuesday, 6 November 2007

CD Review - Marie Knight

Let Us Get Together: A Tribute to Reverend Gary Davis

By M.D. Spenser

Some pairings sound doomed to failure.

Who’d put an elderly gospel singer who hadn’t recorded in 25 years together with Bob Dylan’s lead guitarist? But this album, with 78-year-old Marie Knight backed by Larry Campbell’s guitar, is fabulous. If you have any feelings for gospel, ragtime or blues, if you appreciate incredible acoustic guitar, then buy this CD.

Knight, who sang with Sister Rosetta Tharpe half a century ago, and Campbell, who has backed B.B. King, Roseanne Cash, Lyle Lovett and others, breathe life into the songs of Rev. Gary Davis, the blind bluesman who turned to gospel as his life wore on.

Knight and Campbell wisely chose not to honour Davis through slavish imitation. Knight, who, unbelievably, had never heard of Davis, sifted through his songs, rejecting some, embracing others. Though she changed no words, she sometimes altered the melodies to suit her. She remains in fine voice; her phrasing should be studied by younger singers.

She chose mostly from Davis’ gospel works rather than his blues. But it’s gospel without preachiness. And when she does sing the blues – like ‘You Got To Move’ (a blues with gospel words) – there’s no trace of sadness. This is an exuberant record.

Davis was one of the best ragtime guitarists ever. And Campbell, too, opted not to copy every note, but instead to put some of himself into the record. He captures the intricate syncopation of Davis’ guitar, but it’s the feeling that makes this album what it is.

A couple of tracks are augmented by the harmonica of Kim Wilson, one of the best harpists working today.

Some combinations work wonderfully well: Gospel with exuberance, blues with joy, two artists injecting the work of an old master with new vitality. A better tribute to Rev. Gary Davis could not be imagined.

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