Label: Smithsonian Folkways
Released: October 9, 2007
I recently read something that said the greatest threat to Christianity isn’t secularization or moral relativism, but lackluster sermons. People want to be moved. They want a conversion experience. Yet, so often ministers fail to deliver that. Gospel music is in a similar boat. So many gospel recordings sound more like R&B for Jesus. Even a group like the Sojourners who seem to have all the pieces in place, fail to deliver. Perhaps my bar is too high. I want every gospel song to be like the Fisk Jubilee Singers doing “Ezekiel Saw De Wheel” and maybe I just can’t have that. Or can I?
The Paschall Brothers come awfully close with On the Right Road Now, their Smithsonian Folkways debut. First of all, they dispense with the backing band and their voices, the harmonies, the rhythms, are so rich and full that it never sounds thin. In fact, their a cappella work has a bigger sound than a lot of rock bands. The recording is pristine and you can hear the voices come together and separate back out into the four part harmonies, making the connection between gospel and its secular step-child Doo-Wop quite clear. They can move from quiet to loud smoothly and the music just resonates inside. The Paschall Brothers aren’t just a nice listen. They aren’t the easy, safe sermon. They are the conversion experience.
As with all Smithsonian Folkways releases, there is also education involved. The 32 page booklet that accompanies the CD has a history of gospel that’s surprisingly thorough despite its brevity. This isn’t some half-baked history either. This one comes with a bibliography. It’s serious history. The liner notes also provide technical and historical details about each track. It’s a perfect example of Smithsonian Folkways’ commitment to not only preserving the music, but also giving it a context that truly keeps it alive in our hearts and minds.
Just as the group’s patriarch, Rev. Frank Paschall, Sr., tied them to their roots, this CD helps tie us to our own roots through music. The Paschall Brothers sing, “So many church folk just keep drifting away.” Those folks must not be going to the Paschall’s church.