“Well if you need it, God’s got it. He’s got everything thing you need. He’s got everything a poor man need.” So the album begins. Apparently Reverend Charlie Jackson needed an earth-shattering voice, demonic blues-guitar skills, and a commanding stage–well, altar–presence. And he got it. With just his voice, a Fender Mustang guitar (with a beautiful vibrato-marinated tone), and a few stomping feet and clapping hands, Reverend Charlie Jackson immediately ignites any listener who can claim at least a spoonful of soul.
Charlie Jackson was born on a Mississippi farm in 1932. Ten years later, his cousin Buddy taught him guitar. Soon after, his mother told him she’d take his guitar away if he kept playing blues songs like “Brown Mama” and “Baby Please Don’t Go.” Charlie gave the blues away, but by the time he settled in Baton Rouge as a pastor in the late 1960s, God must have retrieved the blues and returned them twofold.
Jackson perfectly melds blues and gospel on God’s Got It: The Legendary Booker and Jackson Singles, a collection of 18 songs recorded in the 1970’s for Louisiana’s short-lived Booker Records. His funky, shuffling guitar work could have landed him a job as a Chess Records session gun, and his mighty voice leaves you wondering if he swallowed John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters whole. But the songs themselves are pure, unadulterated gospel.
The sound quality of God’s Got It is rough. The recording wasn’t too clean to begin with, and this CD was mastered from the original 45s. But the recording quality is as much a part of the allure as any of the music. With the crackle and fuzz, as well as the stomping, clapping, and muffled shouting from the congregation, the record sounds timeless; I certainly wouldn’t have guessed these tracks were recorded in the 1970s.
Jackson taps a wide range of emotion and dynamics on God’s Got It. On slow, balladic tunes like “My Eternal Home,” his falsetto pleas and sparing guitar accompaniment overflow with the relief and redemption that his characters so desperately seek. On up-tempo songs like the titular “God’s Got It,” Jackson cooks so hard that you wonder if you are listening to a Willie Dixon record with everything mixed down but the guitar and vocals. On some of Jackson’s talking blues, it’s impossible to tell where the sermon ends and the song begins. “Wrapped Up and Tangled Up in Jesus” features Jackson testifying in free tempo about his desire to be hooked on Jesus like a fish he’s just caught, punctuating here and there only with bluesy hammer-ons, chunky chords, and extended one-note runs.
Every song on this album delights, but several stand out from the pack. “I Gave Up All I Had to Serve the Lord,” with its vinyl crackling and hissing, and delicate, soulful crooning, could easily be mistaken for a Leadbelly recording. On “Testimony of Rev. Charlie Jackson,” the good pastor recounts the tale of a stroke he had two years earlier. As he describes the hopelessness of his doctor and the swelling of his own resolve to live, even the most fervent atheist listener will be on his knees.
Singing self-referential songs, rehashing old blues, and playing sans bass may be all the rage these days–I’m looking at you, Jack White–but if you want to hear something in this style and be completely electrified, put on God’s Got It and shout along.