As the slow minor chords began to form the groove of TL Barett’s “Like A Ship,” the opening track of the Good God! Born Again Funk, Vol. 1 compilation, I immediately got the sense that this might be a collection of contemporary gospel music that delivers what all gospel collections promise: inspiration, music from the depths of the heart, stripped of all but essential concerns. And deliver it does. The tracks here are raw, sincere and grippingly honest.
This set was built much as an earlier gospel comp from Numero was, mainly mining ’70s and ’80s vinyl for obscure gems. This was the heyday of funk, when the music was as concerned with the spirit and the community as much as with the party. (Hip-hop was largely the same way.) Rather than presenting caricatured, pre-packaged, born-again talking points, many of the songs on Good God! acknowledge the lures of the worldly life, speaking of real struggles to keep the faith, to resist temptation. It feels almost subversive to hear gospel themes shouted in front of the slashing single guitar chord, jumpy keyboards and heavy bass, but that’s what gives these songs their power. The testimonies are born from experience, and from more than occasional failure.
Bands like Golden Echoes, Sacred Four and Ada Richards use earthy metaphors like drunkenness, drugs and sex to try to express the ecstasy that one feels when high on God. Other artists on the set, like Lucy “Sister soul” Rodger and Chicago Travelers, are as apt to remember the street even as they sing of having transcended it. When victory Travelers sing “I Know I’ve Been Changed,” it’s hard not to believe them.
Despite that the songs were written in the ’70s — and, thus, were heavily influenced by James Brown and Stevie Wonder and their ilk — the tracks on Good God! are stunningly original because they are deeply personal. The collection puts most of today’s tepid testimonies to shame. Of course, songs of religious longing should inspire the singer to the depths of passion and emotion as they do on this. If they don’t, what’s the point?