Agony Shorthand

Saturday, November 22, 2003

You know, gospel music is always one of those things that tickles the fancy in the abstract; everyone gets excited picturing a vision of a rollicking, frenzied, rapture-filled black church in the South with holy rollers speaking in tongues, singing & dancing from the rafters. But my experiences with American gospel music have tended to leave me a little cold. It may be my complete antipathy toward religion (a measured stance that mixes begrudging respect with hostile skepticism), but I've been waiting for that one pure gospel record to come out of the woodwork and knock me on my ass (BLIND WILLIE JOHNSON's complete oeuvre & Reverend Louis Overstreet 's Arhoolie CD notwithstanding). Ladies and gentlemen, I am happy to report that I have found it. Maybe not found Jesus, but found the one pure gospel shitkicker I've been waiting for.

REVEREND CHARLIE JACKSON was a shout-hollerin' guitar-slinger from the Deep South who cut a small series of impossibly rare 45s from 1970-1978, and lent his considerable axe-wielding skills to recordings by a couple fellow travelers as well. He's still alive, they say, but has been cut down by a series of strokes and is now cooling his heels in Baton Rouge. But man, these complete recordings are some of the hardest-edged, fuzzed-out blues guitar you'll hear anywhere, and when combined with Jackson's almighty shout (think BUNKER HILL or PINETOPPERS-era OTIS REDDING) it's a real raw, primal rush. Though the sides are broken up throughout the disc's 18 tracks, it's obvious to me that the early 45s are the best, especially the debut "God's Got It / Fix It Jesus" and the subsequent "Wrapped Up and Tangled Up In Jesus / Morning Train". Picture some holy hybrid of Muscle Shoals soul, early unadorned funk music, and bleary-eyed, desperate sounding blues a la SKIP JAMES, then wrap it up in a prayer shawl with pictures of the King of Kings on it, and you're pretty much there. It teeters between the sacred and the profane by virtue of this rawness, but I've gotta think that if some sort of heavenly inventory is being taken, Jackson'll easily come out on the side of the angels.