My Soul Says Yes holds up as document of one shepherd's musical vision for his flock that should continue to inspire for some time to come.
Rev. Samuel Dixon Presents The Voices Of Freedom
My Soul Says Yes
It took a spell of cross-referencing between Ebay's "gospel funk" listing and record collector and seller website Discogs hunting for music that's gospelly, funky and not too pricy for me to find that Reverend Samuel Dixon's Voices Freedom's My Soul Says Yes had been reissued earlier this year. Who says futzing around on the internet is an unproductive pursuit?!
The Rev' and the choir organized at the First Freedom Baptist Church he pastored at the time when the album was originally released on Dixon's own Samdy Records in the late 1970s were wholly unfamiliar to me upon first sight. But when a label known for releasing a variety of other intriguing tuneage apart from soul gospel takes a plunge on reissuing something such as Yes, I usually take that as a portent of people with good taste in music hearing something worthwhile, regardless their own beliefs.
In that regard, this is a score. Assuming this ten-song set came out around the time Walter Hawkins' Love Center Choir were initiating their successful Love Alive album series and James Cleveland was was in the midst of his long-running choral sway over African-American majority churches, Rev. Dixon's Voices were relatively small players in their field, garnering regional radio play at best, but underdogs can be feisty, and Yes holds up at least as well as some of the better-known recordings of its type from the same era. As with so much indie soul gospel before the prevalence of synthesizers and genre gatekeepers' overtures for adult R&B crossover attention, this is an album with more heart than polish.
Dixon's singing, favorably comparable to late Canton Spirituals leader Harvey Watkins, Sr. or F.C. Barnes, his female soloists and the the rest of those Voices Of Freedom receive accompaniment mostly from a spartan set-up of drums, electric bass and guitar, organ and piano. It makes for a spacious backdrop that doesn't draw undue attention to itself while properly buoying the voices up front. Within the milieu of urban evangelical ecclesiology and aesthetics of the time, it's a pretty broad and balanced effort.
Dixon references '40s guitar evangelist Utah Smith's perennial "(I Got) Two Wings" in the album's titular track. More of its moment, "Love Is The Answer" not only bears a title nor far from orchestral studio disco act MFSB's cherished "Love Is The Message," but the Voices' and their band's more rickety take on four-on-the-floor dance fodder possesses a charm that imagines Timmy "Why Can't We Live Together" Thomas fronting the contemporaneously disco-experimenting New York Community Choir; what sounds like rapping toward the tune's end could predate King Tim III and The Sugar Hill Gang's cracking the R&B chart in the last half of '79, be happy happenstance, or mark that the album could really be an early '80s release.
Less ebulliently, "Anyway" lends minor key resolve to a commitment to be in the Lord's service, but "If You Got Jesus" ends its declaration of His sufficiency with what sounds like a trumpet joining in on an instrumental coda. Every now and again, the uncredited guitarist (none of the other players, much less the choir members, receive name checks, either, alas) runs off a rush of notes that suggests familiarity with classical, flamenco, and progressive rock idioms for the instrument. On the few instances when both keyboards join forces, things get pretty inventive, too.
At least the classical--and, hence, the prog?--influences would come as no surprise if one reads the album booklet's interview conducted with Rev. Dixon in 2015. Therein he speaks highly of soul gospel pioneer Roberta Martin's familiarity with opera and other art music forms. His own musical background entails stints playing piano behind Dorothy Norwood and The Blind Boys of Alabama before founding his congregation in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens.
As for Dixon's own theological/doctrinal bona fides, apart from his Baptist affiliation, it's tough telling from what he says in that interview. That said, he appears to be hewing closer to thebiblical orthodoxy of Chicago's T.L. Barret. His definitely heterodox, "new thought"-and-social justice-based assembly's Youth For Christ Choir may have the long-player offering the best precedent and parallel to Yes with this with their crazily collectible Like A Ship... (Without A Sail) from several years prior*.
That comparison will hold at least until another crate-digger with an ear for the unique unearths another sonic wonder. Even then, My Soul Says Yes holds up as document of one shepherd's musical vision for his flock that should continue to inspire for some time to come.
-Jame Lee Rake