TVD Premiere: Bishop Albert Harrison & The Gospel Tones, “Shake Me”

It was the early part of the last century when musicologists like Alan Lomax would travel to the hinterlands to come up with surprising results. That sense of search and discovery still goes on in the 21st century and it was in March 2020 when Bruce Watson of Fat Possum Records and Tim Duffy of the Music Maker Foundation took a trip to the tiny eastern rural town of Fountain, NC to film and record a series of sacred soul musicians—11 groups in eight days in a makeshift storefront studio in a 100 year old building.

It was just in the beginning stages of the pandemic in the US and they were able to record some of the several groups arising from the quartet tradition of a lead singer and a chorus doing call and response. It dates as far back as the 17th century and continues today with the added power of electric instruments.

The trip netted this performance of “Shake Me” by Bishop Albert Harrison & The Gospel Tones, that we are blessed to premiere today at The Vinyl District. The gritty voiced Bishop and his unerring Gospel Tones lock into a groove in “Shake Me” that translates to music lovers everywhere regardless of religion. “Jubilee singing is what I call it,” Harrison says. “We’re singing from our heart. But we come way down from below.”

Harrison has been traveling and singing gospel since the 1980s, but after a hospital stay in 2006 he decided to get serious and start a group, The Gospel Tones. While Harrison makes his home in the experimental planned Black community of Soul City in Warren County, the rest of the group live in Ahoskie, NC, so that’s the group’s home base.

“We all come back from a long way back,” the Bishop says. “Our mothers and fathers and grandfathers always used to sing. It’s something we love to do.” Bishop Harrison and crew may be fast on their sanctified heels based on this rocking recording, which succeeds in expanding music lovers’ geographical knowledge while speaking an international language of soul.

“Shake Me” will be featured as one of a number of hot tunes on the forthcoming album Sacred Soul of North Carolina, out October 15 on Bible & Tire Recording Co., and Music Maker Foundation. Other acts captured include Marvin Earl “Blind Butch” Cox, Little Wllie & The Fantastic Spiritualaires, Faith & Harmony, Bishop Albert Harrison & The Gospel Tones, The Johnsonaires, Johnny Ray Daniels, Big Walt & the Faithful Jordanaires, Big James Barrrett & the Golden Jubilees, Melody Harper, and The Glorifying Vines Sisters. Already the collection features a breakout act, The Dedicated Men on Zion, recently getting a slot on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert and recording a new album with Watson.

Covid didn’t leave eastern North Carolina unscathed; the lead singer of the Fantastic Spiritualaires, Little Willie, succumbed to the virus. But his music, and that of his colleagues, lives on to inspire and give a dose of hope to folks just when we need it.

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