Ever notice how so many storefront churches have great bands? The Jones Family Singers, who make their New York debut at Lincoln Center Out of Doors on July 30 at 6:30 PM, have been raising the roof at their home base, Mount Zion Church of God in Christ in Markham, Texas, since the 80s. They’ve got a new album out, The Spirit Speaks, streaming at Spotfy. Musically speaking, they blend oldschool soul and funk in much the same vein as Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, or a more rousing take on what that band’s labelmates, Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens, have been doing around New York over the last few years.
The band’s not-so-secret weapon is multi-instrumentalist Fred Allen Jones Jr., who distinguishes himself on lead guitar, bass, keys and sometimes even drums. Patriarch Bishop Fred Jones, his dad, fronts the band, alongside Kenneth Jones on bass, Matthew Hudlin and Ian Wade sharing the drum chair, with torrential lead and harmony vocals from Sarah M. Jones, Alexis Jones, Ernestine Ray, Sabrina Freeman, Velma “Mice” Davis, Theresa Patrelle and Duane Edward Herbert. It’s an interesting mix: a mighty wash of vocals alongside a terse, no-wasted-notes, mostly mid-60s style groove, recorded with tasteful, uncluttered arrangements, probably to analog tape.
The women in the band carry Down on Me over a scampering early 70s Motown vamp until the bandleader takes over – it makes a good clapalong kickoff for a show, or for a Sunday service. Going Home takes the ambience forward in time about fifteen years or so forward in time: imagine a strolling midtempo Al Jarreau ballad without the cheesy synthesizers. With its combination of eerie imagery and a message that’s ultimately hopeful, Bones in the Valley serves as a funky launching pad for some impassioned call-and response, Jones senior leading the way with his gritty baritone.
Made Up My Mind has the band working a suspenseful motorway pulse with tinges of latin and salsa music beneath the women’s mighty voices. Leaning on You takes an easygoing early 80s Grover Washington Jr.-style sway with elegant, jazzy guitar and fortifies it with the Bishop’s insistent vocals – it’s a love song to a higher power.
I Am has a darkly bluesy, bouncy mid 60s Little Milton-ish drive – is that Sarah M. Jones singing “I am your waymaker?” By contrast, You Woke Me Up This Morning has an irrepressible, cheery stomp, Bishop Jones jamming out over the womens’ tight harmonies. Then they take it down just a little with Preacher Man – and bring up again on the wings of some Rainy Night in Georgia guitar.
The album winds up with the tightly rising, upbeat 60s soul tune Through It All and then Try Jesus, a showcase for the band’s many individualistic voices. Even if you don’t share the group’s faith in Jesus to get through the hard times, this is great dance music. Fans of another gospel paradigm-shifter, Brooklyn’s Rev. Vince Anderson won’t be disappointed.