More about that killer twinbill this Sept 1 at 7 PM at Baby’s All Right on the south side of Williamsburg where psychedelic Afrobeat band Super Yamba share an evening with the retro 60s-inspired Harlem Gospel Travelers. No idea of who’s headlining, but it really doesn’t matter: both bands get everybody on their feet. Cover is $15.
The Harlem Gospel Travelers – main songwriter Ifedayo (Thomas) Gatling, singers George Marage and Dennis Keith Bailey III – write vintage soul songs with messages of praise and uplift. Their latest vinyl record Look Up is scheduled to hit their Bandcamp page toward the end of next month. The energy is infectious and the hooks come at you nonstop: although the message is Christian, the music transcends any particular denomination or lack thereof.
They open with the title track, Gatling’s vocals swooping up to falsetto-land in a tale of making a big comeback from spiritual estrangement. Considering how atomized people in this city have become over the last thirty months, it’s inspiring, to say the least.
The band shift from a tricky intro to a bouncy 6/8 beat in Hold On (Joy Is Coming). Bailey takes over lead vocals on God’s In Control, a fervently bristling clapalong propelled by guitarist Eli “Paperboy” Reed’s biting, purist, reverbtoned minor-key riffage.
The group stay in the same swaying groove for Help Me to Understand: reduced to lowest terms, it’s a twinkling love ballad. They hit a breezy take on a classic, stomping Four Tops sound in Nothing But His Love, pushed along by Jesse Barnes’ bass and Noah Rubin’s drums.
Gatling builds to a big optimistic peak over Colin Brown’s keening organ, then the band hit an undulating psychedelic soul groove in Fight On!, an indomitable protest song: “Get your knee off my neck, get your bullet off my chest!”
Reed hits his fuzzbox for Hold Your Head Up – a cheery call-and-response original, not the interminably cheesy 70s pop hit. The band keep the upbeat sway going through That’s the Reason, a vampy early 70s-style soul-jazz tune and follow with Let Me Tell You, Kendall “Youngblood” Kent on the mic and airing out his low register .
The group rise from a gentle, dusky ambience toward jubilation in God Will Take Care of You. Pastor Cynthia McCants guests on the brisk, propulsive final cut, I’m Grateful (Gatling), the whole crew joining voices in a big singalong designed to get the whole congregation involved. How serendipitous it is that we can congregate for music like this again without fear of reprisal – for the moment, anyway.