Rev. Sekou is akin to a Pops Staples for the post 2016 election era…or a St. Louis counterpart to New York’s Rev. Vince Anderson. Rev. Sekou’s ferocious debut album In Times Like These, written in the wake of that disastrous event, is streaming at youtube. Throughout his oldtime gospel-flavored anthems, there’s a fervent call-and-response seemingly made for the stage. The result is a nondenominational church of empowerment and searing insight that starts with the chorus of “We want freedom and we want it now!” in the album’s opening track. He’s playing Drom on March 6 at 10 PM; advance tix are $10.
He begins that first number, Resist – a homage to the Standing Rock protests – with a fragment of a speech he gave in Ferguson, Missouri during the protests subsequent to the murder of Michael Brown. “Future generations will say of you and me, ‘That’s been a generation that will not bow down,’” he reminds the crowd. Then he and the band launch into a fiery, insistent oldtime gospel anthem:
When they try and tell you who is and ain’t your neighbor
One day won’t pay you and exploit your labor
The band are killer: behind Rev. Sekou, there’s Cody and Luther Dickinson a.k.a. the North Mississippi All-Stars, along with longtime Al Green organist Rev. Charles Hodges, pedal steel player AJ Ghent, saxophonist Art Edmaiston and trumpeter Marc Franklin.
The title track is an insistent, deep gospel-fueled exhortation to get out into the streets because
In times like these we need a miracle
Ain’t nobody gonna save us
We’re the ones we’re waiting for
Then the group reinvent the Bob Marley classic Burning and Looting as a simmering, swaying blues ballad: the similarity between Kingston, 1975 and Ferguson, 2014 is unmistakable. “We who believe in freedom cannot rest now,” Rev. Sekou insists over a stark chain gang beat throughout the next track, We Who Believe.
Lord I Am Running (99 1/2 Won’t Do) is a red-neon ba-BUMP roadhouse blues, Ghent’s shivery steel trading off with Hodges’ defiantly jubilant organ riffs. Likewise, Ghent finally caps off the slow, insistent Muddy and Rough with a whirling, breathtaking crescendo.
Rev. Sekou’s fire-and-brimstone imagery in The Devil Finds Work offers similarly forceful reasons not to sell out, with a blistering guitar duel at the end. The take of Old Time Religion here is a long, imploring, rubato jam with a message of hope, leaving no doubt as to the escape subtext from the era when slaves sang it. Then the band pick up the pace with When the Spirit Says Move
“If love is a story, you don’t have one to tell,” Rev. Sekou drawls in the bitter but gorgeously arranged oldschool soul ballad Loving You Is Killing Me. He follows that with Will to Win, a bizarre attempt to bring in elements of free jazz and psychedelia. The album’s final cut is Problems (an epic original, not the Sex Pistols song). “The race is not given to the swift or the string but to the one who endures to the end,” Rev. Sekou reminds over a spare, elegant piano backdrop. If you need a shot of adrenaline to get you through the interminable final months of the Trump era, this could be it.