Yeti editor (and Portlander) Mike McGonigal has put together a sprawling three-disc collection of "gospel" songs, but the 80 tracks on Fire in My Bones: Raw Rare + Otherwordly African-American Gospel [1944-2007] aren't the polite, pious church music you might expect. A better name for the compilation might be Fire in My Bones: Non-Secular Blues, Jump, Folk, R&B, Soul, and Nascent Funk, seeing as how absolutely none of the songs could fit onto the soundtrack of Sister Act II: Back in the Habit. And that's kind of the point of McGonigal's curation, that all the many different strands of African American music in the 20th century were intertwined, sometimes very tightly with the religious communities from where they came.

More review and an audio track after the jump.

It's notably significant, too, that there isn't any hiphop or rap included. Well, I don't know what it signifies exactly, but since the gospel music of Fire in My Bones touches upon almost every other genre in African American music history, there you go. Not that I'm particularly itching to hear some good ol' Jesus rap or anything, but hiphop is as equally focused on the vocal sound and quality as gospel—albeit in a totally different way. There was a split there, maybe, when hiphop came about; it broke with the gospel tradition that other African American popular music forms hadn't done up 'til then. But I could be wrong about that, and anyway, it is a topic for a different discussion, to be done by people far smarter than me.

The other thing that strikes me about McGonigal's collection is the depth and breadth and true obscurity of McGonigal's choices. This is a selection made by a true record geek, in the very best way. Most of it's never been on CD before, and much was relegated to local, small-print release—if it ever saw a proper release at all. Audio qualities vary widely, which is totally cool with me; a lot of this stuff is all the more exciting for its raw quality (hence the name).

Here's a song from the Reverend Utah Smith in 1944; it's one of the oldest recordings on the set, and it's also one of the happiest pieces of music I've ever heard.


Rev. Utah Smith - "God's Mighty Hand"