Various Artists, "Fire in My Bones: Raw, Rare & Otherworldly African-American Gospel, 1944-2007"

81 Billboard Rating

Most modern listeners identify African-American gospel with recordings that mix passion with professionalism, and perhaps a certain amount of studio smarts. But that ignores the pre-war tradition of street-corner preachers, as well as the small groups that sound as though music isn't coming to them but through them. Those traditions cast a shadow for decades, especially in music released by obscure artists on small labels. This three-disc compilation collects 80 recordings of various unpolished styles, in all their haunting glory. Some are peaceful, others pretty, while a few sound downright scary. Much of this music is influenced by, if not made in the shadow of, other styles. One standout is Elder Beck's anti-rock track "Rock and Roll Sermon," a tirade against the pop music scourge of the day-1956. As the liner notes point out, "It rocks harder than most any rock music in its day." This smartly curated collection is essential for anyone interested in gospel and good fun for those who aren't.-Robert Levine