CAN’T TURN ME AROUNDÂ Bible & Tire Records
For fans of Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings, The Blind Boys of Alabama, and The Staple Singers
The new record from the Dedicated Men of ZionÂ reminds us that the lines between traditional gospel and R&B are blurry at best. Filled with foot-stomping rockers and swinging soulful ballads, CAN’T TURN ME AROUND, is just as appropriate for Saturday Night as it is for Sunday morning. Hailing from rural North Carolina the group has gone through a number of lineup changes since it’s incarnation in 2014. In 2018 the group’s current lineup, consisting ofÂ Anthony Daniels, Antoine Daniels, Dexter Weaver, and Marcus Sugg caught the attention ofÂ The Music Maker Relief Fund. The Music Maker Relief Fund is a non-profit organization that helps musicians in the rural south meet their day-to-day needs and promote their music. Even though the band was alreadyÂ popular regionally, working with the Music Maker Relief fund helped the group reach a larger audience and eventuallyÂ find the ears of Bruce Watson’s Bible & Tire Record label.
Bible & Tire Records was started by Bruce Watson in 2018 as a vehicle for him to record and release “sacred soul” music. A music industry veteren, Watson has made a career out of recording and producing different forms of roots music, most notably albums by Hill Country Blues artists for Fat PossumÂ records. Now with his attention focused squarely on sacred soulÂ artists, Watson’s hit it outta the park again with CAN’T TURN ME AROUND by the Dedicated Men of Zion. Although this might technicallyÂ be a gospel record, Watson and the Dedicated Men of Zion show us you don’t need to be religious to enjoy religious music, all you need is a pulse.
Â The album opens with the hard-driving blues shuffle of “Father, Guide Me, Teach Me”.Â One thing that’s immediatelyÂ noticeable here is that even though the Men of Zion obviously have some incredibleÂ vocal abilities they also know how to leave space for each other. As with other gospel groups like The Dixie Hummingbirds or Blind Boys of AlabamaÂ everyone gets a chance toÂ showcase theirÂ talent but it’s their harmonies that make this group special. While it’s obvious the Men of Zion have a special chemistryÂ with each other, thatÂ isn’t theÂ only reason they work so well together. All the guys have spent years performing not only in churches but also performing as hired guns backing up some of music’s biggest acts. Having that type of talent along with the musical maturity to know that “less is sometimes more”, is why these guys are well seasonedÂ performers of the highest caliber.
The album’s second track is the haunting “A Leak in This Old Building”. Here the guys successfully bring down the tempo (but not the energy) as they vocally sway back and forth over a sweltering organ part. This is where gospel and soul music intersect. Sounding a little like a mix of Ray Charles’ “Hard Times” and Isaac Hayes “Walk On” this song makes you understand that while the guys have experienced real pain in their lives, they still press on. Fortunately the somber mood doesn’t last long as guys bring the mood back up on the next two tracks “Down Here Lord” and “I Feel Alright”.
Another stand out track on the album is “It’s a Shame”.Â A statement about the current troubledÂ state of today’s society is more inspiringÂ thanÂ sad. Thanks to a danceable groove this song might not make you want to dance but instead get up and march. It’s alsoÂ the most traditional “soul” song on the album and is reminiscent of music recordedÂ in the lateÂ 60’s at Stax Records. Speaking of Stax, a big part of the record’s vintage sound is the amazing back-up band.Â Mark Stuart (bass), George Sluppick (Drums),Â Calvin Barnes (Hammond Organ) and Will Sexton (guitar) are all in-demand studio musicians from Memphis, and play with a style reminiscentÂ of Stax studio legends Booker T. & The MG’s. Like many famous studioÂ bands, they provide a solid foundation for each song that allows the vocalists theÂ space to do great things. In short, you might not necessarily notice them when listening to this record but if they weren’t there you’d miss them.
Â The bottom line is that The Dedicated Men of Zion’s new record CAN’T TURN ME AROUND is a record that is desperately needed today. It’s inspiring, hopeful, and most of all reminds us that yes, things have been bad before but if we work together we can survive this and make it to the promised land.. whatever you deem that to be.