What Have You Done, My Brother?, the recent release from Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens, sheds light on the raw, high-spirited gospel making rounds at next month’s Wild Goose Festival in Shakori Hills, North Carolina. The alt-Christianity version of Bonnaroo spans June 21 through June 24 and features 28 musicians with a dirty gospel edge. “In a melding of spirituality, music, story-telling and fellowship, the Wild Goose Festival began with a request that those gathered sprinkle water on each other as a form of baptismal renewal, and smear mud on each other as a reminder that all come from dust and to dust they shall return – and as a reminder that ‘we are all connected to the earth, and we are connected to one another,” founder Gareth Higgins said.
Released by Brooklyn, NY neo-funk speciality label Daptone, What Have You Done, My Brother? is a fine starting point for music fans curious about the festival but haunted by specters of sepia-toned Scott Stapp power chords. In a way, What Have You Done, My Brother? is an attempt at gospel resurrection. Bandleader Cliff Driver’s terse, gospel-blues shuffle is enmeshed with Shelton’s urban-soul inflection, a sound perfected through years of gigging at the Manhattan club Fat Cat. Not to mention Shelton’s past glories on the church chitlin circuit.
That doesn’t mean that Shelton completely ditches the fire and brimstone. The title track is all minor key piano clumps supported by the Gospel Queens’ sassy call-and-response vocalizing. “Done wrong to the one who loved you / Took no heed of the one above you,” Shelton sings with her elegant swagger. The song’s climax, a punchy breakdown of the song’s motifs, bridges the gap between the indie secularists and Christian progressives. Here, Daptone producer Gabriel Roth underlines just enough of his lo-fi production to satisfy analog fetishists.
On the lead-off single “What Is This,” Roth brings out an earthy Hammond B3 squall to the forefront, buttressing Sheldon’s recitative style with syncopated dips and Motown touchstones. Much of the album pays homage to Civil Rights-era protest music, a parallel that keeps close to the Wild Goose Festival’s mission statement. The Bosco Mann-penned “Am I Asking Too Much?” is a retro-styled barnburner packed with tight instrumentation assists from the Dap Kings and lyrics crafted in the social realism vein. The end results occasionally do not sound anything like bin-marked “Christian music,” which is something that bodes well for the unaware hipsters at Wild Goose.
Joey Hood has been writing about musicians since 2003. His byline has appeared in “American Songwriter,” “Nashville Scene,” Nerve.com, NPR and “Ya’ll.” He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in mass communication from Middle Tennessee State University with a focus in the recording industry. Read more: Joey Hood | eHow.com.