See pic of Smith wearing his giant angel wings! 5 previously unknown tracks!
Angels Flying From Heaven: Meet Rev. Utah Smith by Michael James McGonigal
http://www.emusic.com/features/spotligh ... smith.html
"Rev. Utah Smith was one of the first sacred guitarists to play the electric guitar, and he did so in an uncompromisingly loud and swinging manner. Smith (1906-1965) possessed a pleasantly gruff vocal style and manic delivery â€” which makes his music easily enjoyed by folks who otherwise don't much truck with gospel. Smith spent time all over the US, from Tennessee to Connecticut, before settling in New Orleans in the '50s. Just three singles of his music were released commercially while he was alive. All three shared the same A-side: his version of the spiritual "Two Wings." This, understandably, was the preacher-musician's signature song. His own church was called the Two Wings Temple; near the pulpit, a neon sculpture of two wings was affixed to the rear wall. From his earliest performances, Smith was known to run down church aisles, screaming and playing his guitar â€” all the while with homemade wings fashioned to his back.
Until the great African-American scholar Lynn Abbott began the painstaking, methodical process some 30 years ago of researching the life and work of this musician, next to nothing was known about him. Infamous New Orleans-based R&B singer Ernie K. Doe stated in interviews that Smith was a flamboyant, raucous showman, but that was about it. It turns out that Smith was an incredibly popular performer in his day â€” playing large revivals he led on his own, opening up for huge concerts by the likes of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Brother Joe May. He even performed in a program at the Museum of Modern Art. In the book accompanying the CD version of this release, Abbott quotes multiple sources at length about the musician's comings and goings. In contemporary terms, one would be hard pressed to think of him as anything but a rock star within the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) community.
Smith first gained renown as a talented, clowning preacher. Abbott deduces that Rev. Smith's very popularity meant that he was not allowed to ascend the church hierarchy as he should have â€” no matter how hard he worked for the organization or how adept he was throughout his life at raising funds for the Memphis-based sect. The Church of God today represents about five million worshippers, the vast majority of whom are African-American (it is, in fact, the largest black Pentecostal church). Begun in 1907 by Bishop C.H. Mason as a Pentecostal offshoot of the Baptist Church, the church's first services brought together blacks and whites (at times sparking riots as a result). A basic tenet of Pentecostal belief is that all people have the ability to directly commune with God. Many COGIC churches practice various kinds of faith healing, especially throughout the South. Smith himself is said to have healed a variety of ailments, from blindness to cancer.
Thanks to this release, we not only have a wealth of information about the right Reverend, but we're treated to a wealth of rare and never-before-heard music. The set, assembled by CaseQuarter label head Kevin Nutt, was mastered so that one can hear elements of the old songs that were not clear before. The previously unheard tracks were culled from a single, an acetate, and a BBC broadcast disc that features a surprisingly nuanced, smart narration in the midst of two walloping numbers (one of which, "Every Man's Got To Lay Down And Die," Smith never otherwise recorded.)
In terms of its make-up, Smith's music is simple: just guitar and hand claps. Vocals are provided by Smith throughout, with a chorus of varying sizes for the refrains and call-and-response sections. Smith both sang and gave rapid-fire "sermonized" vocals, notably on (you guessed it) "Two Wings." Smith's guitar often followed a pleasing, adept shuffle â€” as on his version of "God's Mighty Hand." But it could also take off into the stratosphere when he wanted it to. Witness the guitar solo portion of "Two Wings Flying Home," a two-sided disc Smith recorded under the pseudonym Brother Bill Louis that updates the hymn to address the possibility for atomic war. He had such a rhythmic playing style that when he leaves the song's basic chord progressions to run up and down the scales â€” or skittering all over them â€” it's spellbinding.
Thanks to the compilers' sleuthiness, you can now hear six different versions of Smith's signature number. You might question whether we really need six versions of the same song. The answer is obvious: of course we do. As with Elder Charles Beck, one is here confronted with gospel that rocks harder than 95 percent of any rock and roll ever recorded. As an added treat, there are two tracks from one of Utah's daughters, Sister Sarah James â€” solid 1961 recordings she made with the Sanctified Six. The other, non-Smith family numbers situate Utah's work within the COGIC tradition â€” folks like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Robert Ballinger and Elder Curry â€” giants of 20th-century sanctified music.
These selections not only enable the listener to hear other takes on the same material, they're rollicking tunes given great care in the transfers and mastering. It doesn't feel like filler or homework. Historical oversights do not often get redressed and it's always swell when they do. But it's rare that they also sound this ridiculously good. Thanks to I Got Two Wings, we can all be aware of the Two Winged Preacher's role in pre-rock and roll pandemonium â€” wonderful music, the likes of which you've never heard. "
For more gospel (and a few other) pieces by McGonigal, see:
http://www.emusic.com/magazine/archive.html?c=g&g=290 - scroll down to Spotlights. Includes an eclectic 'mixtape' of versions of Amazing Grace:
http://www.emusic.com/features/spotligh ... 00409.html