The Soul Of Designer Records is a four-disc box set containing nearly five hours of gospel music from the 1960s and 1970s. You don’t have to be religious to enjoy this set. There is a lot of great music contained on these discs, music that is impossible to dislike regardless of your personal philosophy and spirituality. There is a lot of passion in these recordings. These singles are, of course, dominated by some phenomenal vocals, but it’s the artists’ obvious love of music that really makes these tracks shine.
Interestingly, the artists and groups on these discs paid to record their singles, sometimes on an installment plan. It’s a bit surprising to me just how great these tracks are, considering how they came about. You’d think that bands that had to pay to record their material might not be so hot. But these tracks (with just a few exceptions) are seriously good. And the box set includes just over one hundred songs.
The packaging is like that of a double LP. The liner notes booklet is the size of a record, and includes some information on the artists and on the folks behind the label. There are also several photos. I only wish the liner notes included the original release dates for these records.
This collection begins with a couple of tracks by the Gospel Songbirds. The first, “Tone The Bells Easy,” features some cool guitar (the opening lick makes it seems like this will be a rock and roll tune) and amazing vocals. How can you go wrong? The energy, the power, the passion are quite moving. And I love when that slow soul groove comes in (more than a minute into the song), and the way the vocals rise above it, like the song is both grounded and reaching great heights simultaneously. This is such a great track to open this collection.
Dynamic Hughes Gospel Singers
“Viet Nam” is a really good soul song tackling that giant 1960s political subject. “I’ve just arrived in Viet Nam/Lord, let me survive/Now, here I am.” The song also mentions segregation. There is some simple, but very effective work on organ.
“Tone The Bells,” from Twilight Singers, is a slow, glorious, mesmerizing track, and is one of the highlights for me. The flip side, “Climbing High Mountains,” is a more fun, catchy song, and another excellent track. “I’m climbing high mountains, trying to get home.”
Sensational Family Singers
“I’ll Go” is a rockin’ number by Sensational Family Singers, featuring Gilford Evans, with the lead vocals ripping and tearing. I can’t imagine he could keep singing like that for very long, but it’s wild to hear. “Listen to this,” he sings before delivering something between a scream and a sort of pleasant growl.
The Shaw Singers
“After Awhile,” by The Shaw Singers, is such an interesting track, combining gospel and country, with pedal steel as a prominent element. I really like this one a lot. “God Has Done So Much For Me” is wonderful gospel song, dominated by vocals and piano. It’s a song of rejoicing and praise, with lines like “When I was a stranger/You know, the Lord he turned me about/He’ll be a mother and a father too/He’ll do things no one else can do” and “Change my midnight into day.”
This collection also includes The Shaw Singers’ “Since He Touched Me.” I couldn’t help but take the song’s first line, “Yes, I’ve got a new way of walking since he touched me,” in a different way from what the group intended. That being said, this is a really nice track. But then I laughed again when I heard them sing, “I’ve got a brand new home since he touched me.” Clearly, the court settlement was significant.
Soul Superiors Of Detroit, MI
I love the sound of Soul Superiors’ “Whatever You Do, Do Good,” a gorgeous, relaxed soul track with some wonderful (and surprising) changes in the vocals, in the way the song is delivered. This is an all-round wonderful track, one of the collection’s highlights.
And the second track by this group, “A Great Day,” has a fantastic joy that will transfer to you as you listen. It has shades of Little Richard.
Alberta Powell delivers two excellent blues-gospel tracks, with some wonderful work on guitar and smooth backing vocals. I believe Alberta when she sings in “Trusted,” “Lord, I’ll make it somehow/Yes, I’ll make it somehow.” Of the two tracks, I prefer “Trusted” (it is one of the collection’s highlights), but “The Same God” is also really good.
The Jubilee Hummingbirds
One of my favorite groups to be featured in this collection is The Jubilee Hummingbirds. Their first track, “Stand By Me,” has such a cool sound (almost like garage gospel at times), with some excellent vocal work. I love it. The flip side, “Something Within Me,” has a happier, excited feel, with the humorous line, “I met Jesus one Thursday” near the end.
“I Won’t Have To Cry No More” has such a good groove, and the backing vocalists’ repetition of the title line is wonderful. The lead singer refers to the others (and perhaps the listeners) as “church,” like in the line, “Did you hear me, church?”
The rock groove of “A Sinner’s Plea” actually reminds me of very early Grateful Dead. Yeah, it’s great, and comes at you with full force. If church had sounded like this when I was a kid, I must have stuck with it. Who knows?
The Breckenridge Singers
The Breckenridge deliver a delicious dose of blues in “God Is Ruler From Above,” a tune with more fantastic vocals. “Aren’t you glad?” Oh yes.
The Fantastic Alphonzo Thomas
That one is followed by another excellent track, this one by The Fantastic Alphonzo Thomas. “I’m On My Way” is a lot of fun, with some nice work on piano. “I had a mighty hard time, Lord/But I’m on my way.” This is one of my favorites. I just wish it were a bit longer, as it seems to fade out too soon.
O’Neal And The Dean Brothers
O’Neal And The Dean Brothers provide another of this set’s highlights with “I Am Going Home,” a seriously good R&B track. “The ABC’s” is a bit silly as it goes through the entire alphabet to describe Jesus: “J, his name is Jesus/K, he is king of them all/L, he is a mighty good leader.”
“Don’t Give Up” is an interesting rock tune, playing on a simple groove. It might feel repetitive, but I got into that groove. Much better is their “It’s Your Life,” with nice vocals and some good work on both guitar and organ. “It’s your life/Live it like you want to/Ain’t nobody gonna tell you what to do.” This is one of my favorite tracks of this set.
“Beautiful Mansion” is a good little rock and soul tune in the same realm as some of James Brown’s work. It’s a fun track, even if it’s a bit repetitive. And I dig that bass line.
“Too Close To Turn Around” is such a fantastic track, with excellent, emotional, passionate vocals, and a slow, powerful groove. This track from Golden Travelers is one of the highlights of this set, just one hell of a great song.
George Shields And His Gospel Singers
“God’s Word Will Never Pass Away” by George Shields And His Gospel Singers is another track that stands out for me, with its back porch blues feel and those glorious vocals over that great guitar. They keep it simple, keep it honest, and it works so well.
The Southland Singers
The Southland Singers’ “When The Gates Open” is another absolutely wonderful track. The backing vocals are excellent, the bass is perfect, the groove gets me smiling. This is a phenomenal tune.
Joe Townsend provides some classic blues, with a couple of recordings that sound decades older than they are. Here is a guy in complete command of the music, with an honesty and authenticity. There is a small crowd, like these songs were recorded in a tavern somewhere, or in someone’s home for the best private show ever. “You know I don’t want to stop,” he sings in “Going Over The Hill.”
The Original Golden Stars
Things get kind of funky with The Original Golden Stars’ “Nobody’s Fault But Mine," a fun track that is some strange combination of funk, gospel and garage. And it rocks. “At The Red Sea” is a slower track, but just as cool and striking. It’s one that grabs me right away.
The Wandering Five
The Wandering Five do a cool rendition of “I’ll Fly Away,” with a slow, bluesy groove, and with backing vocalists repeating “Oh, oh yeah.”
As for the track list, since there are more than a hundred tracks, I’ve decided to take a photo of the back of the box rather than type out all the songs.