Rance Allen Group - The Live Experience II (2011)

Rance Allen Group

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The lack of accolades bestowed upon the underrated and underestimated Rance Allen has been a gospel sin for many a decade.  Had it not been for the young lions of the art form giving respect to their elders and influences, he'd be as distant in memory as the late great Rev. James Cleveland.  But, the Reverend Dr. Rance Allen is very much alive in mind, body, soul and, thankfully, voice.

The lack of accolades bestowed upon the underrated and underestimated Rance Allen has been a gospel sin for many a decade.  Had it not been for the young lions of the art form giving respect to their elders and influences, he'd be as distant in memory as the late great Rev. James Cleveland.  But, the Reverend Dr. Rance Allen is very much alive in mind, body, soul and, thankfully, voice.

The Rance Allen Group (RAG) should need no introduction or validation considering their legacy as a Stax Records gospel group soulful enough to be signed to the legendary roster in its golden years of Isaac Hayes prominence and dominance. But, what happened with that label (and subsequently all the rosters RAG was signed to) was sadly routine for gospel trailblazers. Rance's guitar and piano playing, songwriting and unbelievable vocal range were too unique to attempt to force it into cookie-cutter secular music but his R&B flavored gospel stylings were also highly vulnerable to faith community condemnation for not being traditional enough for "true" gospel. Put more succinctly, labels simply didn't know what to do with RAG.

This had to be a frustrating series of events for RAG, since his musical approach wasn't without precedents or contemporaries in his prime. From the start, his message was clear as his peers, the Staple Singers, though his sound was distinctly his own. Nonetheless, while ‘70s gospel pioneers like The Staple Singers, The Hawkins Family, and even The Clark Sisters seemed to reach a popular non-Christian audience using R&B arrangements and then-modern secular sounds, The Rance Allen Group was left with a smaller, if committed following.  

For their part, Stax tried to support RAG and maybe that support has been rewarded in the endurance of RAG's material in recent years. The soul and grit of Allen's gospel was certainly stamped and certified by Stax Records sound in the label's heyday. His lyrics today are covered in a fashion that makes them timeless (check The Five Heartbeats church finale).  So, why it would take Fred Hammond's utterance of Allen's name or Kirk Franklin's inclusion of him on The Family's albums to inform younger generations of one of gospel music's all time greats is a moral sin, I tell you.

Kirk's re-introduction of RAG included in Live Experience back in 2004, "Something About the Name Jesus," was included as a bonus cut from a different performance.  This is significant because the difference in mix for that bonus cut perhaps made it so that the rest of Live Experience was mixed to the same sonic level.  The fidelity of this one is the one factor that may inspire the need for major label engineering.  As great as what we're about to get into here is, that one factor-production-keeps a very good album from being great before you even hear the quality of the songwriting or performance.

That said; this concert/cd/combination of musicians and artists is just unfair. Rev. Allen's friends and colleagues are, of course, of the same legendary status that he is. So, Shirley Caesar and Vanessa Bell Armstrong lending vocals shouldn't raise eyebrows, but so much talent joined together is just downright unfair. It's unfair what brothers Tom and Steve are still able to do harmonically with the aid of Chris Byrd's arrangement and production. It's unfair that Rance's ability to sing and write a catchy hook and lyric prevail in all but "Love Train" (which should've been a no-brainer for a title change).  It's unfair that so much of this project is this good. The live recording allows for if not demands the impromptu testifying and praise showcased on "Angel" where Steve steps up to the plate.

Alongside "Angel" and the lead single, "You That I Trust," other memorable originals "Holy One" and "What He's Done for Me" don't depend on the "live" aspect to carry the tunes as much since these cuts are the uniquely charismatic originals. Chris Byrd's arrangements are so stellar and seamlessly connect Rance's classics with the new ones.  "What He's Done for Me" is as traditional as praise and worship gems get-so much so that the refrain sounds as familiar as a bedrock classic. The "joy down in my soul" bridges and refrain could go on for days and we'd never tire of it.

With a final studio-assisted closer, "United We Stand," RAG combines all the album's guest vocalists for one social unification that resounds much deeper than the earlier, "Love Train." Well scripted and executed, Rance, Shirley, Vanessa, Paul Porter and Called II Worship manage to achieve the utopian message without the horrid clichés in sound or feel.

With this anniversary package, Rance Allen delivers and strong testament to seasoned greatness and raw energy that will continue to have his peers and followers studying as they have since The Rance Allen Group's arrival forty years ago. Highly Recommended.

By Reg Jones

 

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