The Sojourners

The Sojourners

Jim Byrnes, a U. S.-born, Canadian music legend whose roots blues recordings have earned him several Junos (the equivalent of a Grammy Award) knows pure talent when he hears it. During his career, the singer/songwriter has always incorporated gospel vocalists with his unique blues trademark. For his 2006 project, House of Refuge on the Canadian-based roots label Black Hen Records, Byrnes' asked long-time friend Marcus Mosely to recruit some friends: Will Sanders and Ron Small. Little did Byrnes realize this specially formed trio from Vancouver, Canada who sang backup on House of Refuge and his 2009 release My Walking Stick would soon breakout towards their own platform. Byrnes was so impressed with the camaraderie and harmonies of Mosely, Sanders and Small, he soon dubbed this trio The Sojourners.

The Sojourners' brand of roots gospel has attracted a small yet loyal following who truly appreciate genuine music making regardless of faith and genre. Mosely, Sanders and Small have also built strong reputations as veteran members of the Good Noise Vancouver Gospel Choir. They regularly tour with Byrnes and have shared the stage with other prolific musicians such as Dr. John, The Blind Boys of Alabama and The Campbell Brothers. Individually, these gentlemen are highly seasoned talents who have graced music and theater stages for over fifty years.

Like Byrnes, Mosely, Sanders and Small were all U.S. citizens who established residency and successful careers in Vancouver. The catalyst of The Sojourners - Texas native Mosely - is an accomplished gospel, folk and jazz vocalist who has traveled to Europe, Asia and Africa. But his real passion is to educate the public on gospel music's strong legacy. Besides founding the Good Noise Vancouver Gospel Choir, Mosely and his wife Gail Suderman started Gospel Music Productions. Their workshops for GMP incorporate music with the history of slavery and the civil rights movement in North America. Mosely also created a theatrical production entitled It's Time to Sing, which chronicles gospel music past and present. It's Time to Sing earned two Jessie (the Jessie Richardson awards for achievements in the Vancouver theater community) nominations.

Growing up in Louisiana, Will Sanders' primary passion is singing gospel music. Since he moved to Canada, he has performed with numerous Vancouver-based ensembles including Circle of Voices and Cloud Nine. He also shares the honor with Mosely as a Jessie nominee. Sanders was tapped for a Best Performance nomination for the musical When the Rains Came in 1994.

Ron Small first moved Vancouver in 1960 but has also lived in Toronto, Ontario. The Chicago-born jack of all trades started with The Fabulous Pearls while serving in the military. By winning a talent contest, the vocal group had the honor of performing on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1958. With a career spanning performing in jazz clubs, television, musical theater and as a vocal coach, Small continues to play a vital part in Vancouver's black history.

Utilizing Steve Dawson, Byrnes' producer from House of Refuge, The Sojourners released their debut, Hold On, a back-to-basics recording without the studio thrills. The 1997 disc that captured the spirit of old-school gospel was nominated for several regional Canadian awards. From the soulful signature hit by The Impressions, "People Get Ready," to the jazz swing of "Jesus Hits Like an Atom Bomb," The Sojourners struck an immediate chord within underground gospel circles in the U.S. and Canada.

Dawson returns to the producer chair for The Sojourners' self-titled sophomore disc. While Hold On concentrated on a warmer, intimate acoustic tone, The Sojourners features a greater musical spectrum. The lead cut, "Nobody Can Turn Me Around," recalls the elegant gospel soul of The Soul Stirrers. "Brother Moses Smote the Water drops a southern gospel quartet workout. The traditional tune "Great Day" and "Death Don't Have No Mercy" composed by gospel blues great Rev. Gary Davis (the latter was also performed by The Grateful Dead) could definitely pass as a Campbell Brothers jam session, thanks to exhilarating steel guitar from Dawson. The trio provides a faithful rendition of "The Neighborhood" out of the Los Lobos songbook. Finally, the country flavored "Strange Man" further displays The Sojourners' extraordinary musicality.

While The Sojourners occasionally hold back on their vocals a bit too much on their new disc, this is a minor criticism of an otherwise enjoyable piece of roots gospel. The Sojourners are indeed a refreshing alternative to the mainstream gospel market. Though they've had notable solo careers, the members of The Sojourners together make the music taste even sweeter. Recommended.

By Peggy Oliver

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