Pastor T. L. Barrett and the Youth for Christ Choir - I Shall Wear a Crown Music Album Reviews

Pastor T. L. Barrett and the Youth for Christ Choir - I Shall Wear a Crown Music Album Reviews
Some may know the Chicago pastor only as the source of Kanye’s “Father Stretch My Hands.” Documenting his ’70s fusions of gospel, funk, and soul, Numero Group’s box set captures the full sweep of his legacy.

It’s a child’s question: Where does God live? In Heaven or outer space, perhaps, or maybe a house of worship right here on Earth. Asking “where” unspools the “how” and the “if,” and things only get more complicated from there.

For T.L. Barrett and his followers, God lived at 5512 S. Indiana Avenue in Chicago, the address where the 23-year-old pastor stepped into the pulpit of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in 1967. Barrett’s own adolescent struggles had called him back to the South Side neighborhood he’d known as a boy; his mission manifested itself in the Youth for Christ Choir. Barrett’s fusion of gospel music with more contemporary idioms attracted a passionate following in his home city, even drawing the likes of Maurice White and Donny Hathaway to its pews. The charismatic minister expanded his local outreach as it grew in popularity, later leading his own Life Center Church of God in Christ.

Barrett’s optimistic approach to his ministry shines across I Shall Wear a Crown, a new 5xLP Numero Group box set. In more recent years, Barrett has attracted attention from a wider national audience via Kanye West, who sampled his “Father I Stretch My Hands” on The Life of Pablo. Before he used Barrett’s devotions to frame bars about a ruined t-shirt, West had wondered aloud how he could find a way to talk to God again. Barrett’s work suggests the best place to start is in song.

Barrett and the Youth for Christ Choir released Like a Ship… (Without a Sail), their first record together, in 1971. Light in the Attic reissued it in 2010; it remains a singular jewel. The distinction of youth over children’s choir is important: The singers were a bunch of 12-to-19-year-olds, which is to say, young people staring over the precipice, wondering where their lives were going to go. Their collective voices capture tender vulnerability and earnest hope, seeking relief and protection at the edge of uncertainty. The record’s stunning highlights—“Nobody Knows,” “It’s Me O Lord,” “Like a Ship”—are wide-open reaches for deliverance, offered in sweeping, passionate harmonic layers. Individual agonies dissolve in the magnificent din of the singers’ adulation. It’s painful, frightening, and lonely to feel cast out on the open ocean, but even as troubles endure, they never have to be borne alone.

The other four parts of I Shall Wear a Crown are stuffed with gems, and their details illuminate what make Like a Ship such a sparkling prize. Though death is necessarily a central theme of gospel music, Barrett’s selections search for love, redemption, hope, and clarity. They celebrate the abundant opportunities to be joyful on Earth before the hour comes to shuffle off the mortal coil, a massive nondenominational benefit of Barrett’s youth advocacy.

“Do Not Pass Me By,” the lead cut to Like a Ship’s follow-up, is a rollicking demand for recognition; “After the Rain” and “So Many Years” are vibrant and especially uplifting standouts from Do Not Pass Me By Vol. 1. Barrett doses counterculture with piety on “Turn on With Jesus,” an after-school special in song form that escalates into near-psychedelic shrieks at its end. The astonishing brassy peals of “I Shall Wear a Crown” establish the track as a rightfully representative title for the set, swaggering toward a roaring conclusion that hits like a platinum freight train.

Barrett’s arrangements fold the profound influence of Black American gospel music back on itself; they pull the spiritual playing field closer to ear level by reinforcing his ecclesiastic ends with popular sounds indebted to the genre. Western popular music would be nothing without Black gospel: Sister Rosetta Tharpe electrified rock’n’roll to life in her own two hands. Church choirs were the crucible for Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke, and scores more. Barrett’s references are occasionally direct: The electric piano on Do Not Pass Me By Vol. II came straight from Wonder’s Talking Book, and “Pray, Pray, Pray” invokes Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.”

Digging into funkier grooves, Do Not Pass Me By Vol. II and I Found the Answer further toy with spiritual/secular boundaries. “I Want to Be in Love with You” begins like a potential Chess Records hit before Barrett pivots the narrator’s point of view. The results of Barrett’s reorganizations are sometimes surprising, as when the centuries-old Lord’s Prayer becomes a soul-funk jam where “Thy kingdom come/Thy will be done” is a hook slicker than sacramental chrism. Likewise, “My Country Tis of Thee” takes on the heavy poignancy of young people trying to believe in a better future for a country that has abused and exploited them for generations.

Barrett’s approach emphasizes the underlying two-way bond of sounds and the spirit: Music can be a vehicle for praise and celebration, but also an everyday place to commune with God. Even better, these fulfilling returns need no specific religious affiliation: The name to the feeling of surrendering oneself to a song doesn’t have to fall on a God-or-nothing binary, as anyone who’s lost themselves that way can testify. So if heavenly spoils reveal themselves in an organist’s exultant vamps, or in the euphoric shouts of a choir, where else might they be? I Shall Wear a Crown makes it easy to conclude that the difference between the ecstasy of feeling moved by a greater something in a church pew, on a dance floor, or in a concert hall is, functionally, nothing.

Elsewhere, Barrett’s gestures at pop music are looser, but no less distinct. The “I don’t know”s of “What Would You Give” recall the same in “Something,” but they find hope in their unknowing instead of chasing George Harrison’s anguish. Likewise, the choir nods to Donny Hathaway in “I Am So Glad,” drifting over a seasonal refrain that echoes the singer’s sublime take on “You’ve Got a Friend.” The lingering message—Your pal Jesus loves you—fits nicely with the notion at the heart of Carole King’s original, which is that deep and loving friendship can be a form of grace extended without divine intervention. (That moody WASP messiah James Taylor inspired both “Something” and “You’ve Got a Friend” is surely some other cosmic joke.)

Barrett continued to develop his ministry after moving on from record-making in the late 1970s, eventually building a facility known as the Prayer Palace. Despite his decades-long career at the pulpit, Barrett’s sermons get surprisingly slim representation on I Shall Wear a Crown. “Dry Bones in the Valley” revels in the transcendent live environment of Barrett and his congregation in action, while “How Would You Like to Have a Nice Hawaiian Punch” offers a glimpse at Barrett’s passionate commitment to engaging his flock with political participation.

In 1988, one of Barrett’s projects was accused of being an alleged pyramid scheme. The set’s liner notes address the scandal head-on, maintaining Barrett’s denials of bad-faith dealings. Barrett fulfilled the terms of his redress, which included paying back more than $1.3 million over the next decade. He continued his other church operations, and seems to be in good enough standing that NPR recently hosted him for their mild-mannered Tiny Desk series. Restitution is not the same as forgiveness, which can only be extended by those harmed; the truth of the matter, like questions of fallibility and the Holy Trinity, may ultimately find its answer only in searching the grayer chambers of the heart.

It’s hard to come away from I Shall Wear a Crown and not reconsider what it is to be moved by a piece of music. Returning to the query of holy residencies: there’s something rare and golden that lives in sounds that move the soul, in private and secret moments of joy, in other fleeting connections that feel like part of some bigger unnamed web. In his final book, A Man Without a Country, avowed humanist Kurt Vonnegut proposed an epitaph: “The only proof he needed of the existence of God was music.” Thank god, whatever it is, for that.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Pastor T. L. Barrett and the Youth for Christ Choir - I Shall Wear a Crown Music Album Reviews Pastor T. L. Barrett and the Youth for Christ Choir - I Shall Wear a Crown Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on October 04, 2021 Rating: 5


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