Lurrie Bell has known the blues and gospel worlds intimately since he was a boy.
Many top blues musicians got their start with gospel music. For Lurrie Bell it was the other way round. His father was a noted blues harmonica player; Muddy Waters, Big Walter Horton and other band members were regular visitors to the family home.
It was when he moved from Chicago to Mississippi and then Alabama – where his grandfather was a preacher – as a child of seven that he got to know gospel music first-hand.
So it is no surprise that while Bell is primarily known as a blues musician, one of his best-received albums – The Devil Ain’t Got No Music (2012) – is at least equal parts gospel. Nor that he will taking part in the Vancouver Folk Music Festival’s ‘Rise & Shine’ workshop Sunday morning. (The festival runs July 17 – 19 at Jericho Beach Park in Vancouver.)
The gospel workshop is often worth the price of admission alone. Christians love it, of course, but every year hundreds of people who would never darken the door of a church are out there in front of the stage with their hands in the air, clearly moved by straightforward gospel music.
The Devil Ain’t Got No Music got rave reviews. Bob Gottlieb of the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange, for example, said:
This is arguably the finest disc Lurrie Bell has released. It focuses on that point where the Blues and Gospel Music intersect and interplay. It has the rawness and power that both possess and need in order to deliver the powerful punch, and fiery technique that both need to succeed.
Matthew Skoller, who produced the album, said:
When Lurrie Bell was chosen as a recipient for the prestigious annual 3Arts Grant and was informed that he could use the funds in any manner he wished, the answer for him was easy. “I had always wanted to make a record to show my gratitude for gospel music. I’m a bluesman but I’ve also played a lot of gospel songs for myself and for my family when I’m at home. The music gives me a sense of peace that I can’t find anywhere else.”. . .
In spite of being forbidden to play the straight ahead blues songs he absorbed in Chicago [when he was young], Lurrie crafted his own personal blend of blues and gospel, “I was a bluesman so I would play blues lines off the guitar, in church, but I would sing those gospel lyrics.” . . .
For Lurrie Bell, blues and gospel do not meet at a crossroads down in the delta nor do they exist respectively in a church or a barroom, they are one continuous, glorious road stretching from Lisman, Alabama to the streets and churches of Chicago.
Cecile Doo-Kingue will be on Stage 2 with Lurrie Bell Sunday morning.
Cecile Doo-Kingue, also a blues singer, will join Bell on Stage 2 Sunday morning. Born in New York to diplomat parents from Cameroon, and now a Montreal resident, she is said to be an impressive guitarist. Among the many artists she has performed with are the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir, of whom she says:
It’s one of my favourite acts to play with! There’s nothing like accompanying a choir. There is something purely magical about hearing that many voices in harmony; it gives me goose bumps and makes me smile for the duration of the experience.
Joining Lurrie Bell and Cecile Doo-Kingue Sunday morning will be The Down Hill Strugglers and Frazey Ford.
Of course, there’s far more to the Vancouver Folk Music Festival than the Sunday morning ‘service.’ There will be a wide range of artists on several workshop stages from Friday afternoon through Sunday night; many are local, but others come from around North America and as far away as South Africa, Australia, Hungary, Angola, Mali, Brazil and Venezuela. Most of them are quite impressive musicians.
One other Christian artist to look out for is a member of I’m With Her.Organizers describe I’m With Her as “a thrilling new collaboration between three acclaimed [female] folk-roots artists.” One of the three, Sara Watkins, “is a singer-songwriter and fiddler from California. She debuted in 1989 as fiddler and founding member of the progressive bluegrass group Nickel Creek.”
Asked in a 2009 Christianity Today interview about the role of faith in her music, she said:
My musical life is just part of my life, so it plays the same role as it does in every other part,” she said. “I try to stay as aware of my faith when I’m touring as when I’m at home.