Back in January I blogged about a new series from the folks at reissue specialists Numero Group, and now that I’ve had some time to check out the first installment in their Local Customs project it’s clear that the label keeps getting better. The new release called Downriver Revival focuses on the output of Felton Williams, a self-made record producer who operated his own Double U Sound in the rec room of his family home in Ecorse, Michigan, about seven miles south of Detroit, between 1967 and ’73. Williams worked as an electrician for Ford and used his skills to build much of the equipment in his ad hoc studio.
A coworker convinced him they should get into the music biz, but Williams never paid much attention to the music world so most of his talent was drawn from the local Church of the Living God, where he worshiped. The CD portion of Downriver Revival packs 24 tracks into 67 minutes, with a clear emphasis on gospel but some curious spin-offs into soul, funk, and pop. Sometimes the recordings are a bit thin, while in other cases the artists clearly upheld their amateur status. But the best material holds its own, especially the sides by gospel singer Shirley Ann Lee and steel guitarist Calvin Cooke–the only artist Williams recorded to gain any real national attention. Cooke was a key practitioner of what’s often called sacred steel music, the movement that also produced the Campbell Brothers and Robert Randolph.
If this CD were the only thing the package it would still be another worthy addition to the Numero Group catalog, but an additional DVD actually sets a new standard for reissues. It includes a decent documentary by Kyle Obriot and Ben Poster about the label’s efforts in putting the album together. It includes some nice performances from Cooke and Lee, and it’s interesting to see what the key figures in the story look and sound like today. But what’s really fascinating is getting to watch Rob Sevier conduct his research.
Starting at 9 PM on Tuesday night the label will screen the 28-minute “Downriver Revival” documentary at Sonotheque as well as spinning records from the set and other tunes from the label’s growing archive. The event is free.
Paola Prestini, Body Maps (Tzadik)
Ryoji Ikeda, Test Pattern (Raster-Noton)
Chris Newman, Piano Sonatas (Mode)
Hank Mobley, Peckin’ Time (Blue Note)
Astor Piazzolla, Tango Contemporaneo (Sony/BMG, Argentina)