Ken Whiteley,
Gospel Music Makes Me Feel Alright!
(Borealis, 2004)

Ken Whiteley sings and writes with an obvious passion for gospel music. He's been a performer on the gospel/folk festival circuit since the late 1970s. Early performances in the '60s were with a jug band and led to the formation of the Original Sloth Band and three albums. His first solo album was released in 1979.

On Gospel Music Makes Me Feel Alright!, he offers a wide array of gospel styles and has a sense of practical spirituality in his lyrics. Whiteley has written all but two of 13 tracks on the CD. These have a range of styles, from blues, bluegrass and old-time country, as well as folk. The variety keeps things interesting.

His voice is low-key and relaxed, and the songs are very traditional in their lyrics. Songs are based on biblical passages in many cases, such as "Moses' Last Miracle" and "Voice of the Lord."

"Wilderness," a cool, long drawn-out moaning piece, is absolutely beautiful. "In the Night" is a rolling, rhythmic chant and I liked it the best of all the cuts here.

The harmonies are really lovely, but everything is brought to a higher level by the gorgeous guitar playing. Making sweet music here are 6- and 12-string Laskins, a National and an electric Dobro all played by Whiteley, plus a string bass played by George Koller, a Gibson 330 electric guitar, Regal electric Dobro and Apitus mandolin played by Colin Linden and a Gibson J200 guitar in the hands of Chris Whiteley.

Drums, harmonica and trumpet all have a turn. Bucky Berger works the drums. I liked the relaxed atmosphere that came from this album and because it represented a gathering, or rather a workshop mode, I think it successfully turns out a number of tunes that may be quite inspirational for others to play with. Some lyrics could be worked over but that's just the way with improvisational music and it's not really a detraction, especially when the music is so good.

There's no doubt that Ken Whiteley has great strength as a gospel singer-songwriter and he's turned out a reverent, semi-traditional album that isn't going to have you swaying in ecstatic gospel fervor, but will have you smiling comfortably and peacefully at ease while listening to graceful music based on the Good News.

- Rambles
written by Virginia MacIsaac
published 23 October 2004

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