I started out making a holy music episode. But when I was gathering records, I ended up having over 150 jams that I needed to play. Somewhere about an hour into pulling, I realized that this would end up being at least a two part episode, maybe even a series, so I just kept looking, trying to uncover every bit holy music music I could find in my library (this is where my extensive genre tagging comes in handy). Also, I’m pretty happy to say I didn’t rely too heavily on Folkways for this episode (probably will in later ones, though). There are only 2 songs from Folkways records here and I’ve got about 30 in the whole holy list.
For no particular reason, I decided to start with a 160-minute episode for American-made music. From what I can tell, all of the artists here would probably call themselves “American” (whatever that means). There were a few things I wanted to include, like Cantor Abraham Brun, a Polish Holocaust survivor who immigrated to American after he’d lived about half his life overseas, but I figured that’s maybe stretching “American” a bit and regardless is probably better left for another holy episode. That being said, I didn’t dig too deep into people’s origins. I mean yeah, maybe some of the unidentified people in the Angola Quartet from Camp A aren’t “from here” but whatever.
I tried to keep a broad enough definition of “holy” to include a variety of music beyond just the obvious gospel and hymns. This is A Thick Mist so I made sure to inject some black metal, hip hop, and drone. And it’s certainly not all Christian, plenty of it is just spiritual, like Vanum who sings “In return for tribute, a duty pledged. A mortal offering to divine ends.” Or evenly abstractly religious like the piece I played from Xela’s holy trilogy (The Illuminated, The Divine, and The Sublime) which is just a wall of sound, no lyrics. But of course there is stuff like the inimitable Reverend Gary Davis, the Handless Organist, Alberta Baker, (unironically?) singing “His Hand In Mine,” and the powerful acoustic soul of Pastor Champion. This goes all the way from 1929 (one of only two Frank Palmes songs ever recorded) up to April 2022 with Dälek’s newest dark beats and bleak verses. Something for everyone.
00:00:00 Reverend Gary Davis – I Want To Be Saved (from At Home And Church: 1962-1967)
Davis is one of my all time favorites (along with another dude at the end of this episode). I love banjos, I love his voice. He has a ton of compilations/anthologies; this is one released by Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop is fantastic but really they all are and you can’t go wrong with anything he’s done (fyi there’s also some recordings under the name Blind Gary Davis, which is the same guy).
00:02:47 Old Harp Singers Of Eastern Tennessee – Morning Trumpet (No. 99) (from Old Harp Singing)
If there’s one genre of music outside of drone and metal that I would take with me to the grave, it would be sacred harp singing. There’s nothing else like it.
00:04:44 The Lord – Church Of Herrmann (from Forest Nocturne)
Debut LP under a new pseudonym of Sunn O)))’s Greg Anderson. It’s very Sunny but it’s got it’s own vibe. Also don’t miss the single track he released with Robin Wattie (singer/guitarist in Big Brave) last year it’s amazing.
00:09:55 L. Ron Hubbard And Friends – Why Worship Death? (from The Road To Freedom)
Bet you weren’t expecting some John Carpenter-esque New Age prog creep to show up on this list, let alone from Mr. Scientology himself, and with broadway singer Julia Migenes on vocals and Chick Corea playing keyboards & drums.
00:16:11 Jackie McDowell – Wash Me In Holy Fire (from Baptisia)
McDowell (previously Inez Lightfoot) continues to be painfully underrated. This is from her debut release under her given name which remains an all-timer for me.
00:18:22 Evangelist Lillie Heath – Wasted Years (from Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down)
Apparently Heath recorded a bunch in the 60s but this is the only one that seems to have hung around. Halfway decent country gospel.
00:20:11 Our Generation – I Can See Forever (from Dawning Of The Day)
Obscure Christian rock from the 70s. There’s like 8 or 9 people making music that sounds like it could have been made by 3 or 4.
00:24:33 Daniel (A.I.U.) Higgs – Are You Of The Body? (from Ancestral Songs)
One of the Lungfish mystic’s earliest solo releases, this is premium minimal psych buzz kinda like Mind Over Mirrors plus Alan Licht. Instrumental too, which is a bit rare from Higgs from what I’ve heard.
00:35:59 David Koresh – Three Angels Message (from Voice Of Fire – The Complete David Koresh)
The Final Prophet of the Branch Davidians and Waco Massacre catalyst/victim was a bad human but also a pretty awesome musician. I don’t know too much about the expanded version of this release beyond what’s on DIE Or DIY? so if you’ve got any info, let me know.
00:38:58 Angola Quartet From Camp A – See How They Done My Lord (from Angola Prison: Spirituals)
Incarcerated Black men singing sad, recorded in the 50s by Harry Oster.
00:41:49 The Handless Organist – His Hand In Mine (from Truly A Miracle Of God)
From what I can gather, Alberta Baker was born with meromelia but that didn’t stop her from playing music for Jesus. I just can’t get over the inclusion of this song, though. Intentional or not, Baker is a fucking comedic genius.
00:44:05 Dälek – Devotion (When I Cry The Wind Disappears) (from Precipice)
I can’t get enough Dälek, definitely my favorite hip hop. I don’t know of anyone else making industrial dark ambient rap. This new record just dropped in April on Ipecac and I highly recommend it. I mean I highly recommend any Dälek record too but starting at Precipice works just fine as an intro if you’re unfamiliar.
00:49:31 Rev. Jim Jones’ People’s Temple Choir – Black Baby (from He’s Able)
Another wildly successful megalomaniac, another choir full of victims.
00:52:46 Ernest Van “Pop” Stoneman – The Great Reaping Day (from Where The Soul Of Man Never Dies: A Treasury Of Caucasian-American Gospel)
There’s something a little weird about both the phrase Caucasian-American as well as making a record specifically for white gospel. It feels a bit like when people complain about how there’s no Straight Pride Parades. It’d be one thing if this was music by immigrants from the Caucasus region, but nah, it’s just white folks. Anyway, this country gospel jam from Pop Stoneman is great.
00:54:50 Robert Takahashi Crouch – Ritual (Christina Giannone Remix) (from Ritual Variations)
Crouch’s previous record, Jubilee, is fuckin awesome. It opened with a 20-minute track “Ritual” which itself was culled from a 2-hour long improv session. He gave that unreleased jam to friends and had them remix it. Giannone’s is one of my favorites, but there’s also Faith Coloccia, France Jobin, Lawrence English, Byron Westbrook, and more.
00:55:52 Aunt Molly Jackson – Holiness Church Monologue (from Library Of Congress Recordings)
I thought Giannone’s remix of “Ritual” would sound cool with Aunt Molly.
01:04:19 Vanum – Beneath The Pillars Of Earth And Air (from Legend)
Vanum is one of those bands that’s great at what they do but nothing ever really sticks with me. There’s something about this new song, though. It’s fuckin epic and I love it. Will definitely be playing this one on the regular.
01:18:43 The Belleville A Capella Choir – On The Battlefield For My Lord (from Honor The Lamb – Southern Journey 12)
Alan Lomax recorded some of the most important music in human history during his Southern Journey sessions. Here’s a deep cut out of Virginia.
01:22:01 The Staples Jr. Singers – I Got A New Home (from When Do We Get Paid)
Thanks to Luaka Bop for this reissue, filled with fun funky gospel.
01:24:41 Njiqahdda – Serpents In The Sky… (from Serpents In The Sky)
An incredibly prolific black metal duo that I eventually lost track of at some point. Their brand of meditative metal is hard to forget though. It was love at first sight with Nji. Njiijn. Njiiijn. which remains a highlight for me in their discography, but their second-to-last full length, Serpents In The Sky is some special shit.
01:36:40 Marjoe Gortner – To This End Was I Born (Age 4) (from Marjoe Gortner (“World’s Youngest Evangelist”))
I have a 6-year-old and therefor have a very recent memory of what a 4-year-old is like. I say with 100% confidence that it is 100% fucked up to have your 4yo be a Christian evangelist. This is incredibly fascinating, though.
01:42:08 Pastor Champion – I Know That You’ve Been Wounded (Church Hurt) (from I Just Want To Be A Good Man)
Thanks to Luaka Bop again, for putting out Champion’s first and only record. He died in December 2021, just a few months shy of this record’s release date. It hurts.
01:45:23 Om – Pilgrimage (from Pilgrimage)
Everyone loves Om, two thirds of Sleep (the other third, Matt Pike, went on to create High On Fire). I’ve always loved Om on paper, minimal meditative doom is absolutely my jam. But something about it just doesn’t work for me. Maybe it’s the whole God thing. Maybe it’s that Cisneros keeps his voice at a whisper and mumble instead of his majestic growl in Sleep (which is honestly maybe the best part about Sleep). Maybe I’ll never figure it out. One thing I do know is that Om is essential for an episode about American holy music.
01:55:51 Moses Mason – John The Baptist (from Alabama: Black Secular & Religious Music (1927-1934))
Little known about this guy. Recorded six songs in the late 1920s. Great music.
01:58:42 Frank Palmes – Troubled ‘Bout My Soul (from American Primitive Vol. I: Raw Pre-War Gospel (1926-1936))
Little known about this guy too. Recorded only two songs in the late 1920s. Great music. This recording is pretty rough sounding, which makes it pretty awesome sounding. Also, I love this compilation and it’s arguably one of the most important players in the 21st century re-fascination of old American tunes.
02:01:36 Xela – Of The Light And Of The Stars (from The Divine)
I fucking love Xela. John Twells made some of the best drone ever and their (unofficial?) trilogy I mentioned above is absolute top tier music. And while I wish they were still recording as Xela and releasing records on Type, I can just be thankful that we have what we have, which is a lot.
02:19:09 Almeda Riddle – The Old Churchyard (from Ballads And Hymns From The Ozarks)
You need more Riddle in your life, I guarantee it.
02:26:39 Liturgy – Lonely OIOION (from Origin Of The Alimonies)
Hunter Hunt Hendrix is easily one of the most important figures in 21st century metal. Her music as Liturgy is brilliant. I just wish I figure out whatever the hell she’s singing about.
02:31:20 Fred McDowell – Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dying Bed (from My Home Is In The Delta)
Mississippi Fred McDowell is a goddamn legend. His music is literally perfect.
02:33:45 Indian Bottom Association – Farewell Vain World (from Old Regular Baptists: Lined-Out Hymnody From Southeastern Kentucky)
Closed out the episode with some more monumental sacred harp-esque lining out. Farewell vain world.