Song Keepers, Disc 3: No Ways Tired

By James Calemine

Albert Murray wrote in Stomping the Blues: “Traditionally the highest praise given a blues musician has been the declaration that he can make a dance hall rock and roll like a downhome church during revival time.” No Ways Tired: Sacred Soul and Gospel verifies Murray’s sentiment that the birthplace of the blues originated in the pews.

In celebration of Music Maker Foundation’s 30th anniversary, Song Keepers: A Music Maker Anthology, was released on February 16, 2024. Song Keepers delivers timeless photographs by Tim Duffy, soulful stories by the esteemed Georgann Eubanks, and a box set of 86 songs by Music Maker artists. These recordings have been masterfully curated and thoughtfully arranged to highlight and explore four facets of American roots music: Acoustic Blues, Electric Blues, Sacred Soul and Gospel, and Eclectic Folk. Song Keepers includes liner notes for each album that delightfully illuminate the music and the artists with accessible musicology and profiles.

The Glorifying Vine Sisters’ work song “Pray For Me” transports you straight to church. With MMF, the Glorifying Vines Sisters performed in Europe. They were also featured in the 2023 PBS documentary Sacred Soul of North Carolina.

Johnny Ray Daniels’ “Glory, Glory” is the next best thing to a Sunday service. Daniels was well known as lead vocalist and guitar player for the R&B group, the Soul Twisters in the 1960s before he adopted gospel music. Daniels recorded an album, Whatever You Need, in 2022.

“Shake Me” by Bishop Albert Harrison contains testimonial lyrics juxtaposed with an R&B groove. Harrison formed his group, The Gospel Tones, during the 1980s. “Lord Hold My Hand” by the Dedicated Men of Zion (DMZ) leaves a lasting impression. This song was recorded in Memphis during 2021 and produced by Bruce Watson on an album called The Devil Don’t Like It.

Theotis Taylor’s “Something Within Me” sounds smooth as water in the Okefenokee Swamp. Born in Fitzgerald, GA, Taylor made his living harvesting turpentine, but his voice and piano playing kept him busy playing in church long before he performed at the Apollo Theater as well as Carnegie Hall.

“At the Meeting” by Willie Farmer makes getting to heaven sound relaxing. Farmer, a Duck Hill, MS, native, toured with the Silvertone Gospel Singers. Big Legal Mess released his critically acclaimed album The Man from the Hill. This track is followed by Faith & Harmony’s “Victory,”which is so pure no instrumentation is required.

“I Got Jesus”, rendered by the Como Mamas, behooves you to say your prayers. The Como Mamas: Ester Mae Wilbourn, Angelia Taylor, and Della Daniels have lifted spirits for generations. When Ester fell on hard times, MMF assisted in rebuilding her home.

North Carolina’s Marvin Earl Blind Butch’s “No Ways Tired” inspires courage in a mean old world. Another North Carolinian, Johnny Ray Daniels’ “Somewhere To Lay My Head” is a celebration of the miraculous participation of eldest sister Dorothy who sang on this song after suffering a debilitating stroke, which eventually carried her home to heaven.

Tim Duffy recorded Bishop Dready Manning’s “Gospel Train” in 1994. A winner of the North Carolina Heritage Award, Manning displayed musical skills at an early age. He lived a wayward life until failing health led him to the gospel.

“Ain’t No Grave” by The Goins sounds everlasting. Tim and Denise Duffy discovered Elder James and Mother Pauline Goins in Ridgeway, South Carolina. Pastor Goins, was a powerful speaker, Biblical scholar and singer who played guitar that echoes ancient African string music.

Elder Anderson Johnson exhibits gifted slide guitar work on “God Don’t Like It”. Johnson started preaching at eight years old and also mastered piano, drums, and painting. He first recorded this original composition in Miami for the Angel, Glory, and Deluxe labels.

Lena Mae Perry and the Branchettes’ “One More Day” will surely protect you from evil. Lena Mae is now in her eighties and has had a storied career that was made into a documentary in 2022, called Stay Prayed Up.

This version of the First Cosmopolitans’, a gospel quartet, “Roll Jordan Roll” was recorded by Tim Duffy in 1998 at a 100-year-old congregation in Raleigh, NC.

The Walker Calhoun Singers’ beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace” is beyond serene. Walker Calhoun was a respected Cherokee elder who helped preserve sacred dance songs of his people. Here his descendants are singing the traditional hymn first in Cherokee and then in English.

Carl Rutherford grew up in War, WVA, and spent years working in California lumber mills. Rutherford played Appalachian mountain tunes, country blues, and Piedmont Blues. Disc Three ends with Rutherford’s blissful “Old Rugged Cross”.

The soulful gospel music on No Ways Tired offers redemption.