Mighty Clouds of Joy: At the Revival

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Posted September 13, 2010 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

Quartet legends surround the templates of soulful ’70s production; courtesy of R&B gurus Raphael Saadiq and DeVante Swing

Definitely underrated and often ignored, the Mighty Clouds of Joy stands alone as one of the pioneering contemporary gospel groups to emerge from gospel’s Golden Era. The Los Angeles, Cali.-based gospel quartet, led by front man Joe Ligon, started their singing style in the tradition of golden-age groups but quickly incorporated choreographed moves, electric guitars, color-coordinated suits, and quick footwork into their routines; easily branding them as the “Temptations of Gospel.” There was no mistake that the Clouds, still in their youth, had an ear and an eye for the latest trends – something that distinguished them from the rest of their peers. The biggest of those pioneering adventures included their Philly disco-soul breakthrough single, “Mighty High,” which peaked at #22 on the R&B charts in 1976. Even better, the song rode its way to #2 on Billboard’s Disco charts. It earned them their first appearance on the syndicated dance show Soul Train (becoming the first documented gospel group to take the stage) and the rest became a part of history. Since then, the group, even after shifting from a multitude of record labels including Word, A&M, Intersound and Light, has earned a distinctive following in both traditional and contemporary circles. But the group hasn’t captured the kind of glow and dominance since their 1990 live project Pray for Me, Power (1995) and Live in Charleston (1996), while rehashing more of those memory-lane anthems and familiar Mighty Cloud treats, tried to keep them in the race with popular quartet groups like the Canton Spirituals and the Williams Brothers, but they no longer sported the ingenuity and resonance of their earlier works. And ever since quartet gospel easily became regulated and marketed to the Bible belt consumer with an ear for Southern soul and the Delta blues; leaving the Mighty Clouds somewhat lost on their way to modern relevance.

At the Revival, the Clouds’ commemoration of their 50th anniversary, brings them full-circle with the brilliant decision to par them with legendary R&B producers Raphael Saadiq and DeVante Swing, both fans of the Clouds and quartet style. Some may even remember Saadiq, after his flashback soul album The Way I See It received critical acclaim, incorporating a Bay Area gospel contribution featuring Roy Tyler (Gospel Humming Birds) in his Live at the Filmore show. He stated about gospel: “Some people I know they’re embarrassed of it., that I know, that I play with, but I take it everywhere I go. That’s what you’ve been hearing in my music all this time.” Saadiq, who produces mostly all of the tracks on the album, takes the Clouds back to a sound that sounds so mysteriously familiar to the 1979 Live and Direct sessions. Saddiq transplants the Clouds back to the basics – surrounding them around a soul template anchored with simple instrumentation including a bluesy lead guitar, drums, tambourine and the occasional organ. “Stop to Praise God” warms up the collection with its Sunday morning processional struts and showcases Ligon’s unparalleled groans in its most seasoned form. The title track, opening like with a small sermonette in conventional Mighty Clouds fashion, also gives them a chance to work on a song that bears the mindset of traditional congregational songs. While songs like “Hard Times” and “He’ll Fix It For You” slow the album down some and “Jesus Kind of Man” kick out some of Saadiq’s best Stax-resembled production, much of the album stumbles on the typical gospel clichés and Promised land maxims. With his credentials decorating the works of Jodeci and Montell Jordan, DeVante Swing tries to jolt new R&B vibes into the quartet legends using Isley trademarks on the “I Love You Lord” and “Just Love Somebody.” Sonically it works, but the lyricalness lacks the depth of an interesting record. It’s as if the producers are only relegated to the background and barely have any permission to help tweak the compositions. Only serious plunder of the album encircles the poor production of the VHS-to-mp3 conversion of the James Cleveland/Cassietta George classic “Walk Around Heaven All Day.” In conclusion, At the Revival is the closest the Clouds have ever gotten to the proximity of their best work. Things would have been a lot better if Saadiq had a little more control at the wheel to carve out the same results that made The Way I See It so irresistible. With just a dab of creativity as Ben Harper did with the Blind Boys of Alabama on There Will Be a Light, At the Revival reveals a product sparking with great potential. Instead it burns out way too soon.

J MATTHEW COBB

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HIFI DETAILS

  • Release Date: 26 Jan 2010
  • Label: EMI Gospel
  • Producers: Raphael Saadiq, Donald Degrate, Jr., John Carter Cash
  • Track Favs: Stop to Praise God, At the Revival, Jesus Kind of Man


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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