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Agent 45′s Review: “Rock-in With Soul”

Secular and spiritual musics have always had an intertwining relationship, and the relationship between gospel and soul music is a particularly strong one. Whether it was Mahalia Jackson performing at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival or Aretha Franklin’s upbringing in the Rev. C.L. Franklin’s church — Sam Cooke’s switch from gospel to R&B, or Al Green’s career-long tightrope walk between these two worlds, there is no shortage of examples how gospel and soul music interact with each other.

“Elijah Rock” is a song dating back to the Reconstruction era, and was notably recorded in 1962 by Mahalia Jackson, a few years before the Rev. Cleophus Robinson version featured here, which was recorded in 1965. Robinson’s is unusual in that it features both a piano and an organ, along with a very bluesy guitar. I’d love to know who the musicians were on this one, in fact.  Robinson’s voice soars over the musicians and this version could easily have appealed to youngsters and their more traditionalist gospel elders. On the other side of the coin, the Hank Jacobs (circa) 1967 version evokes the dark and sweaty dance floors of a Los Angeles jazz club, which, for many at the time may have been synonymous with going to church! Jacobs on piano with his group take the familiar theme of the original and transform it into a high octane soul jazz workout which still maintains the strong gospel roots of the original. Curiously, the writing credit on the Hank Jacobs 45 is given to singer Bettye Swann, which obviously wasn’t the case.

Listening to both versions side by side is a great way to show the evolution and individual interpretation of a song, the interconnectedness of gospel and soul music through similar themes and, at the end of the day, an opportunity to enjoy two fantastic 45s.

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