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Former R&B diva shows modern gospel touch

By Fontella Bass & The Voices of St. Louis

Justin Time Music: 2001

This review first appeared in the April 30, 2001 edition of the American Reporter.

Fontella Bass will likely always be known for "Rescue Me," one of the very best songs to come out of the '60s, and equal to anything Aretha Franklin ever did. The fact that, unlike Aretha, Bass never had another big hit – and subsequently returned to her gospel roots – has left "Rescue Me" as her biggest impact on popular consciousness.

But Bass has stayed active, recording on jazz saxophonist David Murray's 1999 gospel album, "Speaking in Tongues." (Her performance on "How I Got Over" off that album will make the hair on your neck stand on end – good, good stuff.)

"Travellin'" isn't really a Fontella Bass disc, though – not if you're looking for her to sing on every song. Rather, it's more like a revue of the St. Louis gospel musical community she's part of.

Produced by her son, Bahnamous Bowie (whom she had with the late Lester Bowie, trumpeter for the avant-garde Art Ensemble of Chicago), "Travellin'" has an easy soul groove, combining gospel, funk and jazz. With Bass' powerful voice and the smooth tenor vocals of her brother, David Peaston, the music on "Travellin'" would be perfectly at home on any decent R&B station – despite the fact that almost all the songs have an overtly Christian message.

This is the modern face of gospel – artistically inspired, musically virtuosic, and stylistically contemporary.

Anyone who's ever dismissed gospel music as some hokey Southern thing they know they won't like ought to take a listen here. There's enough improvised solos to please any jazz or blues fan, the kind of smooth grooves to gladden the heart of any R&B fan, and the kid of funky back beat to bring a smile to the face of true soul lovers.