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Sidewalk Saints - Roots Gospel Guitar

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Album Review

A sidewalk saint, Ben Bowen King explains in his liner notes, was a street-corner guitarist who played gospel music in the South during the '20s and '30s, using a resonator or National Steel guitar, which, though unamplified, emitted a louder, more metallic sound than the standard wooden acoustic. King is quite adept at the instrument and at times the sounds he coaxes from it are eerily reminiscent of those found on the recordings which provided him with his source material. Working only with a percussionist, Covita Moroney on the primarily instrumental workouts, King produces the appropriate good-time, reverent feel of gospel without the fire-and-brimstone baggage that often comes with it. His rearrangements are classy and smart, and his knowledge of the form apparent. But what's lacking is heart, and variation. Running through standards like "Old Time Religion," "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," "Great Speckled Bird," "Michael Row the Boat Ashore," and the opening "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," King leaves no doubt that he's an accomplished musician in love with the vintage sound. But there's little sense here that he's trying to bring anything to it that hasn't already been voiced, or that he's trying very hard to make these songs stand out against one another. Maybe that was the point, just to re-create, but instead of coming off as living, breathing music, this feels like a museum exhibit. A pretty and righteous one, but a museum exhibit nonetheless.

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Sidewalk Saints - Roots Gospel Guitar, Ben Bowen King
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