Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ruth Busbee: Blessed Assurance, 1981

Another gospel album here, this time from singer Ruth Busbee. As you've probably noticed, I tend to focus on instrumental music, and even when I include music with a vocal component, the singing isn't always the highlight. The opposite is the case with this album. Although Busbee has a tight band and a strong choir backing her up, there is no question that she steals the show. She has a rare combination of range, technique and passion that are obvious right off the bat with the opening of section of Blessed Assurance, where she solos over the harmony before the groove drops.

I don't think it's a coincidence that I overlook a lot of gospel music on this blog; my focus on instrumental music has everything to do with it because gospel music is centered around the voice. As Reverend Jim Holley of the Rock Baptist Church, where the album was recorded, says on the back cover, "once in a lifetime, a voice comes full of life, pulsating, vibrant, and soulfully picturesque through the universe, expressing the universal... With every note expressed, you can feel the love of God [Ruth] has, and the love God has for Ruth." Part of what I think the reverend is getting at here is that any instrument in a gospel band can express the feeling of God, but only a singer can express the feeling and the message at the same time. Not to mention that we can pick up on emotional inflections more easily from a voice; with instrumental music, we have to use more subjective criteria to pick out emotional coloring.

Another thing about the back cover caught my attention is an uncredited quote that a google search suggests was paraphrased from the Bhagavad Gita. "Nothing in life is ours alone. What is yours today was someone else's yesterday, and it will belong to someone else when you are gone." There is an interesting contrast between this quote and one above it by Pastor Leonard A. Lyons, who says it sounds like "God has given [Busbee] the voice of an angel." Are these quotes supposed to be read together? If so, what are we supposed to make of the idea that God gave Busbee an incredible gift with which to praise him, but he will take it away to bestow on someone else someday? Who knows. But as far as my idea about the voice is concerned, the proverb emphasizes that Ruth's voice is God-given and that God gives people everything, apparently including the ability to feel a connection with him through prayer. In this sense, the voice seems like a major symbol in gospel because God gave it to man (in part) to bring man closer to him.

Never Let a Day Go By by Easy Jams

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