These Gospel-Inspired Artists Are a True Godsend

The Louvin Brothers and Joe Simon have some music worth your while.

Album Reviews

The Louvin Brothers
Love and Wealth: The Lost Recordings
Modern Harmonic

Joe Simon
Step by Step: The Complete Pop Hits
Real Gone Music

Gospel music aims to nurture the spirit of believers, but its impact has extended far beyond the church. A slew of gifted artists who started in gospel have gone on to success in a variety of genres, while the sound and energy of the music itself have been a cornerstone of rock, R&B, and blues.

Tennessee’s Ira and Charlie Louvin played gospel exclusively until the mid-50s, when they added secular material to their rural repertoire. Whatever the focus, the siblings’ music was magical, thanks to high lonesome vocal harmonies that set the stage for the Everly Brothers. Best remembered today for the album “Satan Is Real” (with its bizarro cover) and such songs as “The Christian Life,” later covered by The Byrds, the Louvins’ body of work is prized by Nashville traditionalists, which makes “Love and Wealth” all the more special. This 29-song set is a godsend, containing previously unreleased demos of tunes they pitched to others. Vibrant and exhilarating, these thrilling performances span corny humor (“Television Set”), lovelorn laments (“Take My Ring from Your Finger”), and expressions of faith (“You’ll Meet Him in the Clouds”). Even the country-averse may find it hard to resist.

Louisiana-born Joe Simon sang gospel before he first entered the pop charts in 1964 and returned to the fold in the early 80s, after the hits dried up. “Step by Step” collects the singles of one of the most underrated soul artists ever. Blessed with a rich, resonant voice, Simon had the leisurely delivery of fellow country-influenced R&B crooners like Arthur Alexander and Percy Sledge and boasted the kind of elegant power that made Jerry Butler so arresting. Many listeners have probably encountered the melancholy ballad “(You Keep Me) Hanging On”—not the Supremes song—the searing blaxploitation epic “Theme from ‘Cleopatra Jones,'” or the funky dance-floor raveup “Get Down, Get Down (Get on the Floor)” without knowing the name of this wonderfully versatile artist. A great singer awaits your discovery!