Superb versions of spirituals and work songs performed with a voice mined from the bedrock.
Walter Parks has a superb grizzled, soulful voice; full of rumbling authority, shot through with and sagacity. The perfect voice to sing the spirituals, work songs and prison songs on ‘The Unlawful Assembly’. If Parks suggests you should ‘Wade in the Water’ you’ll do it without a second thought.
Parks’ authoritative tones are mixed with the gospel-influenced style of Ada Dyer to devastating effect on classics like ‘Down by the Riverside’ and ‘Amazing Grace’. The album mines those depths of misery where the crucible of slavery formed the basis for rock and roll: blues, jazz and gospel. The album is wrought from the visions of a greater glory beyond as on the magnificent ‘Steal Away’.
The sound is rooted in the swampy blues and soul of the American South, including the laidback Muscle Shoals’ soulful vibe of one of the two Parks’ originals on the album, ‘Shoulder It’ co-written with Tom Petty’s drummer Stan Lynch and smothered in Michael Bellar’s Hammond organ.
Amongst a strong collection that sets the songs in both authentic and surprising arrangements is the rendition of ‘Follow the Drinking Gourd’ a song associated with the Underground Railroad to freedom from slavery in the North. The song was popularised by, among others, Richie Havens who Parks played with for many years. Parks’ version is full of yearning and ids the closest to an acoustic song on the album.
The keynote here is that the whole comes across as uplifting and spiritual in a genuine sense; not a preachy sense, but arising from a belief in what the human spirit can achieve, as exemplified by Parks’ other original track, ‘Georgia Rice’.