“Dylan’s Gospel” by The Brothers and Sisters was the pet project of, and directed by, LA record producer Lou Adler – who recorded the Mamas and the Papas, made The Monterey Pop Festival happen and produced Carol King’s “Tapestry” album. Inspired by the choirs he heard in the black Baptist churches of South LA, and the gospel feel of Dylan’s lyrics, he rightfully thought pairing up the two would be a match made in heaven. Adler assembled some 40 church singers, professional vocalists and assorted musicians from the area. Most of them already knew each other. He dubbed them “The Brothers and Sisters of Los Angeles” and recorded this album in a quick, four-day musical marathon of joyful singing in June of 1969.
Gospel half hour
Not exactly the Dylan Gospel Hour by any means, this long out of print recording is a too short but essential 36 minutes – ten tracks of exhilarating 60’s Dylan masterpieces done with “gospel and funk and hallelujah” – as the album was described in a hipster magazine ad some 45 years ago.
Merry Clayton and others
Several of the sisters were professional background singers who later became well known in the years after “Dylan’s Gospel”. Like Merry Clayton, best known for her signature howl behind Jagger on the Stone’s “Gimme Shelter” and recently featured in the Academy Award winning documentary “20 Ft From Stardom” She leads the choir on “The Mighty Quinn” and gives it just the right amount of Sunday afternoon church party funk. (By the way, Clayton is currently recovering from serious injuries after a mid June car accident in Los Angeles.)
Edna Wright, sister of Lady Lay” and you’ll hear Gloria Jones with The Brothers on the album’s full throttle gospel Darlene Love and a member of the Blossoms, takes the lead on “Lay standout track, “Chimes of Freedom”.
A groundbreaking first
Originally released on Adler’s Ode Records label, “Dylan’s Gospel” went straight to the cut out bins and out of print almost overnight. There have been other more modern attempts to gospelize the works of Bob Dylan over the years but this album, long sought after by collectors was a groundbreaking first and it still is. Adler’s Brothers and Sisters brought together a group of then unknown singers who gathered simply because they loved to sing. And what could be more suitable back in those times for new gospel record than these ten songs Dylan wrote during his most productive years.
Long overdue, “Dylan’s Gospel” by The Brothers and Sisters has just been reissued with extensive liner notes and photos on cd and vinyl by Light in the Attic Records.
That calls for a mighty “hallelujah!”