Dedicated Men of Zion, Can’t Turn Me Around

Dedicated Men of Zion, Can’t Turn Me Around, Bible and Tire

 “I’m loving it big time! Haven’t wanted to join a church in 63 years! Gonna have to come down and check it out!” Taj Mahal

Soul, harmony, gospel and inspiration. It’s a winning combination and it’s here in spades in this fabulous album from the Dedicated Men of Zion.

The four singers hail from Greenville, North Carolina, where they grew up together singing in church and at home. Brothers Anthony “Amp” and Antwan Daniels, along with Dexter Weaver and Marcus Sugg – now all related through marriage – sing with passion and integrity. This is not just gospel in the musical sense – these guys sing it like they mean it. It’s upbeat, it’s inspirational, it’s emotional. It’s also hip shakin’, soulful and just a bit bluesy.

Can’t Turn Me Around is one of the first releases from the new label launched recently by Bruce Watson of Fat Possum, dedicated to gospel soul music. [Check out our interview with Bruce here] The album was recorded in Memphis with a band assembled by Watson. The tight musicianship throughout, with sterling contributions by saxophonists Jim Spake and Art Edmainston, provides a perfect foundation for the vocal harmonies without ever overpowering. Add in a rock-solid rhythm section (Mark Stuart on bass and George Sluppick on drums), the tasteful guitar licks of Will Sexton and the Calvin Barnes’s Hammond work and there are all the ingredients you need for a recording of some quality.

The singing will just blow you away. But it’s not just the harmonies, the solo vocals excel – there’s a modern, hip-hop element which keeps anything from ever getting staid. Anthony Daniels has experience as a hip-hop producer and backing musician for the likes of Bebe Winans and Toni Braxton. And that’s the thing about this album – it’s traditional in many ways, with a clear heritage in 1960s and 70s soul and gospel, but it’s got a very contemporary feel. This is music for today.

And with all that’s going on in the world we need some music like this. Music to lift your spirits, music to comfort and inspire, whether you’re a believer or not. Anthony Daniels, says “If He did it for me, He’ll do it for you. Just keep praying and love one another.”

The album kicks off with the rocking Father, Guide Me, Teach Me, with Daniels’ dazzling lead vocals playing over the hypnotic beat and the repeated “guide me, oh guide me.” There is some very nice guitar work going on here too.

A Leak in This Old Building takes the tempo down, giving full space for us to appreciate the tight harmonies. With the insistent Hammond and the plaintive vocals, it’s one of those songs that just reaches down inside and grips your innards.

Down Here Lord is one of my favourites of the album. The yearning melody and the “I’m waiting on you, and I can’t do nothing until you come,” express a genuine and deep longing for the presence of the Lord.

The title track, Can’t Turn Me Around, is pure gospel. Its sparse instrumentation, close harmonies, lovely falsetto lead vocals is mesmeric in its effect. I can only imagine the power of this in a live setting. Guitarist Will Sexton gets a chance to shine towards the end of the track, but it’s tastefully muted and you’re hardly aware of the fast fretboard work being done.

In You Don’t Know, we’re right back in church, with some initial testifying over the beat and the Hammond before the song proper kicks in. It’s joyous stuff – “you don’t know what he’s done for me.”

It’s a Shame takes us out of church into the world and bemoans the state of things. “How this world has changed,” the guys sing, bemoaning all the violence and breakdown of relationships. Which leads nicely into the closing number, Work Until My Days Are Done, which looks forward to a better day. As this song begins, I’m thinking – I can hear the Blind Boys of Alabama in this song. It’s a fine ending to an incredibly fine album.

It’s worth mentioning the association of The Dedicated Men of Zion with the Music Maker Relief Foundation. This is a non-profit organization which seeks to preserve the musical traditions of the South. It supports artists in a variety of ways, including those living in chronic poverty. It wants to help preserve for future generations their heritage in America’s musical traditions.

The Dedicated Men of Zion, for sure, are preserving America’s gospel and soul traditions, but more than that, they are giving that tradition their own modern stamp and forging their own path. Go get yourself a copy of the album!