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Crate diggers will know the Zion Jubilees from their 1970s singles on Stan Lewis’s Jewel label. Others will simply know the quartet as the Zion Jubilees of Bryan, Texas who have been on the gospel highway for more than a half century.
Let Him In is the quartet’s latest release for Sharp Records, an indie label out of Douglasville, Georgia. With the exception of a prominent synth and sax, the album’s eight songs demonstrate that the group hasn’t strayed much from its roots. There’s even a photo of the Zion Jubilees’ bus on the CD, evoking the time-honored affection between a quartet and its faithful wheels.
Originally known as the Reed Brothers, the Zion Jubilees maintain a Reed Family presence. Rev. Roy, Clifton, and Carlton Reed are group members, with Roy and Carlton handling most of the lead vocals. Arthur Middleton handles lead on “Apologize to Mother,” a country song in theme, melody, and arrangement.
“Jesus Saved My Soul” and “Magnify the Lord With Me” are the album’s drive-tempo songs, and they are similar in structure. “Jesus” is a vehicle for a call-and-response between Carlton and the quartet on the “that’s what He’s done for me” trope. “Magnify” is an invitation to praise with that handclapping quartet tempo that you know when you hear it. Although it closes the CD, the song could have opened it just as easily.
Most striking on Let Him In are the acoustic guitar accompanied “Jesus is a Rock” and the completely a cappella “Soldiers in the Army.” The quartet sings them as 1940s-era a cappella selections. “Jesus” is brief but impactful, and “Soldiers” could have used the guitar accompaniment, but it is nevertheless thrillingthat a quartet other than the Blind Boys of Alabama would reconnect with its traditional core in the finicky 21st century music marketplace. Well played.
Three of Five Stars
Pick: “Jesus is a Rock,” “Magnify the Lord With Me.”
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