Brother Joe May
Thunderbolt Of The Middle West
The first time I heard this Brother Joe May Specialty album, (reviewed in Jazz & Blues Report in the November 1993 issue) I was overwhelmed. Here was as powerful a singer as I had heard and if not religious, I could not help but be impressed by the fervor as well as his power in the performances. Concord has acquired Fantasy (and Specialty) and this CD is still in print and should be readily available.
Fantasy Records not only has a fine series of reissues from the Specialty rhythm and blues catalog, but also the equally invaluable Legends of Specialty Gospel series. Space limitations prevents as extensive coverage of all these releases that they deserve. One recent release in particular stands out with one of the most remarkable singers of any genre that America has ever heard. Thunderbolt of the Middle West spotlights Brother Joe May, with guest appearances by Sister Wyonna Carr, the Pilgrim Travelers, and, on the live recording of Old Ship of Zion that opens this collection, Charles Brown on organ and the Sallie Martin Singers. It isn't simply his range, it is, as the annotators state, his uncanny sense of dynamics and vocal projection that leave their mark on the listener. His vocals go from a gentle recitation to a soaring affirmation of his beliefs that make his renditions of Thomas Dorsey's How Much More of Life's Burden Can We Bear or I'm Gonna Live the Life I Sing About in My Song, so compelling. In addition to his powerful singing, there are also a dozen or so songs from the late gospel composer. Brother Joe May was firmly committed to gospel music, and resisted efforts to have him make secular recordings. If he had crossed over, he would have been one of the rhythm'n'blues artists recently honored with a stamp by the postal service.