Ask me about my religion," writes Michelle Shocked in her "womanifesto" for her forthcoming album. "Of course, no one ever does." But it's all part of her long musical journey: "I was moved by the power of rock 'n' roll. And if you follow the trail from rock 'n' roll, it always leads you back to the blues, sweet soul music and finally to the churches and gospel music." In Shocked's case, it led to the West Angeles COGIC mass choir in the heart of South Central Los Angeles, where she now tries "living by the Good Book, and putting out a gospel record."
The resulting album, titled (and spelled) ToHeavenURide, is scheduled for August 21, 2007 release on Mighty Sound through Megaforce/RED.
For this set, recorded live at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in June 2003, Grammy Award winner Shocked enlisted her Bay Area rhythm section, shanghaied Nick Forster (Hot Rize, etown) to play pedal steel and recruited the singing Dancys from New Greater Circle Mission Church in South L.A. for backing vocals and keyboards.
The marriage between the spirit of gospel music and the crisp Rocky Mountain air resulted in a rollicking performance. Shocked presents two songs by one of her greatest influences -- Sister Rosetta Tharpe ("Strange Things Happening Every Day," "Ain't Gonna Study War No More.") Tharpe is called the "father -- well, mother -- of rockabilly" in the notes, and the songs are dedicated to her spirit. Also featured are "The Weight" by The Band and "Uncloudy Day" and "Wade in the Water" by the Staple Singers. Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child" is given the Shocked treatment. Finally, "We're Blessed" by Fred Hammond of the Detroit gospel group Commissioned, a modern gospel standard, is brought out of the churches.
Shocked also introduces includes four originals here, one of which is previously unreleased: "The Quality of Mercy" (originally written for the soundtrack of the film Dead Man Walking), "Good News" (commissioned by Greenpeace for the documentary Cancer Alley), "Psalm" (which prove the Psalms are a fertile source of the folk tradition) and "Can't Take My Joy" (combining gospel and reggae traditions with a nod to Bob Marley).
Although the songs were recorded at the 2003 Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Shocked's contract plainly stipulated "no recording." However, for a festival DVD project recorded that year, her set happened to be digitally stored on a ProTools file. It never occurred to Shocked to ask of the existence of such a recording, but it did occur to her new manager. So, in keeping in the tradition of inadvertent "field recordings" which -- in the case of her debut album Texas Campfire Tapes -- was made on the sneak, ToHeavenURide is another great Michelle Shocked field recording that almost never saw the light of day.
"Fifteen years ago, I was moved by a quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King: "It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning." One white girl attending a black church wasn't going to change the world or anything, right?" writes Shocked in her ToHeavenURide manifesto, but she decided to "take the mountain to Mohammad." "I was just going to check out a gospel choir, ya know? . . . Years later, on top of another mountain, the holy spirit erupted. And now here I am bringing it home to you."
"The Lord works in mysterious ways. Or at least that's been my experience."
Shocked embarks on a national tour in support of ToHeavenURide this Fall. -- AllAboutJazz.com