Our friends at Numero Group deliver a definitive tribute to gospel legend Pastor T.L. Barrett.
In late 1960s Chicago, not long after bands like the Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac had co-opted Chicago blues and R&B to cross over to the nascent Boomer generation, a Chicago pastor named T.L. Barrett started releasing tambourine- and choir-driven praise songs via his small regional label that mixed the spirit of rock ‘n roll and R&B with the redemptive messages of gospel music.
That wildly inspired work has been resurrected on I Shall Wear a Crown, a breathtaking new 5 LP set released last week by Numero Group. Starring Barrett’s exuberant voice, his 45-member Youth For Christ Choir and a backing band featuring players from Chess Records and the Chicago jazz scene, the set immediately propels Barrett and his work into the pantheon of crucial Chicago music.
Not that Barrett was necessarily ignored at the time. Starting in the 1970s, the preacher and his singing flock issued albums on Chess and Memphis label Stax. His recordings have been sampled by artists including Kanye West, Vic Mensa and Algiers, each of whom tapped teasing snippets of the glorious gospel-funk that Barrett and his choir created on Chicago’s south side.
Given Numero Group’s roots in Chicago and its relentless efforts to dig through the city’s dustiest storage rooms in search of gems, it shouldn’t be surprising that I Shall Wear a Crown arrives as if carried on a golden chariot. As the label did with Chicago R&B singer Syl Johnson on Complete Mythology, I Shall Wear a Crown adds a whole new chapter to the story of Midwest gospel music.
Dense with information on Barrett’s early years and ascent, the package is a portal into a profound South Side moment: “An older tradition of gospel — which had deep Chicago roots — was giving way to a youthful contemporary sound. Barrett not only moved among these divergent milieus, he allowed each of them to become a part of his work. They fueled the collective,” writes Aadam Keeley in the set’s liner notes.
He continues: “All of this brought Barrett more attention from artists with Chicago backgrounds, including [Donny] Hathaway and the members of Earth, Wind & Fire, who’d stop by his church and work with the choir. Aspianist Reginald ‘Reggie’ McEastland said, ‘It could go from being a service to being a jam session. We didn’t want to go home, we were having so much fun.’”
A truly mesmerizing listen, I Shall Wear a Crown features 49 tracks, including full reissues of Barrett’s first album, Like A Ship… (Without A Sail), the two-volume Do Not Pass Me By albums, “ and I Found The Answer. The physical release also includes a bonus album of singles and sermons.
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