Feel the Spirit: A Tribute to Mahalia

Feel the Spirit: A Tribute to Mahalia

by The Big DooWopperThe Big DooWopper


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Cornell H. Williams is a blind Chicago street singer (his professional moniker is the Big DooWopper) who tackles blues, doo wop, gospel, R&B, and jazz with an amazing, ravaged, and beautiful voice that proves angels can show up in the most unlikely places. Williams isn't some down on his luck savant, though, but a skilled piano and organ player with big-time arranging skills and a solid vision of what he wants to do. His first album from Delmark Records, 2000s All in the Joy, was a marvel, with Williams multi-tracking his vocals (his reach can rise into the female contralto range) into celestial choruses over endlessly funky Hammond B3 rhythms. Feel the Spirit is his second release from Delmark, and it features Williams on 19 traditional gospel and sacred songs from the Mahalia Jackson songbook. Although there isn't a lot of variety here (All in the Joy was wonderfully eclectic), the accumulative power of Williams' jagged and utterly gorgeous vocals makes this album equally as impressive. This is the voice Tom Waits aspires to, a voice that has been battered by the world, but still aches with a hoarse beauty that is completely unlike any vocalist in the pop field. Listen to the warmth, power, compassion, and conviction Williams brings to "Elijah Rock," "Didn't It Rain" (where he sounds a bit like a sanctified Little Richard), or "Bless This House," the album closer, which is so full of heart-breaking emotion that you may well find tears welling up in your eyes. But the most stunning track here (on an album that is full of stunning performances) is Williams' version of "Soon I'll Be Done With the Troubles of the World," where his voice seems to convey all the pain and weariness of the world in a compassionate plea for deliverance. If the angels aren't listening, they should be.

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