CD: Little Faith’s “Spirituals”

Little Faith(Noon Tonight Recordings, 2010):

A veteran of Fat ‘n’ Bad – one of the Capital Region’s all-time biggest and baddest R&B combos – Nippertown native Jack Maeby makes his home in California these days, but he’s headed back here for a homecoming show this weekend to showcase his latest band Little Faith and the music of their newly released debut CD, “Spirituals.”

“I brought together a group of LA roots musicians from all sub-genres – country, gospel, bluegrass, New Orleans R&B – to record an album of traditional spirituals,” Maeby explains.

“The focus is musical and not religious,” he adds. “The idea is that the spiritual songs created by African American slaves in the 19th century are the basis of what we term ‘roots music’ and ‘Americana,’ and that the roots styles grew directly out of spirituals.”

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Maeby is a self-proclaimed “old-school organ player with a love of gospel music,” so naturally enough, the music here is centered around the warm, all-embracing hum of the Hammond organ. But this is definitely no ordinary organ trio, as Maeby’s soulful gospel-jazz sounds are cross-pollinated with the contributions of country-oriented guitarist-lap steel player Nelson Blanton and New Orleans-styled second-line drummer Paul Vitolins.

The album cracks open with brisk strut through “I’ll Fly Away” fueled by Vitolins’ syncopated Crescent City parade beat and some beefy, honkin’ baritone sax by guest James King. Toward the end of the disc, Little Faith revisits the tune with a more solemn, hymn-like rendition sung by Maggie Malyn – one of only two vocal selections on the disc.

Many of the tunes are familiar, tried and true spiritual standards (“Wade in the Water,” “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” “How Great Thous Art,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”), although the earthy but innovative arrangements keep the music fresh and adventurous.

Elsewhere on the disc, there’s a light Caribbean sway to “Ain’t That Rockin’?,” the heartbreaking ache of Leah Zeger’s violin takes the spotlight on the Hebrew spiritual “Kol Dodi,” and vocalists Malyn and John Michael Knowles conjure up church choir fervor on “Fire Shut Up in My Bones.”

Put it all together, and Little Faith has created a mighty tasty musical gumbo. Or as Maeby explains, “Mardi Gras breaks out at a tent revival in the parking lot of the Grand Old Opry.”

Jack Maeby and Little Faith showcase the tunes from “Little Faith” with a performance and CD release party at the Bayou Cafe in Albany at 8pm on Saturday night. Admission is free.

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