This May Be My Last Time Singing: Raw African-American Gospel on 45RPM, 1957-1982 is a three-disc set containing a whopping 72 recordings made by obscure gospel artists and bands. Entirely sourced from original 45rpm vinyl singles, this music crackles and pops in a way that today’s digital-oriented listeners are generally unaccustomed to. But the feeling is powerful and authentic throughout. It would be a shame if technical imperfections were to scare anyone away from this powerful, heartfelt music.
The liner notes reveal that “at least one-third” of these tracks were self-financed by the church congregations themselves. All were released independently, surviving over the decades solely because of collectors such as this release’s producer Mike McGonigal. In an essay included in the liner notes, McGonigal notes that he compiled This May Be My Last Time Singing by whittling down his collection of thousands of gospel 45s. This is his second gospel compilation for the Tompkins Square label, the previous one being Fire In My Bones from 2009.
McGonigal also provides helpful track-by-track information, shedding some light on the dozens of names most people probably won’t have heard of. These are true obscurities, difficult to access in traditional terms of artistry. This is, as the title makes clear, very raw music. Sometimes guitars are out of tune and vocals are off-key, but collectively the experience is worthwhile for hearing such passionate musical expressions.
Groups like The Dedicators, who are heard performing “So Many Fallen By the Wayside,” have a polished, professional sound. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Rev. George Oliver’s “I Got to Move to a Better Home” is an extremely low fidelity vocal-and-guitar recording that the liner notes state “nothing is known about.” That doesn’t make it any less worth hearing, as the vocal is charged with obviously deep-rooted emotion.
And that’s what makes this collection so special: the emotive singing. I don’t know who is handling lead vocals on The Missionaires’ rendition of “Cloud Hanging Low (Part 2),” but it’s a scorching, powerhouse performance. I can’t understand how anyone could not be moved by the mother/daughter duet of Joyce and Johnita Collins on “One Morning Soon”; likewise for Sam Williams + the Harris Singers, who lead off the collection with “He Will Fix It.”
No artist appears twice, though McGonigal may have broken his own rule by including “(Make Old) Satan Leave Me Alone” by The Sensational Whirlwinds as well as “Jesus is on the Mainline” by The Whirlwinds. McGonigal explains in his notes that they may in fact have been the same group. I’m glad he made this exception, as both recordings are tremendous.
Regardless of one’s faith, or lack thereof, the music contained on This May Be My Last Time Singing is soul stirring in its raw intimacy. No matter whether you are religious, agnostic, or otherwise, all you need be is a music lover in order to make this collection required listening.