Elizabeth King – Living in the Last Days | Album Review

Elizabeth King – Living in the Last Days

Bible & Tire Recording Company BTRC011

11 songs – 34 minutes

The blues and gospel have walked hand-in-hand for more than 100 years – built on the same three chords and differing primarily in the subject matter of their lyrics. And this disc is old-school gospel at its best.

A rising star in the 1960s, Elizabeth King returns to the studio for the first time since 1973 after raising 15 children to put her powerful contralto voice on display for the first time since being a rarity in the gospel world when she fronted The Gospel Souls, an otherwise all-male group that charted a few singles on the Designer, D-Vine Spirituals and Messenger labels.

Now 77, King has been singing spirituals since childhood, when she credited the Lord for her miraculous recovery from a serious illness, a faith that only grew after she was T-boned in a car wreck and bounced back after doctors told her she’d never walk again. She “retired” from the stage in 1973 and raised 15 children, singing only in church and hosting a radio show for decades until the Rev. Juan D. Shipp, her former producer, reached out to her again.

Shipp had been in the control room when Elizabeth had recorded her final single, “I Heard the Voice,” which earned her the Gospel Gold Cup, an award presented annually by an association of deejays, and he’d recently started working with Bible & Tire Recording label boss Bruce Watson. The label was in the process of putting out Elizabeth King & the Gospel Truth’s album, The D-Vine Spiritual Recordings, a disc that had never been issued because of monetary reasons.

Within a week of contacting her, King was in the studio, laying down tracks for her first new record in 45 years, picking things up like she’d never left. She’s backed here by a who’s who of Memphis artists, including The Sacred Soul Sound Section — Will Sexton and Matt Ross-Spang on guitars, Mark Stuart on bass and George Sluppick on percussion.

Rounding out the lineup are Al Gamble, Rick Steff and William Graves on keys, Jim Spake and Art Edmaiston on horns and backing vocals from Chris Barnes, Courtney Barnes as well as The Vaughn Sisters – Pastor Carolyn Brown, Deborah Ballard and Rae Hicks – and The D-Vine Spiritualettes – Cora White, Audrey Fuller, Michelle Carter and Angela White – who deliver additional vocals.

A simple bass line introduces “No Ways Tired” and then accompanies King as she enters the action to assert that — despite her long, difficult journey — she’s just as vital as she’s always been. Things intensify a few measures in when the full orchestration kicks in. “He Touched Me” follows. It’s an unhurried update of a tune first recorded by the Shaw Singers in the late ‘60s and comes with a funky, interesting, unhurried shuffle beat.

Things heat up dramatically for the title tune, “Living in the Last Days,” which will have you dancing in the aisles thanks to tasty fretwork and call-and-response vocals. “Testify” – one of three reworked classics from the Gospel Souls era — serves up a little faith and gratitude to something akin to a rockabilly beat before “Mighty Good God” swings easily and steadily from the hip.

If you loved the Staple Singers, you’ll adore “A Long Journey,” which is steeped in sacred soul, before the fiery “Reach Out and Touch” continues the feel forward with a powerful R&B beat. “Walk with Me” – the second Gospel Souls cover – strolls confidently forward before “Call on Him” hints of Wilson Pickett and Solomon Burke’s “If You Need Me.” Two more pleasers – the acapella “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord” and a haunting reinterpretation of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “You’ve Got to Move” – bring the album to a close.

Sing along, raise your voices and praise the Lord because Elizabeth King is back!