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Mahalia Jackson, various re-issues — Sony Legacy

Mahalia Jackson never left the church.

It may have cost her the kind of fame and wealth achieved by other gospel singers who did leave, like Sarah Vaughan and Aretha Franklin, but it did not erode her influence. Her giant, shining contralto can be heard at the roots of soul and R&B music, and therefore rock. In fact, in 1997, she was rightly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Although her phrasing and style were directly influenced by secular music, especially jazz and the blues of Bessie Smith, Jackson vowed to never sing a song that didn’t bring the listener closer to God. And now, nearly 30 years after her death, she remains the uncontested queen of gospel music.

To celebrate what would have been Jackson’s 90th birthday, Sony Legacy has re-issued two of her finest recordings, each with bonus songs, and a new compilation that includes seven previously unissued songs.

“Mahalia Jackson Recorded in Europe During Her Latest Concert Tour” was recorded in 1961 when Jackson was at the height of her powers and acclaim. And judging from the reaction of the all-white audiences, especially those in France, Jackson was received with the adulation of a super diva.

The recording is spare with Jackson belting crowd-pleasers like “Down By the Riverside” and “Elijah Rock” with the gentle prodding of her long-time accompanist, pianist Mildred Falls.

“In Concert Easter Sunday 1967” is more lively musically, but no less reverent. Jackson lays out chestnuts like “Thy Will Be Done” and “Calvary,” along with a sanctified shouter, “Come On Children.” And there are four bonus cuts.

“Sunday Morning Prayer Meeting” pulls songs recorded between 1955 and 1961 when Jackson was often as big a draw at civil rights rallies as leaders like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

By the way, on Sunday, March 17, 2002, the Alberta Bair Theater in Billings will host the traveling “Mahalia: A Gospel Musical.”

Chris Knight “A Pretty Good Guy” — Dualtone

Chris Knight still lives in a trailer on 40 acres of woods in his hometown Slaughters, Ky. And like every decent Southern gothic novel, Knight’s life and songs are full of cock-eyed characters who love, drink, go to church, procreate, kill, and die with a good-natured recklessness people in other parts of the country can’t seem to muster.

Knight came out swinging three years ago with a debut album that got him compared to everyone from Steve Earle to John Prine. He can’t seem to completely shake those influences here, but that’s not such a bad thing when the result is a country boy who can rock like Neil Young and write like Cormac McCarthy.

In the chilling “Down the River,” a tale of murder and brotherly revenge rolls out over a wailing viola and lap steel. In “North Dakota,” a man loses his lover in a howling storm. And there’s plenty of God-fearing guilt in songs like “The Lord’s Highway” and “Send a Boat.”

Knight isn’t much of a singer or a guitar player, although there are plenty of great musicians like Tammy Rogers and Rusty Young backing things up. But, then, this isn’t meant to be a pretty album. Its power comes from its stories and its people, elements modern Nashville seems to have abandoned for pop hooks.

Lila McCann “Complete” — Warner Bros.

There isn’t much country about the latest country sensation Lila McCann.

There she is on the cover of her third CD, her head cocked coyly, her blond hair tumbling, looking like she just won the Britney Spears look-alike contest at the mall. Inside the CD jacket, there are more pictures of the young beauty, kicking in the surf and smiling in the obligatory cleavage shot. And not once in any of her promo materials does it mention the word “country.” Maybe that’s the way they’re marketing country now, by not fessing up that it’s country.

Musically, the sound is so spit-polished, the vocals so carefully engineered, the twang wrung so thin, that there isn’t a breath of real life anywhere.

There’s the I’m-not-a-woman-without-my-man song (“Complete”), the uptempo young-love song (“Come a Little Closer”), the courageous-triumph-over-love-gone-bad song (“Where It Used To Break”) and gushy, oversung ballads galore.Chris Jorgensen can be reached at or 657-1311.