Sounds like … a fusion of blues, rock, and gospel influenced by The Rolling Stones, The Byrds, and Elvis Presley with similarities to Glenn Kaiser, Marty Stuart, and the Blind Boys of Alabama, covering classics by the likes of Skip James, Blind Willie Johnson, and Mississippi Fred MacDowell
At a glance … with this album of obscure blues-gospel covers, the Seventy Sevens are definitely on to something by fully embracing their blues-rock side
Though the Seventy Sevens started their own record label nearly ten years ago, they've been slow to release new projects since their full-length A Golden Field of Radioactive Crows in 2001 and the subsequent EP Direct in 2002. But at long last, the power trio—now consisting of founder/singer/guitarist Mike Roe, bassist Mark Harmon, and drummer Bruce Spencer—has returned with what they consider "the album they were always meant to make."
There's always been a blues streak to the Northern California band, which began in the early '80s by embracing new wave. But this time around the Seventy Sevens have clearly and fully embraced their American rock roots with Holy Ghost Building. At the suggestion of Spencer, Roe did some digging to unearth blues-gospel classics by forgotten legends like Mississippi Fred MacDowell ("You're Gonna Be Sorry") and Steve Scott ("Stranger Won't You Change Your Sinful Ways").
The result is an album of covers that resonate with hope, sadness, confession, and redemption, performed with a rawness that approaches the Seventy Sevens' live sound (naturally, since it was recorded on the fly in just three days), reminiscent of classic acts like the Stones ("I'll Remember You, Love, in My Prayers"), The Byrds (the jangly "What Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul"), and Elvis Presley ("When My Blues Turns to Gold Again"). The jammin' rhythm section of Harmon and Spencer is flawless and effortless throughout, but it's Roe who shines brightest with his scorching guitar chops and his familiar California rock whine.
A.C. Carter's "Working on a Building" is the inspiration for the title track, a call for redemption and purification performed as rockabilly-gospel. The band turns Skip James' "He's a Mighty Good Leader" into a quieter acoustic waltz—not unlike Roe's work with The Lost Dogs—putting more emphasis on the invitational lyrics, and the bluesy "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning" works as a modern day spiritual based on Jesus' parable from Matthew 25.
Holy Ghost Building offers blues-rock at its finest, though the songs occasionally blur together, and the stomping "Everybody Ought to Pray Sometime" is a little grating with its rootsy delivery (at least it's the shortest track). "A Lifetime Without You" also feels out of place, not just as the only original by the band, but because the Tom Petty styled pop isn't bluesy and its theme is more romantic than spiritual. These points keep Holy Ghost Building from achieving the heights of Sticks and Stones and Pray Naked, but there's no question here that the Seventy Sevens have found a sound that suits them very well.
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