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Sounds like … The Highway QCs, the Sensational Nightingales, the Mighty Clouds of Joy, the Blind Boys of Alabama, and other patriarchs of the gospel quartet traditionAt a glance … This reunion recording for the legendary Soul Stirrers is enjoyably old-fashioned, but ultimately too placid as the album goes through the motionsTrack Listing We're Going to a Meeting Stand by Me Father Be With Me Jesus Peace Be Still Lord Remember Me Oh What a Meeting Resting Easy Nearer to Thee Wade in the Water The Love of God I'm Still Here When the Gates Swing Open The Last Mile of the Way I Can Hardly Wait Thank You Lord
It'd be a mistake to restrict the legacy of The Soul Stirrers to only launching the career of Sam Cooke. Though acting as a springboard for the soul legend was one of their biggest claims to fame, the gospel quartet were trailblazers of their own, serving as the vocal precursors to hundreds of would-be R&B and pop stars. In gospel alone, these Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famers steered the reach of the quartet tradition beyond jubilee singing into more rhythmic terrain, sowing the seeds for doo wop and then rhythm and blues.
Strains of such hefty résumé are felt throughout A Soul Stirring Reunion, The Soul Stirrers' cut-and-dry comeback collection. Long a stronghold of time-honored traditional gospel, Malaco Records went to great lengths to make sure this reunion was as natural and classic as reunion albums come, similar to what the label did with the Caravans' likable Paved the Way in 2006.
But A Stirring Reunion is different. Despite The Soul Stirrers' place in music history, their longevity and largely revolving-door cast led them to become more an institution than an ensemble of identifiable gospel stars. As such, it's likely none of the members assembled for the recording rings a bell, even though some of them have served in the group on and off as far back as 1955.
Together, the singers go through the motions of what a label-mandated reunion album should be, and as such, they fall short of making it their own. Inevitably (or perhaps deliberately), the spirits of Cooke and successor Johnnie Taylor loom large, haunting the living Stirrers in the way they deliver the vocals and adopt arrangements. The results are merely adequate, only occasionally evoking the excitement or wonder of those two singers in their prime.
Malaco called on Darrell Luster, a newish Sensational Nightingales member, to produce and contribute a few new tracks. But these washed-out R&B selections don't quite stack up to gems like "Nearer to Thee," "Wade in the Water," and "Stand by Me Father," all timeless Stirrer standards that outclass them by a wide margin.
Far from a rouser, A Soul Stirring Reunion still merits a mild mention, if not for fully capturing the groundbreaking Soul Stirrers ethos, at least for doing its job as a history preserver. It's a reminder of the stylistic breadth of the group, a faith forerunner that dared take gospel music beyond the four walls of the church and changed the landscape of contemporary music in the process.