Raymond Anthony Myles, “New Orleans Gospel Genius” (Tuff City)

raymond-mylesIt shouldn’t surprise anyone that Raymond Anthony Myles, who was murdered at age 40 in 1998, has turned out to be irreplaceable. New Orleans has produced many great gospel voices before and since, but nobody with his larger-than-life charisma and star quality. This LP-only release is a straight reissue of his first album, one of only three that he made. It was recorded in the mid-’80s before he started getting national attention. As such, it’s a low-budget production, done with just a rhythm section and an early version of the RAMs choir. It also lacks the spoken sermons that were an essential part of his performances, leaving just the music.

Much has been written about the complications of Myles’ life, but it’s his artistry that comes through strongest here. It’s the three extended tracks that capture it best: “Bringing in the Sheaves” is the kind of song you usually associate with bad Salvation Army bands, but here it shows how he incorporated locally-styled funk to put a new kick into the most timeworn songs. “I Know My Redeemer Lives” is a showcase for this choice; the stirring blend of voices here recalls Edwin Hawkins’ classic version of “Oh Happy Day.” The finale, “Beams of Heaven,” is a six-minute showpiece that he performs alone on piano. The voice builds from quiet testifying into full-throttle wails. If the long-promised film on Myles’ life is released this year, this album should help in his overdue rediscovery.