Marley's Ghost Gospel: How Can I Keep From Singing?

Marley's Ghost
Sage Arts

Bluegrass Unlimited, March 1990

Working On A Building/Sinner Man/I'm A Pil-grim/I'm On My Way (The Story of Job)/Cry From The Cross/ Jesus Gave Me Water/Peace In The Valley/Amazing Grace/Sowin' On The Mountain/Pass Me Not/Little Moses/Walking In Jerusalem/ Wings Of A Dove/How Can I Keep From Sing-ing/Rivers Of Babylon.

Here is one of the most gratifying gospel collections that one would ever want to encounter. Marley’s Ghost has been described as "A One Band Music Festival" and this accumula-tion of traditional gospel treasures is certainly indicative of their remarkable talent. The group hails from Washington state and has developed a reputation for an astounding array of musical styles. "How Can I Keep From Singing" is a continuation of the Marley's Ghost tradition transcending the realm of the ordinary gospel outings. This unusual group epitomizes an in-credible exhibition of musical influences from beloved bluegrass gospel standards, blues, Celtic and plus a little reggae thrown in for good measure. This impressive foursome is comprised of Ed Littlefield, Mike Phelan, Dan Wheetman and Jon Wilcox, all of whom are skillful on an impressive variety of instruments too numerous to mention in this brief space. Although most of the fifteen selections are well-established gospel favorites, Marley's Ghost interprets them with a distinct passion and zeal. There are especially ef-fective renditions of their a cappella versions of "Jesus Gave Me Water" and "Working On A Building," complete with an emotional arrangement of the Masters Family via the Stanley Brothers' "Cry From The Cross." The Carter Family's "Little Moses" proves to be another musical delicacy that is almost impossible to ig-nore. One singular highlight is their arrangement of "I'm On My Way," which tells the inspirational story of Job. Ed Littlefield ads a Scottish touch with a bagpipe arrangement of "Amazing Grace." To conclude the proceedings, the group closes with a distinctive reggae flavored "Waters of Babylon." In the simplest of words, "How Can I Keep From Singing" is a truly special col-lection of gospel music with a welcomed message of inspiration. (SageArts, 14311 Stehr Road, Arlington, WA 98223)

WVA Occasional, 7/94

A combination of musicology and creativity make "How Can I Keep From Singing" (1992, Sage Arts, 15 selections, approx. 47:00) an exciting listening experience. Marley's Ghost obviously know musical history. Stanley Brothers classics mix with gospel numbers that would fit on NPR's "Wade In The Water,"and even in brevity the liner notes refer to records both well-remembered and obscure. Ed Littlefleld Jr., Mike Phelan, Dan Wheetman and Jon Wilcox understand and play comfortably as the soul of "Working On A Building" gives way to the squeal of "Sinner Man." Then "I Am A Pilgrim" comes on with all the charm of old records sweetened to today's standards. And that's just the first three tracks.

This isn't, however, a dry lesson. Mixed vocal stacks and creative instrumentation make these arrangements new. Guest Michael Shrieve's drums on the otherwise-vocal "Walkin' In Jerusalem" add subtle drive, and "Pass Me Not" proves that the vibrato of Hammond organ, provided by Barney McClure, can and should co-exist with sweet mandolin holds.

Not every song is as visionary. "Peace In the Valley" and "Wings of a Dove" take no chances. That only makes the surprise of standouts like the slowed-down, bagpipe and pennywhistle "How Can I Keep From Singing" and the reggae anthem "Rivers of Babylon" more of a thrill. This is highly recommended.

Sage Arts;
14311 Stehr Rd.;
Arlington, WA 98223

In the Walnut Valley Festival list of artists: