This is one super cool release, one that seems to spit out endless new favourites every time I give it a spin. Coming off like a family-affair doppelganger to the Staple Singers, Bishop Manning and his family churned out positively righteous guitar-driven gospel soul in the '70s with the kind of fervour that only a born-again can deliver.
Manning has a story that would sound like such a bad cliché were it not true. Born Dready Manning in North Carolina in 1934, he picked up the guitar at age 6 and eventually followed the familiar bluesman path of playing juke joints and drinking a whole lot of booze. That was until 1962, when he began spouting blood from the nose and hemorrhaging, only to be "saved" by the prayer of neighbours. By the mid-'60s, Manning had started the family business with his wife Marie and their five kids, sending his recordings to Hoyt Sullivan, a '70s gospel impresario who apparently told the family that the records were making no money, despite the opposite being true.
Still playing today, Manning must be very pleased to have this come out and, with hope, will make a couple of bucks from this 28-song collection rammed with sanctified greatness. The set is a major coup for Fat Possum, and will likely be a contender on year-end lists. Most songs here feature the avuncular Manning on vocals and his vibrantly bright-toned rhythm guitar sound, best heard on "I Wanna Thank You Jesus" and "Something Inside Of Me". He takes on the country gospel standard "I Am A Pilgrim", a childhood favourite of his, with aplomb, a song he loved from an early age that works perfectly with the rest of his down-home rural soul. He shakes thing up by allowing his family to take turns on the mike. Wife Marie takes a couple of leads, and then there’s little Paul’s prepubescent rasp on "I Know You Been Good To Me". It’s all deliriously great stuff, and a gem well worthy of its resurrection. Best gospel reissue of the year? Nope. This is one of the best releases of the year, period. In Manning's words: Thank you, Jesus!