Sunday, June 23, 2024

L.A. Times reviews Arizona Dranes

Arizona Dranes
“He Is My Story: The Sanctified Soul of Arizona Dranes”
(Tompkins Square)
Three stars

Dranes was a blind gospel singer and pianist from Texas whose recordings surveyed here from the 1920s and ’30s remained little known before this release, even among gospel enthusiasts. “Perhaps that’s because she always listed her occupation as missionary or evangelist — not musician — and looked the part,” writes journalist and historian Michael Corcoran in a 48-page booklet accompanying the 16-track CD.

Dranes, Corcoran argues convincingly, was the first musician to make gospel recordings using piano and, more significantly, the first to bring the electrifying performance style of the Pentecostal church into the recording studio. She influenced subsequent generations of musicians, including the widely acknowledged “father of gospel music” Thomas Dorsey as well as early rockers such as Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.

In “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go,” she invokes a penetrating vocal rasp that informs gospel, blues and R&B singing today. Many of the recordings feature only Dranes, her piano and her high, quavering voice, but several include accompaniment from other musicians. The audio quality is predictably primitive, but Dranes’ spirit comes through undistorted by time.

— Randy Lew

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