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Various Artists

This multi-artist collection, recorded live a year ago at the Sacred Steel Convention at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., is an amazing, entertaining and highly raucous spiritual experience.

This is not your parents' casual Saturday-evening church service supplemented by the pastor's folk-playing nephew, either. The mostly amateur gospel musicians found here rock harder and with more emotion and enthusiasm than the collaboration between B.B. King and Eric Clapton scarcely managed together two years ago.

Seldom heard outside of church, the electric lap steel guitar has been the instrument of choice in both the Jewel Dominion and Keith Dominion (both African-American Holiness-Pentecostal churches) since the late '30s, substituting for the traditional church organist. Some of the best known and most influential sacred steel practitioners in the under-recognized genre, like Aubrey Ghent, the Campbell Brothers and Maurice "Ted" Beard Jr., shine brightly in the sanctified, you-are-there limelight, showcasing their fiery, animated, passionate music.

It's a perfect union of the spontaneous and joyous exuberance of the House of God church with rollicking R&B/rock-based instrumental passages. The individual approaches to the style range from rough blues-derived slides (Ghent's "Train Don't Leave Me") to more proficient country pedal steel sounds ("Will The Circle Be Unbroken?" from Lonnie "Big Ben" Bennett), all of it played with a sincerity and spirit indigenous to the music.

Divided evenly between somber instrumentals and the lap steel interacting with a church congregation and choir, the music ranges from quiet and serene to wild and excessive, injecting provocative blues and Hawaiian influences into the spirited players' captivating execution.

The surging instrumental numbers tend to show the playing from its optimum vantage point, yet leisurely ballads like "Precious Lord Take My Hand" by Bryan "Josh" Taylor represent some of the more heartrending steel passages.

This marvelous, hard-to-categorize disc of rambunctious religious spirituals is for all fans of music. Not a single person will be disappointed with the results.

More by Ron Bally

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