in performance: the fairfield four

The Fairfield Four. From left: Levert Allison, Bobbye Sherrell, Larrice Byrd Sr. and Joe Thompson.

The Fairfield Four. From left: Levert Allison, Bobbye Sherrell, Larrice Byrd Sr. and Joe Thompson.

The only hint of anything that even approached a put-on during the a capella revival the Fairfield Four presented earlier tonight at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church came when Levert Allison feigned the fading drive of a wind-up toy. It took fellow tenor Bobbye Sherrell to simulate a visual wind-up that brought his singing mate back to speed to tackle the hollers and moans of an almost defiant Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around.

It was an innocent but telling bit of playacting. But if you thought for a second the jubilant energy that has driven scores of lineups of this veteran gospel group since 1921 was expiring, the joke was on you.

For close to 90 minutes, the current Fairfield incarnation – Allison, Sherrell, baritone Larrice Byrd and 80 year old bass singer Joe Thompson – summoned a gospel parade that was as tireless in its gusto as it was unwavering in its spiritual solemnity.

The focus fell on songs, both traditional and contemporary, from Still Rockin’ My Soul, the first album by this lineup. The quartet offered seven of the record’s 11 tunes beginning with the welcoming Come On in This House. Led by Sherrill, it established a simple and effective sound pattern that dressed the Fairfield’s booming vocal blend with only one item of accompaniment – the percussive acceleration of their own handclaps.

The only pronounced departure from that game plan came during the traditional I Love the Lord, He Heard Me Cry, which was delivered like an incantation first with a lone wail from Allison and through a powerful vocal call-and-response with Sherrell. Spiritual? Without question, but it was also deliciously ghostly.

On the other hand, the encore of Four and Twenty Elders (from 1997’s I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray) made the impending end of days seem almost festive with harmonies that, like much of the evening’s repertoire, drew clear lineage from gospel to secular traditions of soul, pop and especially doo-wop.

The Good Shepherd setting was a huge plus, too. While the amplified sound mix was often too boomey and harsh, the church’s intimacy and regal architecture nicely enhanced a gospel vocal charge that was ceaselessly fresh, timeless and spiritually persuasive.

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