Sister Rosetta Tharpe | Live In France: The 1966 Concert In Limoges – Live Release Review

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Sister Rosetta Tharpe isn’t exactly a name on the tip of everyone’s tongue. But if you have any interest in the origins of rock and roll, it’s a name you should know. Chuck Berry reportedly once said his entire career was “one long Sister Rosetta Tharpe impersonation.” Bob Dylan called her “a powerful force of nature, a guitar playing, singing evangelist.” Both Elvis Presley and Little Richard cited her as a major influence. If you saw Baz Luhrmann’s film Elvis, she pops up in the story. Alabama Shakes’ singer and guitarist Brittany Howard, who inducted the musician into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018, said: “As far as I’m concerned, Sister Rosetta Tharpe created rock and roll as we know it.” All of which makes Live In France: The 1966 Concert In Limoges an intriguing overview of the Godmother of Rock and Roll.

Released on Record Store Day (April 20) as a limited-edition double LP set, and later made available on CD and as a digital download, Live In France: The 1966 Concert in Limoges is a 21-track album of recently discovered, previously unreleased performances recorded on November 11, 1966, at the Grand Theater in Limoges. Tharpe had already conquered much of Europe with constant touring in the 60s. The show in Limoges was her third appearance in the city. It was taped by the Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française (ORTF).

Zev Feldman, the reputable archivist who discovered the recording, considers Sister Rosetta Tharpe a “trailblazing figure in music even decades and decades after her passing in 1973.” He adds it’s a “special time capsule of a document that transports you back to a wonderful performance in the mid-1960s in France.” From the minute you drop the needle on her composition “This Train,” right on through to unique readings of traditionals like “When The Saints Go Marching In” and “Joshua Fought The Battle of Jericho,” to the spirited “Bring Back Those Happy Days,” it’s hard to disagree with Feldman’s assessment.

Listening to Sister Rosetta Tharpe sing and play her electric guitar is like hearing a sermon orchestrated by an angel, a goddess of music with an edge and deep-rooted soul, an embodiment of the basic archetype of rock and roll. Little wonder the French audience were pulled into the rapture “Beams of Heaven” as Tharpe delivered a raw, pure vocal with a small spark of an accompaniment on her guitar. As soon as she is finished, the audience skip though a polite applause. Then she plays an incredibly bluesy lead on “That’s All,” and you wonder why she isn’t held in the same ranks as BB. King, Buddy Guy, and Eric Clapton. Or maybe she is in some circles, and us commoners haven’t been clued in. Of course, her equally impressive vocal with those “well, well, well, well” turnarounds are hot enough to make Robert Plant and Paul Rodgers blush in embarrassment. It earned her a standing ovation from the audience in Limoges.

Live In France: The 1966 Concert In Limoges is an ear-tingling experience for anyone intent on learning about the roots of rock and roll. In 1966, Tharpe had already released several songs and albums, beginning in the late 1930s. She became well known for playing gospel music, but her electric guitar and vocals added a new dimension. One spin through the performance at the Limoges, and you’ll understand just how vital Sister Rosetta Tharpe was to rock and roll…and all the soulful brimstone and blustering goodness that comes with it.

~ Shawn Perry

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