Soul, Peace & Love Volume 1
The European media have raved about
the authentic artistry of composer, vocalist and pianist Liz McComb for over
two decades. The Parisien once hailed her "une merveille", a wonder.
For the continental press corps, McComb is a fresh troubadour of an indigenous
Americana art form that was once lost, but has now been embraced by the 40
and under crowd around the world who flock to concerts by soul veterans such
as Bettye LaVette, Solomon Burke, Candi Staton and the sanctified Clarence
Fountain & the Blind Boys.
McComb’s latest recording is destined to be heard by the entire globe for it was recorded at diverse spots around the earth’s axis to give it the unique musical flavor of that region yet the project is united by its themes of soul, love and peace.
It’s almost an insult to refer to McComb as an artist for the term artist indicates entertainment. She is not an entertainer. She is a channel through which the past speaks to the present and the message McComb heralds cannot be contained within
a single disc.
So, McComb is disseminating this clarion
call through a poignant CD trilogy that commences with, “Soul, Peace
& Love Volume 1.” An angel with human wings that have hugged hurt,
pain and joy - McComb wraps her soul around this soulful open letter to mankind
that it’s time to make peace and give love to each other.
The musical epistle opens with a unique revamping of “When the Saints Go Marching In” that fuses the street jargon of rapper Tony Dorsey with McComb’s raspy pulpit testifying against a backdrop of New Orleans horn and drum lines that is a crafty innovation on a century old Dixieland jazz paean.
It’s the jazzy inflections that set McComb apart from her peers.
Whereas, most soul singers simply call upon their church roots McComb calls upon the church and the Cotton Club stylings of Billie Holiday and other jazz greats to color her tunes.The improvisation, the syncopated chord patterns, the hushed moans, the cathartic wails and the aggressively Pentecostal approach to the keyboard makes her work something beyond this astral plane. Listen to her vocal caressing on the gorgeous “Silver & Gold” which is enhanced by a supple cello and this is a voice that is heard in no ordinary church service. It’s as if McComb has conjured the spirit of Sarah Vaughn and brought it into the new millennium.
McComb also takes the listener to an urban block party for the festive funk of “Can’t Nobody Know My Trouble” backed by the First Church of St. Luke in her native Cleveland, OH. Then, it’s off to Paris for the breath taking anthem, “Peacemakers” that was recorded with the Maitrise de Paris children’s choir. From there, McComb takes on a divine visage on the beautiful “Come Back Lover” that has an old school soul nuance with its spicy organ fills. Harold Johnson (organist) and McComb (piano) really press their feet to the pedal on the rollicking, “God Made A Miracle,” that will have hips gyrating and hands waving around the planet.
Life can be a rollercoaster, so McComb
takes us up and down to convey certain moods, the highs and the low. The whimsical
stirrings of “Silver & Gold” are reflective and quiet while
the funk of “You Ain’t Christian Enough” (featuring the
Greater Mt. Carmel Celebration Choir with Bubby Fann in Berlin, NJ) bubbles
with echoes of psychedelica (think of the space age synthesizer sound Ike
Turner crafted at his Bolic studios in the 1970s)
In a classic call and response, her ole buddies, Clarence Fountain & the Blind Boys of Alabama, on the stirring “For Your Love is Better Than Wine”, join McComb. She then saunters down to Guadeloupe for “By the Rivers of Babylon,” a rousing a cappella sing-a-long featuring the Dyapason Quartet. McComb travels north again to Indianapolis and pitches a tent with Bishop Al Hobbs and the Eastern Star Church Choir for a soft, powerful piano anthem, “Let There Be Light.” Perhaps, the most poignant lyric in the entire oeuvre is when McComb passionately asks, “What would I give in exchange for my soul?” on the stripped- down southern blues of “The Rich Man.” It’s a question for us all as we wrestle with life’s temptations of materialism, self-indulgence and selfishness.
Assuming we’ve learned the lessons of this life and sought universal brotherhood as our mission, we are then qualified for a seat in Heaven. At that point, with the Dyapason quartet egging her on, McComb asks, “Oh Lord, when you come into your kingdom, please remember me,” on the Bossa Nova-styled CD finale, “Remember Me.”
The sixth of a brood of seven children,
McComb has always had a way of making people remember her. Her father worked
in a factory and her mother was a housekeeper. It was a close-knit family
from Cleveland's Glenville neighborhood. Her father died when she was very
young -- she doesn't recall her age. "You remember what you want to remember,"
McComb began singing at age three. She and her sisters sang in a group called the Daughters of Zion. As a teenager, she imbibed jazz artists like Nat Cole. "Billie was too heavy for me to get into," she smiles. She joined the Cleveland community theater, Karamu House, and further developed her performance skills. Then, she went to New York with hope of becoming a Broadway star. Her cousin Annie had lived and worked in Europe and knew a big concert promoter there. She got McComb to send an audition tape to the promoter. In the early 1980s he put her to work in Europe as one of the Jean Austin Singers and then, as a member of the "Roots of Rock `N' Roll" where she opened for the legendary late gospel singer Bessie Griffin.
Over the next decade, McComb performed on bills with Ray Charles, James Brown, Taj Mahal and other musical luminaries. She even worked while taking care of her best friend, who eventually died of AIDS complications. It was during that stressful period that she met the owner of the Neuilly Cotton Club, Gerard Vacher. Soon, Vacher became McComb’s manager and shepherded her ascent to the top of the European stage.
Through the years, McComb has recorded a dozen fine albums for recording labels such as EMI and Back to Blues; but this “Soul, Peace & Love” trilogy is likely to become her signature work as it is clearly a masterpiece. “God has brought me to a level now to really be a vessel for him," she says. "So no matter what has gone on in my life or the steps I have had to take to get there, some have not been beautiful -- some have made me sing the blues. Sometimes we have to walk that walk in order to be assured in God. I think a lot of the young people want to do gospel but they ain't never lived nothing or they want to do a record just to do a record, but it doesn't have any substance. The word that I say now is real. "