Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Gavin Bryars

  • Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet [Point Music, 1993] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet [Point Music, 1993]
It's 1971 in the streets around London's Waterloo Station. With halting certainty, an old homeless man--"tramp," the term was--sings one stanza of a hymn a cappella. Takes about 25 seconds. The stanza is looped, with "classical" accompaniment that grows gradually grander. In the original 25-minute version it repeated some 50 times; this CD lasts 74 minutes, so make that 150 or so. Doesn't matter--if you're like me, you never get tired of it. You hum it to yourself, murmur the words, eventually sing it aloud, unable to resist a show of expression that reveals only your own banality. Some complain that at this length the piece is overblown, but as a devotee of ordinary voices, I much prefer it to Bryars's 1995 expansion of the B-side, the "classical" documentary The Sinking of the Titanic. I'm ready to swear the "composer"'s--really arranger's--writing never once obtrudes on the voice or the conviction it embodies. Even Tom Waits bellowing along in a star-time cameo does the tramp's song not the slightest violence. My only regret is that we never get to hear the whole hymn. The tramp is the true star, and he deserves his say. A-