As Alexis P. Suter Ministers of Sound take the stage on “Live From Briggs Farm Blues Festival,” Suter, the powerhouse vocalist, says, “It’s great to have church on a day like today.” She’s not the first person to use the church metaphor when it comes to music, especially the gospel and blues she and her bandmates preach. But if we were to take her literally, two things would be true: 1. A lot more people would go to church. 2. There’d be a ton of churches with their roofs blown off from the joyful noise this force-of-nature singer and her band unleashes.
The group kicks it off with “Didn’t It Rain,” a traditional song that tells the familiar tale of Noah’s Ark. Drummer Dave Grappone’s tom-toms and Dave Keys’ piano set a swampy foundation for Suter, with some vocal tags from backing singer Vicki Bell, to do their thing. Continuing on with its self-proclaimed (and apt) “gos-blues,” AMOS slides into “Them Days,” penned by Suter and Bell. It’s a bright, mid-tempo song, not unlike some of the peppy and inspirational numbers favored by the legendary Mavis Staples, and when Suter repeats, “The days are over, over, over/ Them days are gone,” it’s cathartic and celebratory, not mournful.
While Suter’s sheer vocal strength is a given to anyone that has followed her career, it’s songs like “Faith, Grace, Love, Forgiveness,” written and sung by Keyes, that show the dynamic breadth of AMOS. His feathery piano, along with Chris Bergson’s guitar, blend effortlessly behind the straightforward vocal. It’s the softer side of AMOS.
By contrast, “Love,” another Suter/Bell tune, is smooth and funky, and Leon Russell’s “A Song For You” is a slow-burning, gut-wrenching duet with guest vocalist Victor Wainwright.
“Piece Of Clay,” made famous by Marvin Gaye, is another change of pace, lyrically at least, with Suter singing the song as if she wrote — and lived — the words herself, pleading with parents to let their children be their own person rather than try to mold them into an image of themselves.
Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” is welcome on any setlist, as it is here, while the traditional “When I Rose This Morning” has Suter delivering on that church promise again, enthusing over jumping piano and drums that conjure up images of celebrants swaying in their pews on a sweltering day.
Suter and company close out their set, recorded at the long-standing festival in Nescopeck, Pennsylvania, with The Beatles’ “Let It Be,” which might seem like an odd choice for a gospel/blues act, but it fits like a glove. A different tempo from the original gives the arrangement a different air and amped-up sense of yearning, and yes, gospel-drenched bluesiness.
Alexis P. Suter Ministers Of Sound will perform Friday, March 31, at the FM Kirby Center (71 Public Square, Wilkes-Barre, Pa. ) along with Dustin Douglas & The Electric Gentlemen.