The Harlem Gospel Travelers announced their new album Look for!, released September 16 via Colemine Records. Produced by acclaimed soul singer-songwriter Eli Paperboy Reed, Look Up! marks the band’s first full release as a trio, as well as their first collection of totally original material. The music still draws deeply from the gospel quartet tradition of the 50s and 60s, but there is a decidedly modern edge to the record, an unmistakable reflection of the tumultuous past years of pandemic anxiety, political chaos and social unrest. . The album announcement is accompanied by a video for the title track.
Born out of a non-profit music education program run by Reed, The Harlem Gospel Travelers – singers Thomas Gatling, George Marage and Dennis Bailey – released their debut album, He’s On Time, to rave reviews in 2019, with PopMatters hailing the album “musical transcendence” and AllMusic praising it as “dreamlike and joyful”. The record charted on Billboard, earned the travelers high-profile fans like Elton John (who invited them to appear on his Rocket Hour radio show on Apple Music), and landed them festival tickets everywhere from Pilgrimage to Telluride Jazz.
It would be easy to classify Look Up! like “retro” or “vintage”, but the truth is that the young men of The Harlem Gospel Travelers don’t just bring the sounds of the past to life, they revitalize them for the present and remind us how relevant this music is (and always has been) in times of difficulty and uncertainty. “The gospel is the foundation of everything,” says Gatling. “Country, folk, rock, soul, blues; we love everything, and it’s all in there.
Gatling and his traveling companions all knew gospel music to one degree or another growing up, but it wasn’t until they met Reed that they began to learn about the rich history of the gospel quartet and timeless bands. like The Soul Stirrers, The Dixie Hummingbirds and The Swan Silvertones. In high school, Gatling and Marage participated in a nonprofit music education program known as Gospel For Teens, which invited children from all over New York City to come to Harlem and sing along after school.
“I was invited to visit the program and thought it was great,” says Reed, “but it was choral music only. I asked if they would ever consider doing a quartet program for young men, and they told me they would like to do it, but they didn’t have a teacher. So Reed became the teacher, working with five or six teenagers at a time for semester-long programs aimed at broadening students’ perspective on what gospel music could be and harnessing the true power of their voices. Participants have come and gone over the years, but some have stayed and begun to suggest the kind of talent and ambition that went beyond just an after-school program.
“I started working with Thomas when he was 13 or 14,” Reed recalls, “and he was the driving force behind that transformation in more than just a class. He would bring his own song ideas, and then that he and George and some of the guys in the band were starting to age off the program, I realized we had to get them in the studio, and so The Harlem Gospel Travelers were born, along with Bailey (a college friend of Gatling) joining the band after the release of He’s On Time.
Look Up! will be released on September 16 via Colemine Records.
Look for! List of tracks:
1. Look up!
2. Wait (joy is coming)
3. God controls
4. Help me understand
5. Nothing But Her Love
7. Keep your head up
8. This Is The Reason
9. Let Me Tell You
10. God will take care of you
11. I am grateful
July 23: Staten Island, New York – Maker Park Radio
August 3: Bloomington, IN – Buskirk Chumley Theater
August 4: Springfield, IL – Levitt Pavilion
August 5: Chicago, IL – Chop Shop
September 1: Brooklyn, New York – Baby is fine