Two of Dust To Digital’s recent releases, Rev Johnny L Jones The Hurricane That Hit Atlanta and the book and CD bundle Ain’t No Grave, a bio of Appalachian preacher Brother Claude Ely are two parts of a lineage. If Brother Claude Ely is the raw material, red raw vocal chords stripped by screaming, Jones is a mark further along that lineage, watered down - but not to its detriment - where sermons are songs (in the conventional sense) with electric guitars.
Asked about why they started calling him ‘The Hurricane’, Jones says: “The hurricane starts off slowly, slowly slowly, and as long as there’s the process, the faster, the faster, the faster she gets, and when she gets a certain speed, that’s when she’s dangerous.”
Listening to the two in sequence, this idea of a snowballing force is better applied to Brother Claude Ely than Jones, but it’s the idea that connects them: the sermon as a cumulation of dynamic energy. The final track on the CD with Brother Claude Ely is a 40 minute long sermon on how “lingerin’ could be your doom”, which swells from a fairly vanilla reading to loud, fierce preaching, exploding in its final minutes into a terrifying, rhythmic screaming, where an extra syllable is added on every beat - “that thing that was keeping me from the Holy Ghost-ah” - that snags, picking you up and pulling you downstream, past where the words cease to be clearly distinguishable; past the content to the pure propulsive rhythm of the voice stretched to a base squall.
Johnny L Jones isn’t so exhaustingly intense - he’s not after putting the fear of God in you so much as he is after using song as a means of worship. All the same it contains that dynamic, tempered and vocally refined so it retains the richness and melodiousness of his voice, and leaning more on a call and response than a syllabic marker, but it’s there, and it lulls and rolls you past rationalism and reason into the hands of God, just like Brother Claude Ely is terrifying enough to make you put up your hands in surrender and book yourself in for a baptism.