FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Continuing a journey that began eight years ago, Daptone Records is proud to announce the release of The Como Mamas' Get An Understanding, on February 5, 2013. The new album is the follow-up to 2008's acclaimed Daptone gospel compilation Como Now: The Voices of Panola County, Mississippi. The Como Mamas, who have been singing together in church since they were children, are: Ester Mae Smith and sisters Angela Taylor and Della Daniels.
Daptone Records has a track-record of bringing immensely-talented but previously lesser-known performers like Sharon Jones, Charles Bradley and Naomi Shelton & The Gospel Queens to a wider audience, and they have clearly come upon another revelatory vocal force in The Como Mamas. As label founder Gabriel Roth – who executive produced the album with label co-founder Neal Sugarman – explains, "Whether you're talking about hip-hop, country & western, blues or Mozart, all music tries to do the same basic thing: put feeling into sound. The Como Mamas do that just about as close to perfect as you can."
Como Now and this latest Como-related release were both produced by sound recordist Michael Reilly, who first visited Como, Mississippi's Mt. Mariah Baptist Church in 2005. Although Como Now preceded it on record store shelves, the new Get An Understanding was actually recorded earlier, in June of 2005, live at Mt. Mariah, during Reilly's first visit.
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Producer Reilly describes the Como Mamas' humble and history-soaked home turf in the album's liner notes: "Mt. Mariah Church is a humble wood structure built in the early 1900s. Surrounding the small church is a cemetery in which several of the singers' relatives are buried. Notably, Della and Angela's grandfather Miles Pratcher lies there, a guitar player, songwriter, and consummate entertainer who kept the family laughing through good and bad times. He often played music on the porch with fiddlers and other guitar players including the great Mississippi Fred McDowell. Della and Esther remember when famed folklorist Alan Lomax visited their house in 1959 to record some of these porch sessions. It was on this same journey through Panola County that Lomax first learned of Otha Turner and the fife and drum music, which he would later come to consider his greatest discovery."
On Get An Understanding, the women expand upon the vocal journey first shared with the wider world on Como Now, where they brought the spirit to Daptone fans with "Jesus Builds A Fence Around Me," "Send Me I'll Go" and the impossible-to-ignore "Trouble In My Way" (the latter also featuring vocalist Mary Moore).
Unsurprisingly, the thirteen selections on the new album are chiefly traditional, time-tested gospel hymns, with Thomas Dorsey's "God Is Good To Me" and Rev. James Cleveland's beautiful "Peace of Mind" representing relatively more modern compositional fare. From the tender opener "Old Landmark," to the rafter-rattling "I'm Going Home To Jesus," the album is stirring and intense from start to finish. Listeners will find it impossible to walk away without being moved by the album's raw, heartfelt emotion and power, captured simply and starkly by producer Reilly in ways not so far removed from his idol Alan Lomax, who visited Como more than a half-century ago.
As Reilly recounts in the album liners, "Della, Ester and Angela believe whole-heartedly that these songs have the power to help and inspire people in their everyday lives. As Della put it, 'We just want folks to listen and get an understanding.'"
Daptone's Gabriel Roth concludes, "With all Daptone titles, we're trying to do the same thing: create records that make us proud, records that are soulful and real. Get An Understanding is the essence of that. We hope that listeners will take the time and get all the way into it, because it's worth the journey."
Get An Understanding will be released worldwide on Daptone Records, February 5, 2013 on CD, LP and digital platforms.
DAPTONE RECORDS is a Brooklyn, NY-based record label and analog recording studio. Founded in 2001 by musicians Gabriel Roth and Neal Sugarman, Daptone is the premier source for today's best funk, soul and gospel music. With its stable of world class musicians, its trademark penchant for analog production, and a firm foundation originally built upon sales of 45 rpm singles, Daptone is now one of the top independent record labels in the world. Daptone artists include: Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Charles Bradley, The Budos Band, Menahan Street Band, Antibalas, The Sugarman 3, Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens and The Como Mamas. Related Labels: Dunham and Ever-Soul.
Michael Reilly is a New York City-based sound recordist and producer. Originally from Texas, he draws inspiration from the mid-20th Century music of the American South. He is currently producing records for both gospel and soul groups invoking the sound and spirit of this classic musical period
The Como Mamas
Get An Understanding
In 2005, my friend Will, Matt, and I took a trip down south with the intention of filming a documentary about local musicians. A fortunate turn of events lead us to Como, Mississippi and eventually to the kitchen table of Angela Taylor, where our journey took an exciting turn. Ester Mae Smith and Angela’s sister Della Daniels were also sitting around the table for the interview, and when Angela mentioned in passing that the three of them had been singing gospel together since they were kids, Will asked them if they might sing a song for us. Without hesitation, they delivered a rendition of “Peace of Mind” which gave us all chills. Later as we drove away, I told my friends that I had to come back with proper recording equipment and recorded them. Throughout the rest of the trip, we listened to the recording of “Peace of Mind” over and over. It gave us focus and made the journey feel purposeful.
It was nearly a year later before matt and I were able to return to Como, and the three women remained skeptical that anyone wanted to hear an album of them singing a cappella gospel. Despite their doubts, they graciously agreed to let us record them singing the songs they grew up singing in the very building in which they grew up singing them, Mt. Mariah Church.
Mt. Mariah is a humble wood structure built in the early 1900s. Surrounding the small church is a cemetery in which several of the singers’ relatives are buried. Notably, Della and Angela’s grandfather Miles Pratcher lies there, a guitar player, songwriter, and consummate entertainer who kept the family laughing through good and bad times. He often played music on the porch with fiddlers and other guitar players including the great Mississippi Fred McDowell. Della and Ester remember when famed folklorist Alan Lomax visited their house in 1959 to record some of these porch sessions. It was on this same journey through Panola County that Lomax first learned of Otha Turner and the fife and drum music, which he would later come to consider his greatest discovery. I would return to Mt. Mariah again to record many local singers for the album that would be release as Como Now.
On the evening before the session, we setup our microphones and started to do some test recording in the church as the women warmed up by singing a few hymns and picking through the songs they would perform. The next morning, a sweltering June Saturday in Mississippi, Angela, Della, and Ester Mae returned to Mt. Mariah warmed up and full of fire, stood at the front of the church, and sang the entirety of the record you hold in your hands.
Ester Mae Smith leads the Como Mamas on most of this record with her powerful, raspy voice. She is a bottomless well of spirituality and has a unique instrument that many in Como consider anointed by God. She came up during a very tough time. She says she is infinitely grateful to God for giving her the resources to raise two kids who never had to pick cotton, wear clothes made from old flour sacks, or go hungry in lean times like she did. Life has never really eased up on her much and so she puts the whole weight of her struggle into her singing and preaching. For Ester, preaching which is indistinguishable from singing much of the time helps her deal with the trails in her life. In the past couple of years she has been preaching more and more as a guest preacher. The response from people has been very strong. People can tell when someone is conveying the truth. A couple of the towns away in Batesville, Ester has been asked back several times to speak to the men in jail there because the response has been so positive. Someday she hopes to have her own permanent ministry at a church in Como. She suspects she would be the first woman in Panola County to do so.
Angela Taylor is the youngest of the three Mamas. She lives next door to her sister, Della on Highway 310, which runs east/west through Como. She has a deep, soothing round voice that fills out the Mamas’ tone. Kevin and Kendrick are her two boys and they mirror her relaxed easygoing way. Kevin is a truck driver and is also a member of a local rap group. Angela doesn’t love all the lyrics he comes up with but she is open-minded about his music and recognizes the same passion in him that she has for singing gospel. When I ask her if there are any young musicians in Como picking up the old songs and spirituals they were taught at an early age she answers unequivocally, “nope.” “They want to sing newer songs” she explains, “and they want louder and louder music to accompany them.” However, Angela says that real gospel will always abide if for no other reason than the fact that people still cherish the classic recordings of Aretha Franklin, Mahalia Jackson, and Dorothy Love Coates that inspired her so much.
Della Daniels is a fiercely independent energetic woman who in addition to singing in the group has also taken on the role of bandleader. She is ambitious and has always wanted to sing in a big way. At eighteen years old, she wrote a song conveying her heart broken story of love lost and sent it off to Nashville. Her pain doubled when an invitation to record in Nashville returned and her mother forbade her to go, fearing that a young country girl would be taken advantage of. She later left Como for some time and lived in Memphis where she worked a couple of odd jobs before landing at a hospital. She has been working in hospitals ever since and is now a phlebotomist. Married early on in her life, she split with her husband after 6 or 7 years, frustrated because he refused to work and supporting both of them fell entirely on her. They weren’t a good match and to borrow a term Angela introduced to me, were “unequally yoked.”
Della, Ester, and Angela believe whole-heartedly that these songs have the power to help and inspire people in their everyday lives. As Della put it, “we just want folks to listen and get an understanding.”
- Michael Reilly