Famous L. Renfroe - Children


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“A long time ago I used to hear spiritual singers singing beautiful songs and I wanted to be a singer too. I first started my musical career by singing in small local groups in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. In the year 1968 I came to Seattle and started singing with local groups, but failed to find one that was stable enough to record (with) so I decided to cut an album by myself. The music was written and produced by myself who except for the drum parts, done the entire record.” – Famous L. Renfroe

The above quote is the only known context for this incredible, singular, album by Famous L. Renfroe or, as he dubbed himself, The Flying Sweet Angel of Joy. 1968’s Children was reissued in 2008 courtesy of Fat Possum Records, but the details of the album’s original release and reception remain scant.

DIY in approach, there is a homespun, ramshackle fidelity to Children, thanks in no small part to Renfroe essentially performing the entirety of the record by himself. Renfroe’s earnest, gospel delivery comes through in both his singing and his playing and the, presumably, one-take nature of the album really hits home. What’s more, is that Renfroe effortlessly blends his gospel inspiration with a stew of American roots music, resulting in a record that is at once gospel, blues, soul and funk.

As openers go, “Introduction” truly lives up to its title, as it riffs on the aforementioned genres and finds Renfroe declaring himself “The Flying Angel of Joy” who will “fly, fly, into your heart.” “Children” is a slower, more meditative gospel, carried along by wordless humming, while “Believe” rides a funky guitar rhythm, accented by lo-fi, almost tin can-like drums. “It’s So” – a bluesy instrumental with some real vampy guitar – is probably the funkiest cut on here, while other tracks lock into repetitive hymn-like grooves, and create a kind of hypnotic experience akin to attending a revival. It’s at time hard to believe Renfroe actually recorded all the backing vocals himself, as they vary so greatly in pitch and tone — some of the voices truly sound female. Not only is there no proof to the contrary, but each track finds Renfroe delivering such dramatically different lead vocals that it could just as well be true.

Children is one of those singular gems of idiosyncrasy and naturalism, a seamless blend of American form, which we tend to worship. But, as Renfroe would say, “tell it to Jesus…”