• Sam Fleming


When you think of gospel music, you probably think of soaring vocals, huge choirs, and overwhelming energy. You likely don’t think of hazy, muted crooning that you could hear any weekend playing a little past 4 am in the backroom of a club. Otis G Johnson’s 1978 album Everything – God is Love is perhaps the strangest sounding gospel album of all time. Johnson makes devotional tunes from another universe. God is watching over us all, but he is obscured by a layer of smog.

A jittery backbeat drives nearly every track on Everything – God is Love. This halting and unpredictable rhythm keeps the project from ever feeling static even though the music itself tends to be quite simple. There are only really three musical elements present on the album. The entire atmosphere is crafted by tinny-sounding programmed drums, a woozy synthetic organ, and Otis Johnson’s truly odd vocal melodies.

Since Everything – God is Love is so simply constructed it feels intensely intimate. At times, it feels like you are listening in to Otis G Johnson’s private conversations with God. When he sings “It's time Almost time to go home to Him” on the song “Time to Go,” it feels like you are eavesdropping. There is no choir or band backing him up, these words feel entirely his own which only accentuates their beauty. Especially when his voice is so muffled that he has to strain to be heard over the backbeat, the music sounds too powerful for even him to comprehend.

It’s nearly impossible to make out many of the words Otis Johnson sings on the project because everything his vocals drip with reverb and delay. While this delay definitely changes the timbre of his vocals, as the project progresses it also becomes clear that Johnson is not a technically skilled singer. He obviously -- and seemingly intentionally -- misses notes on this project, which at first make each track feel like one big joke. Only the emotion and the power which Johnson puts behind his vocals make his intentions clear.

The only constant on the project is the backbeat and striking atonality. This atonality arises primarily because of the odd organ tones and Johnson’s shapeshifting vocals. On one of the more traditional gospel cuts, “All Things” he sings “Whatever the situation whether good or bad, in all things give the lord praise.” These simplistic yet powerful vocals drive the project and are part of what makes the entire album such an engaging listen.

Not every song on Everything – God is Love is downtempo a lo-fi ballad, occasionally Otis G Johnson shows us his lighter side. For example, on the song, “Come Back” the traditional lo-fi drum backing is replaced by a Bossanova-like rhythm as Johnson frantically riffs on the organ. As the tempo speeds up, Johnson loosens up and we get to see a side of him that had been hidden from us up until that point. His playing feels freer and the listener gets to see a whole different side of his personal relationship with the Lord.

Everything – God is Love will be one of the most fascinating listening experiences you have this year. It’s a true testament to a man who would let nothing distract from his relationship with God.

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