Glen David Andrews
Walking Through Heaven’s Gate
Threadhead Records
By John Swenson
February, 2009

As we make our way through the fourth year after the Federal flood, the burden of maintaining the city’s historic culture has fallen on the shoulders of young artists who’ve been forced to assume the mantle of elders before their time. No one epitomizes this more dramatically than Glen David Andrews, who went from being one of the bad boys of the brass band culture to a steward of some of the city’s most revered institutions.

Walking Through Heaven’s Gate is a live performance at Zion Hill Baptist Church is a documentary, a tribute to the tangible as well as the symbolic importance of this music to the lives of people who’ve grown up in New Orleans. The gospel churches are often the strongest institutions in the poorest neighborhoods, and Zion Hill’s place in the Treme community has influenced countless New Orleans musicians. The material here is as traditional as gospel can get, but unlike much traditional music played in New Orleans; this is not aimed at tourists or conventioneers. It’s an attempt to provide the listener with a sense of what these services are like from the perspective of the people who attend them.

As a result, there is none of the false sincerity or showboating that mars so many of the rote performances of the Bourbon Street traditionalists. There is also a total lack of ego in the performance, which is very important in this music. Instead, it’s a collective product in which the anonymous choir’s contribution is more important than the outstanding solo turns performed by John Boutte (singing “Battle Hymn of the Republic”) and Troy Andrews (playing trumpet on “We Will Walk Through the Streets of the City” and “Family”). And though Glen David Andrews is the producer, arranger and principal vocalist, he is remarkably opaque throughout, just part of a family.

In any context, Andrews is a charismatic vocalist whose improvisational skills and command over any situation he’s involved in places him among the top ranks of New Orleans singers, so it’s not really surprising that he handles the gospel canon with the authority and persuasiveness of an experienced preacher. He has had his troubles over the years, and he really sells the idea of this music’s redemptive spirit. When he wards off the devil, it feels as animate as Robert Johnson’s blues encounters with a similar demon.

The ad hoc nature of this recording leaves some dead spaces, awkward transitions and big dynamic gaps in which certain sections are monumental, while others make you wonder what happened to your playback system. Though it’s hard not to suppose such problems could have been avoided, the raw power of the event itself makes this an important document and suggests that there are very few limits to the potential of Glen David Andrews’ vocal talent.                           HOME