Washington Phillips is like a ghost. Information about him is slim, and there exist only a handful of low quality black and white photographs to determine who he was. Phillips released four shellac 10 inches for Columbia in the late 1920s – the label had already built an impressive catalogue of jazz and blues artists, including Bessie Smith in their successful 14000-D Race series.
In terms of sound quality, every effort has been made to clear up the original masters but as with all records from this time, the level of white noise weighs heavily on the listening experience.
Though he does not possess the same nakedly emotive power of some of his peers, his mellow sincerity is nothing short of spectacular.
‘Gospel’ is spare and simplistically powerful, and ranks alongside the work of greats Blind Willie Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson as some of the most soulful and relevant early gospel/blues recorded. His dolceola work gives the records surprising novelty value, which has propelled the material toward an unwarranted degree of reverence within the genre. Like Dock Boggs he sits to one side of the blues canon, with one foot in and one foot out. The title track is nothing short of sensational, with both parts of ‘Denomination Blues’ oozing conviction and class. Together with his one-of-a-kind voice, Phillips created a small but significant legacy delivered with utmost belief, deserving to be heard again and again.