by Jon Ward
Gospel, roots trio The Como Mamas, is a Mississippi based group that digs deep into their delta roots. The trio of heavenly voices is Ester Mae Wilbourn, Della Daniels, and Angela Taylor.
A regularly performing trio, things began to turn around in 2005, when producer Michael Reilly found this trio of wonderment while in their hometown of Como, in Panola County, Mississippi. This is not their first time in the recording studio, and the ladies can be heard on the gospel compilation Como Now, in 2008, for Daptone Records, which in 2013 released Get An Understanding, recorded acapella in the Mount Mariah CME Church, in Como.
In late 2015, after a successful three-night engagement at the famed Apollo Theater, in Harlem, they recorded Move Upstairs at Daptone House of Soul, in Brooklyn, New York. Backing them on this session was the labels’ house band aka The Glorifiers Band, who have backed everyone from Amy Winehouse to Sharon Jones, and can be likened to the famed The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. They too, are a tight unit that can deliver the goods. Done in a traditional manner, the songs are structured on the standard gospel call and response arrangements, and the band plays their supporting role to perfection, never overpowering the vocals, and opting for a supportive sound.
Like most well-oiled gospel groups, the trio has been singing together at the CME Church for many years, and their resolute to sacred music is joyfully convincing. Wilbourn has a commanding voice and is the lead vocal in the trio lineup. Based on her biography, most of the songs draws from her personal conviction and are inspired by the trials of her years of life. Daniels, has a polished tone, and as the CV reads is the groups’ spiritual leader, her affinity for singing has always been evident, and invitations, in younger days, to record in Nashville were offered regularly. Taylor is Daniels’ younger sister, and the addition to the trio connects the overall sound with resounding presence.
Opening with the title track “Move Upstairs,” the group travels a convicted pace that sets the tone for the soulful journey ahead, telling it like it is “Out of The Wilderness,” resonates with a powerful message. On the funky “Count Your Blessings,” Daniels takes over the lead vocal, and shines in a MI-SS-I-SS-I-PP-I way that gets swampy and sweet.
“He’s Calling Me,” originally made famous by Dorothy Love and the Original Gospel Harmonettes, is taken to task, the ladies slow it down a bit and dig into the depth of the tune with a nicely fashioned rendition. The classic “99 And A Half Won’t Do,” is given a working song vibe, and the ladies definitely give it much more than 99.5%. On “Glory Glory Hallelujah,” the trio opts for a mournful acapella treatment of this perennial classic. Daniels reprises as the lead vocalist on the closing track “I Know I’ve Been Changed,” an emotional call to action “If you get to heaven before I do” echoes in your mind and the trio gives the tune a revival feeling for a crescendo ending.
The Como Mamas represent what is best about the humble origins of gospel music, and the ladies’ commitment of unwavering diligence to the preservation of the living gospel sound is vibrant and moving. A recording meant to be savored for the ages, filled with soulful performances is a stirring testament of their faith.