Things are looking up for The Harlem Gospel Travelers, who return here with a new album, a new lineup, and a new lease on life. Produced by Eli Paperboy Reed, LookUp! marks the group’s first full-length release as a trio, as well as their first collection of totally original material, and it couldn’t have come at a more vital moment. The music still draws deeply on the gospel quartet tradition of the ’50s and ’60s, of course, but there’s a distinctly modern edge to the record, an unmistakable reflection of the tumultuous past few years of pandemic anxiety, political chaos, and social unrest. The songs are bold and resilient, facing down doubt and despair with faith and perseverance, and the performances are explosive and ecstatic, fueled by dazzling vocal arrangements punctuated with gritty bursts of guitar and crunchy rhythm breaks.
Born out of a non-profit music education program led by Reed, The Harlem Gospel Travelers—singers Thomas Gatling, George Marage, and Dennis Bailey—released their debut LP, He’s On Time, to rave reviews in 2019, with Pop Matters hailing the album’s “musical transcendence” and AllMusic praising it as “dreamlike and joyous.” The record charted on Billboard, earned the Travelers high profile fans like Elton John (who invited them to appear on his Rocket Hour radio show on Apple Music), and landed them festival slots everywhere from Pilgrimage to Telluride Jazz.