To make his debut album, In Times Like These, noted activist, author, documentary filmmaker and theologian Rev. Osagyefo Sekou went back to his Southern home searching for his family’s musical roots in the deep Arkansas blues and gospel traditions. Produced by six-time Grammy nominated Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, featuring Luther’s brother Cody Dickinson, and supported by Thirty Tigers, Rev. Sekou’s debut solo album is a new vision for what Southern blues and rock can mean today. In Times Like These is drenched with the sweat and tears of the Mississippi River, the great tributary that ties so much of the South together. The album’s sonic landscape captures the toil of Southern field hands, the guttural cry of chain gangs, the vibrancy of contemporary street protest, backwoods juke joints, and shotgun churches—all saturated with Pentecostal sacred steel and soul legacy.
Rev. Sekou’s blues lineage runs deep. Rev. Sekou's biological grandfather, Richard Braselman played with legends like Louis Jordan, Albert King, and B.B. King. The grandfather, Rev. James Thomas, who raised Sekou, was an ordained Elder in the Church of God in Christ and a railroad union organizer. Carrying the legacy of his grandfathers, Rev. Sekou is a Pentecostal bluesman. During the recording of In Times Like These, Rev. Sekou made a pilgrimage home to Zent, Arkansas and stood at his beloved grandparents gravesite. “I had to go home, smell the air, and be in the presence of the folks who gave me the best pieces of themselves to make me who I am,” Rev. Sekou says. In Times Like These is actually Rev. Sekou’s second outing. In January 2016, Rev. Sekou and the Holy Ghost released the critically acclaimed album, The Revolution Has Come. The single—“We Comin'”—was named the new anthem for the modern Civil Rights movement by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
In Times Like These’s opening song, “Resist,” opens with a rousing speech given by Rev. Sekou at a rally in Ferguson, Missouri, protesting the shooting of Michael Brown. Upon hearing about Brown’s death, Sekou immediately returned to his hometown of St. Louis, MO, taking to the streets in a series of protests and interfaith demonstrations that led to his being arrested multiple times. “Resist” surrounds the listener with the spirit of protest. An homage to Standing Rock— the song’s driving bass line, blaring horns, and potent lyrics champion a long line of freedom fighters. The images of Ferguson’s protests are burned into Sekou’s mind even today, and led to his moving cover of Bob Marley’s classic, “Burnin’ and Lootin’,” which captures the feeling of the riots. “In Times Like These”—the album’s title track—confronts the sense of helplessness that many feel in this current political moment. Carried by congas and explosive steel guitar, the song moves around the central line “In times like this, ain’t no one going to save us, we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
While the record speaks to the current political moment, there is more at stake.
Three generations of musicians play on In Times Like These—each with their own intergenerational connections to the music. Luther Dickinson, and his brother Cody Dickinson, form the critically acclaimed North Mississippi Allstars. They are the sons of the late Jim Dickinson who recorded with Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, and Bob Dylan and founded Zebra Ranch Studios, where the album was recorded. The album also includes legendary Hammond B3 player, Rev. Charles Hodges, known for his collaborations with Al Green as part of the famed Hi Records/Stax Rhythm Section. AJ Ghent—pedal and slide steel guitarist from Fort Pierce, Florida, brought his mastery of the “Sacred Steel” tradition, founded by his grandfather. Background vocalist Raina Sokolov from New York brings a singular jazz and soul sound, and her mother, Lisa Sokolov, performed with Alice Coltrane. Art Edmaiston—tenor and baritone saxophones—has played with Bobby “Blue” Bland and William Bell, and Marc Franklin has played trumpet for Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, and Buddy Guy. Packed into the Zebra Ranch Studios, it was Rev. Sekou’s voice that soared above all of these amazing artists, drawing them into his undercurrents of soul, gospel, and blues, with the voice of a preacher cresting the wave of this powerful music.
In Times Like These is an intense blend of late North Mississippi Hill Country Music, Arkansas Delta Blues, 1960s Rock and Roll, Memphis Soul, Chuck Berry St Louis vibes, and Pentecostal steel guitar. Written in the shadow of the divisive 2016 election, the album is testament to the enduring power of protest music and a call-to-arms for a new generation looking to resist.