T.L. Barrett is a complicated figure. Context colors perceptions of the man. To many on Chicago’s South Side, Barrett has been known for more than four decades as an activist and pastor, an influential figure in the city’s black community, and an active participant in numerous projects and initiatives intended to improve social and economic conditions on the South Side. To record collectors, he’s known for recording the classic, much-sought gospel record Like A Ship…(Without A Sail). To the Illinois legal system, he’s the man who fronted a series of pyramid schemes that defrauded thousands of people (for which Barrett was ordered to pay restitution to avoid a prison sentence). Among his supporters at one time, were Jesse Jackson and former Chicago mayor Eugene Sawyer. To his parishioners, Barrett (who continues to minister) acts as a social conscious by preaching a doctrine of personal responsibility, and is a champion of economic development. To music critics and collectors, he was the purveyor of top-notch gospel recordings. The one certainty Barrett proves is that the complexities and contrasting elements of lives are what make individuals so compelling.
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Like A Ship... (Without A Sail)
Chicago pastor and activist T.L. Barrett’s rare gospel soul classic Like A Ship… (Without A Sail) is finally receiving a much-needed reissue. Long revered by record collectors, this album remains one of the holy grails of gospel soul. Self-released in 1971, Like A Ship was the result of Barrett channeling his passion for music, a determination to keep children off the streets, and his charismatic preaching (which attracted the likes of Earth, Wind & Fire and Donny Hathaway to his sermons at Mount Zion Baptist Church) into the production of the album, a project bolstered by the saxophonist and arranger Gene Barge of the famed Chess Records, and backed by a cast of players that included Richard Evans, Phil Upchurch and the rapturous vocals of the Youth For Christ Choir. Like A Ship… is filled with sanctified grooves and spiritual praise delivered with a righteous, infectious chorus.