But, thanks to Levine, Jack is now back at his mission, playing wild one-man shows that channel the howlin’ wind that ran through the souls of influences like Lewis and Williams as well as the calm waters that coursed through the hearts of Ward and Jackson. Both currents are caught in Pictures from Life’s Other Side, which collects 18 previously unreleased cuts from sessions in 1982 and 1996. Nonetheless, they’re a cohesive display of Preacher Jack sermonizing full-throttle. When he rocks the keys, it’s on classics like Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill” and “I’m in Love Again,” and Elvis’s “All Shook Up.” But some of the most affecting performances are the most reflective. There’s the slow, heart-tugging original instrumental “After Hours” — a sweet, sad blues. The hymns, too. His oaken, barroom-cured voice sounds as durable as the Appalachians, where the Carter Family’s “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” was written. And there’s his beloved Mahalia’s gospel cornerstone “In the Upper Room” as well as a good dose of his hero ol’ Hank: “You Win Again,” “Mind Your Own Business,” “I Could Never Be Ashamed of You.”
As Preacher Jack talks from Levine’s cellphone (they’re hanging out on the street in Salem), the conversation jumps hotly from his original boogie-woogie piano hero, Albert Ammons, to Jackson and Ward, and then to a biography of Lincoln, and to a collection of historic illustrations of Christ, and to the autobiography he’s been writing — apparently on his apartment’s wall. And to his mother, who’s 91 and sings in a choir in Santa Cruz.
Music, he says, is a gift he was first given by his parents, who took him to the church where he heard gospel and played the records that set him on his path. But it was an uncle who taught him something he reflects on when considering the joy he derives from his life as a performer. “He told me,” Preacher Jack explains, “that music is the art of the prophets.”
PREACHER JACK | Church, 69 Kilmarnock St, Boston | July 9 | 617.236.7600 or www.churchofboston.com