“It’s a holy ruckus, a whole lotta shaking, the sacred music of the mountains and the hot fever of boogie….By my lights, it is one of the great American recordings of the century….“Ain’t No Grave” is a resurrection song, which we might consider a spiritual matter; think of Paul writing to the Corinthians, “it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” But Ely’s performance is so undeniably physical. He grunts and yowls and bangs, like a cornered animal. The rapture in Ely’s hands is a sweaty tumult, an athletic feat. This is a song about death, but I know of no performance that so viscerally captures the endurance of being alive, breath by sacred breath. It gives pulse and beat and fury to the words, again from Paul, that everyone who came to see Ely preach and sing would have known by heart: Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?“-David Ramsey, “Lingering Could Be Your Doom.” Oxford American. Winter 2020.
This is amazing. Compare it to this version by Robert ‘Nighthawk’ Johnson.