Gladys Knight - Where My Heart Belongs (2014)

Gladys Knight
gladys_knight-heart.jpg
Click on CD cover
to listen or purchase

There are plenty of artists who made their mark singing secular music and would have their motivations for making a gospel record questioned. The legendary Gladys Knight, who has released her gospel project Where My Heart Belongs, is not one of those performers.

Knight’s reputation as a performer who never compromised in terms of the quality or message of her songs, both while fronting Gladys Knight & the Pips and as a solo performer, affords her a high level of credibility. Knight recorded gospel songs before, and won two Grammys in the gospel category – one for a duet with Ray Charles and a second for the album One Voice that she recorded with the LDS Saints Unified Voices.

There are plenty of artists who made their mark singing secular music and would have their motivations for making a gospel record questioned. The legendary Gladys Knight, who has released her gospel project Where My Heart Belongs, is not one of those performers.

Knight’s reputation as a performer who never compromised in terms of the quality or message of her songs, both while fronting Gladys Knight & the Pips and as a solo performer, affords her a high level of credibility. Knight recorded gospel songs before, and won two Grammys in the gospel category – one for a duet with Ray Charles and a second for the album One Voice that she recorded with the LDS Saints Unified Voices.

Knight even recorded two inspirational songs written by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch. And let’s be real. Church folk don’t vacate the premises when the DJ at the family reunion plays “Midnight Train To Georgia,” “With Every Beat of My Heart,” “Love Overboard,” or “Papa Could Swear,” at the family reunion. Her music – religious or secular – is about as close to universally loved as an entertainer can get.

So, Knight is an American institution, and any qualms Knight fans or gospel music fans have with the record won’t be related to genre. Knight, who added a touch of Memphis to her version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” and provided additional heat to torch songs such as “If I Was Your Woman,” does not give listeners what they expect on Where My Heart Belongs.

Where My Heart Belongs has more of a contemporary Christian feel than the gospel music that has its roots in the blues and evolved over the years within largely black denominations such as the Missionary Baptists and the Church of God in Christ. Knight joined the Church of Latter Day Saints in the 1990s. Knight created the Grammy winning Saints Unified Voices to – as she jokingly told the late LDS Church president Gordon B. Hinkley - bring a little pep to the music. The LDS has a history of excellent music, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is one of the world’s best and recognizable choral ensembles.

The music on Where My Heart Belongs shows that the LDS church has been as much of an influence on Knight and her music and she has had on the music of that denomination through her leadership of Saints Unified Voices. That can be heard most clearly in Knight’s rendition of the spiritual “Where You There,” which receives the full orchestral treatment on Where My Heart Belongs. Some will believe that the bass drums, brass, strings and tight backing harmonies add drama to the story of Christ’s crucifixion. Others might think all of that orchestration is holding Knight back. I tend to fall into the second camp.

That is especially true after hearing the album’s one up-tempo track, “Life Song,” as well as the R&B infused gospel ballad “In The Midst of the Rain. “ The former sports an arrangement that might remind some long time Knight fans of some of her best work in the 1980s (“Love Overboard” comes immediately to mind.) Any thought that the 70 year old Knight might be slowing down vocally are dismissed after hearing the energy she brings to this tune. The choir also proves that it has no trouble handling flourishes often associated with gospel such as call and response. “In the Midst of the Rain,” is a Christian love song that gives listeners another chance to remember that Knight remains one her generation’s greatest ballad singers.

The restrained nature of Where My Heart Belongs works on many of the tracks partly because Knight remains an excellent singer, the songs are lyrically strong and because the musicians are as restrained as the vocalist. That is the case with tunes such as “I Need You” and the sparse and hauntingly beautiful duet “There is a Green Hill Far Away,” a tune that describes that hill where Christ was crucified and then flows seamlessly into Knight singing the opening lines of “Old Rugged Cross.”

Where My Heart Belongs challenges the expectations and perceptions of long time Knight fans as well as lovers of urban gospel. However, Where My Heart Belongs represents the place where this soulful elder stateswoman resides spiritually and artistically. It is different, but different does not mean bad. It just means different. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
Choice Cut - Maysa - "Lovin' You Is Easy"

Leave a comment!