Percy Sledge - Shining Through the Rain

Percy Sledge
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Three decades after his last hit, it is probably shocking to many that Percy Sledge has released a new studio recording.  Perhaps even more amazing is that he has quietly released a gem like Shining Through the Rain.  In a year that has given us great new releases by sixty-somethings Gary U.S. Bonds and Nancy Wilson, Shining is another, well, shining example that performers long past their commercial peaks -- when teamed with the right material and producers -- can successfully use their years of experience and seasoning to create seminal music.

Three decades after his last hit, it is probably shocking to many that Percy Sledge has released a new studio recording.  Perhaps even more amazing is that he has quietly released a gem like Shining Through the Rain.  In a year that has given us great new releases by sixty-somethings Gary U.S. Bonds and Nancy Wilson, Shining is another, well, shining example that performers long past their commercial peaks -- when teamed with the right material and producers -- can successfully use their years of experience and seasoning to create seminal music.

Similar in many ways to Solomon Burke's outstanding Don't Give Up On Me in 2002, Shining Through the Rain brings together the legendary Sledge with producers and musicians (including here Jakob Dylan, Phil Upchurch and Paul Jones) who have a full appreciation for the artist's past work and who have identified material and organic arrangements that capitalize on his long-developed interpretive skills. In that regard, producers Saul Davis and Barry Goldberg (who also worked with Sledge a decade ago on on his Blue Night album) are to be congratulated for both their vision and execution in putting together perhaps the finest album of Sledge's long career.

Led off by the excellent title cut, Shining is like a long-awaited visit back to the Memphis glory years, where arrangements around guitar, organ and drums, along with well-placed horn sections, provided an identifiably gritty Southern sound that propelled the careers of Booker T, Aretha Franklin and others.  Especially impressive here are Clayton Ivey's ever-present organ Larry Byrom's guitar work, which set the mood for the entire disc. 

Sledge's unusual voice has long been an acquired taste for some listeners, but his soulful renditions of the excellent ballads "Change My Mind," "Fall Inside Your Eyes" and Steve Earle's "My Old Friend the Blues" here are right on.  The upbeat tunes are also impressive, especially Sledge's duet with Jones on the sly "Big Blue Diamonds," instantly one of my favorite songs of the year.

Shining Through The Rain is a wonderful listen from start to finish and a near-perfect combination of top-notch material, arrangements and performances by all involved.  Equally importantly, in a day of musical fragmentation (how else can you explain something like the Modern Gospel Adult Contemporary format?), Shining -- better than any album I've heard this year -- bridges the growing distance between Rock, Blues and Soul and brings them back to their glorious, common origins.  Highly recommended.

by Chris Rizik

 
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