Gladys Knight - Before Me (2006)

Gladys Knight
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In an era when it seems that every popular singer of the 70s is cutting an album of standards, it was only a matter of time before a truly seminal vocalist like Gladys Knight would try it.  And on Before Me she certainly brings strong company with her, including legendary producers Tommy LiPuma and Phil Ramone, and top players like Joe Sample and Jeff Porcaro.  But Before Me, while well made, fails to reach greatness.

In an era when it seems that every popular singer of the 70s is cutting an album of standards, it was only a matter of time before a truly seminal vocalist like Gladys Knight would try it.  And on Before Me she certainly brings strong company with her, including legendary producers Tommy LiPuma and Phil Ramone, and top players like Joe Sample and Jeff Porcaro.  But Before Me, while well made, fails to reach greatness.

The album starts out the right way, with LiPuma taking a bluesy, big band approach to Duke Ellington's "Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me."  But that song is the exception, as the disc too often slips into trite, reverential arrangements, especially on Ramone's songs, which tend to sound like outtakes from Linda Ronstadt recordings of the 80s.  The disc does have a few finer moments, most notably the jazzy double-play of "God Bless the Child" and "This Bitter Earth," but overall takes by-the-book approach that doesn't distinguish itself from the dozens of other pop standards albums of the past decade.  Surprisingly, even Gladys herself can't pull this one off as expected.  She can still hit the notes, but she can't extend them as long or as strong as before, and she unfortunately ends up stylishly clipping or talking through many parts to compensate.

There's nothing really wrong with Before Me (and it is eons better than the stuff Rod Stewart is putting out), but what seemed on paper like a magical combination of artist, musicians and material ends up enjoyable but not exceptional.  And while it may be unfair, we've kind of gotten used to exceptional when it comes to Gladys Knight. 

by Chris Rizik

 
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