Gladys Knight "Where My Heart Belongs" Album Review

Gladys Knight

Prime Cuts:  Life, Need You Love You, Midst of the Rain

Gospel music is to Gladys Knight what contemporary jazz is to Diana Krall or blues is to Eric Clapton.  Her inimitably husky alto with its weathered flexibility that is able to dive deep into the throes of despair before soaring with a sustained vigor in the joy the Lord gives is the perfect sonic instrument to guide us through the richly textured emotions of Gospel music.  Ever singing the Maker's praises since she was four years-old, it's a treat to see Gladys Knight, now seventy, returning back to her mother's milk with "Where My Heart Belongs."  Often affectionately touted by critics and fans as the "Empress of Soul," over the years, Gladys Knight has become an iconic American fixture with her successful foray in R&B and Pop music both as a solo artist as well as her tenure with the Pips.  Ever since 1966, Knight and the Pips have carved their niche with hits songs such as "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," "Neither One of Us," "Midnight Train to Georgia," "Save the Overtime," and "Love Overboard."   And heavily applauded by fans and critics alike, Knight throughout her career has been the winner of seven Grammy Awards.

However, other than her ardent fans, few have realized that despite Knight's overwhelming success in secular music, she has had always kept a foothold in Gospel music.  In fact, two out of her seven Grammy wins were in the area of Gospel music.  In 2005 she was awarded a Grammy for her Gospel release "One Voice" and then again with her Gospel duet with Ray Charles, "Heaven Help Us All," from his posthumous "Genius Loves Company."  Though "Where My Heart Belongs" is not the R&B Empress' first Gospel release, it's one where she comes across as the most liberated and joyous.  Having established herself firmly as a household name, Knight is in no pressure to come across as hip sacrificing her own voice in order to pander to beats and auto-voicing that are way beneath her caliber.  Rather, on this new record, she goes for songs that she loves and that's mostly traditional soul Gospel ballads with a few funky throwback to the 80s rompers thrown in. 

On the ten cuts that appear on "Where My Heart Belongs," seven of these offerings are more or less contemporary Gospel numbers tagged at the end with two hymns "There is a Green Hill Far Away" and "Were You There" closed by an Christmas cum children's oddity "Happy  Birthday Jesus/Sweet Little Jesus Boy." Not one to stand on ceremony, Knight goes right for the heart with the piano based "Need You Love You."  Written by Knight, BeBe Winans and Stephan Moccio, "Need You Love You" is a heart's plea for God's intervention to allow us to start over again in the face of our own sins and failures.    And such a glorious message is made even more cathartic with Knight's teary delivery that cracks and groans with an earnestness that can move the hardest of hearts.  "Always," a Kirk Franklin composition, sounds like the sounds of heaven.  Accompanied by a churchy organ and the layered voices of a choir, there's a vintage charm to "Always" that is absolutely worshipful.  

When the tempo accelerates, don't miss "Life."  What is most intriguing is that "Life" is that it is co-written by Sam Dees.  For those who are avid CD booklet readers, Sam Dees not only wrote Knight R&B #1 hit "Save the Overtime," but he also penned Whitney Houston's iconic "Lover for Life" and "Just the Lonely Talking Again."  Here he has had a hand in co-writing "Life," a song that lives up to its titular as it brims with a 80s keys-driven vitality that is stunningly infectious.  Though the sound of rain on the intro of "Midst of the Rain" is corny, but this BeBe Winans co-write brings Knight back to church with this choir assisted piece.   And prepare to be awed as Knight delivers a solemn and moving version of  the hymn "Were You There" as it literally transports us back to the Via Dolorosa.  With the way Knight sings, you don't have to be a believer to enjoy the richness of her delivery.  But be warned, if you listen to this album long enough, don't be surprise to find your heart fluttering.

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