ARETHA FRANKLIN: AMAZING GRACE (1972)
CD I: 1) Organ Introduction; 2) Opening Remarks; 3) On Our Way; 4) Aretha's Introduction; 5) Wholy Holy; 6) You'll Never Walk Alone; 7) What A Friend We Have In Jesus; 8) Precious Memories; 9) How I Got Over; 10) Precious Lord, Take My Hand / You've Got A Friend; 11) Climbing Higher Mountains; 12) Amazing Grace; 13) My Sweet Lord (instrumental); 14) Give Yourself To Jesus; CD II: 1) Organ Introduction; 2) On Our Way; 3) Aretha's Introduction; 4) What A Friend We Have In Jesus; 5) Wholy Holy; 6) Climbing Higher Mountains; 7) God Will Take Care Of You; 8) Old Landmark; 9) Mary, Don't You Weep; 10) Never Grow Old; 11) Remarks by Reverend C. L. Franklin; 12) Precious Memories; 13) My Sweet Lord (instrumental).
Amazing Grace is, as you might know, the best-selling gospel album of all time. There is little else that needs to be said about it, because, once you take it from here, it all depends on how you feel about gospel. Predictably, most responses fall into one of three categories:
«The Lord giveth and the lord taketh away, and with this album, the Lord giveth thus a-plenty, I wouldn't mind spend the rest of my sinner's life having him take away. As a matter of fact, I am divorcing my heathen wife (var.: husband) right now because she (he) dared suggest that the Rev. James Cleveland is in need of a good dentist.»
«Gospel music? Baloney. My interests are rooted in the propagation of scientific atheism (var.: I'm a documentally proven Viking descendant in the n-th generation), so excuse me if I don't have time to discuss that howling crap, I have a lecture on the evil ways of the Old Testament to deliver in thirty minutes (var.: a couple of Christian churches to burn before the day is out)».
«Well, uh, I'm not that much of a believer, er, uhm, as a matter of fact, I only go to church to admire the stained glass (var.: the bodily proportions of young Catholic girls), but, er, Aretha Franklin, she, like, has a mighty fine voice, and plus, she is sort of passionate about this, don't you see? And, like, we have to respect sincerity and passion in art, plus, it's, like, tradition, so in the interests of tolerance and world peace, I, uh, give this a B+. Hey, that's what Robert Christgau gave it, and he says there's passion there, too!».
A few facts. This live album was recorded on two successive nights (January 13-14, 1972) as a church session, with the Rev. James Cleveland («King of Gospel») presiding, the Rev. C. L. Franklin stepping up to the mike once or twice to drive home the point about how Aretha never ever really left the Church, and the resulting double album going radioactive platinum. Today, with the new CD release containing the near-complete material from both nights, it is a quadruple album, with more gospel on it than even the most fervent Christian (or Voodoo) practitioner could chew off in one bite. But a good bargain for one's money.
If still another opinion is really called for, I'd say there is actually not that much difference between Amazing Grace and those early sessions when she had the added benefit of super-young age to add to the jaw-dropping effect. Except, of course, that the sound quality is much better, and that the proceedings are expectedly grander now that this is no longer «the little Aretha», but «the Living Queen of Soul». As for the Grace — well, if there were dedicated followers of Aretha from childhood that night at the church, I don't think they would have dared say that the Grace was particularly high upon her during those particular hours. This is just your usual, regular, awesome Ms. Aretha Franklin — but specifically pandering to Mr. and Mrs. Churchgoer. Me, I'm more of a Mr. Stayhomer, and thus, not really qualified to position my thumbs in this matter.