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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Aretha Franklin: One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism


1) Walk In The Light; 2) Prayer Invocation By Rev. Cecil Franklin; 3) Introduction Of Aretha And The Franklin Sisters By Rev. Jesse Jackson; 4) Jesus Hears Every Prayer; 5) Surely God Is Able; 6) The Lord's Prayer; 7) Intro­duction Of Aretha And Mavis Staples By Rev. Jesse Jackson; 8) Oh Happy Day; 9) We Need Power; 10) Speech By Rev. Jesse Jackson; 11) Ave Maria; 12) Introduction To Higher Ground By Rev. Jaspar Williams; 13) Higher Gro­und; 14) Prayer Invocation By Rev. Donald Parsons; 15) I've Been In The Storm Too Long; 16) Packing Up, Getting Ready To Go; 17*) Be Grateful; 18*) Beams Of Heaven (Some Day); 19*) Father I Stretch My Hands To Thee; 20*) Packing Up, Getting Ready To Go (alt. version).

Back to church again. In all fairness, the sincerity of Aretha's religious fervor cannot be doubted. So many people turn to church as a last resort when all else has failed — Aretha's church records, on the other hand, tend to come out when all is well, as a respectful thank you rather than a des­perate help me please. Amazing Grace captured the world at the ultimate peak of her Atlantic powers; and One Lord came out no sooner than her tattered commercial status had been succes­fully restored with the hit singles from the 1985-86 period.

Unfortunately, in terms of quality One Lord relates to those hit singles in direct proportion to the relation between Amazing Grace and the Atlantic hit singles — in simpler terms, the 1985-86 material was mostly formulaic pop dreck, and One Lord, correspondingly, is formulaic gospel dreck. Where Amazing Grace may be liable to draw a few vacillating souls to the congregation, One Lord is the perfect tool to drive them out of it, once and for all.

For one thing: to hell with Rev. Donald Parsons. To hell with Rev. Jesse Jackson. To hell with Rev. Cecil Franklin. When we put on an Aretha album, no matter which genre it is in, we want to hear Aretha; do we really want our living room to transform into the Christian Broadcasting Net­work for about fourty minutes? (Yes, this is approximately the amount of time devoted to bare bones preaching — an entirety of two LP sides, with only two more featuring Aretha). The way I see it, gospel music can only qualify as «fundamental art» if it is able to appeal even to non-be­lievers, those free of slavish adherence to superficial trappings of the Christian faith but neverthe­less capable of being moved by the spirituality of Mahalia Jackson. How, then, does a ten-minute speech by Jesse Jackson appeal at all to non-believers?

For another thing, the duets do not work well. On Amazing Grace, Aretha faced no competition, being completely free to express herself with both passion and restraint depending on the situa­tion. Here, she is constantly teamed up with iron-throated professionals, and way too often the proceedings simply degenerate into a shouting match — nowhere worse than on 'I've Been In The Storm Too Long', a duet with Joe Ligan which begins decently enough, but eventually morphs into an ugly shouting match. Is Jesus supposed to be that hard of hearing, or did he ever say that your chances of admission to the Kingdom of Heaven depend on your amplitude? Certainly, this is the way it's always being done in traditional Afro-American churches, but, again, it brings us into the realm of generic worshipping, rather than individual artistic expression. And you do not really need the Queen of Soul hanging around if your goal is to join in unison with the flock ra­ther than enjoy the soul of the queen.

Finally, she is simply getting old; the fire still burns hot enough, but the fuel has deteriorated, and one possible reason for diluting the album with so many speeches and duets may simply be the fact that the Queen is no longer able to carry on a ninety-minute-long session on the strength of her cords alone. 'Jesus Hears Every Prayer' and 'Surely God Is Able' go off fine enough, but she stutters a few times on 'Ave Maria', and chanting her way through The Lord's Prayer seems like a sly manoeuvre to lure the listener away from more demanding stuff. In the end, it is the fast-pa­ced harmony numbers like 'We Need Power' and 'Packing Up' that are supposed to wow the lis­tener, not the solo performances, and, frankly speaking, there is quie a bit of solid competition on the gospel market to challenge these harmony numbers.

In short, One Lord cannot ever hope to become one small bit the «classic pillar of the genre» that Amazing Grace purports to be, and cannot be recommended to anyone except Aretha's, or ritua­listic gospel's, staunchest fans. And, for the record, Rev. Cecil Franklin (Aretha's brother) does not hold a candle to Rev. C. L. Franklin, either — the latter's calm, informative, and slightly hu­morous speech on Amazing Grace is far more ear-pleasing than Cecil's predictably boring prayer invocation. Thumbs down.

Check "One Lord One Faith One Baptism" (CD) on Amazon
Check "One Lord One Faith One Baptism" (M3) on Amazon

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