May 11th, 2007
Many music scholars and writers have noted the hybridization of secular and sacred notions in African American music. The literature on Thomas A. Dorsey’s sanctified blues and Ray Charles’ secularized gospel sound attests to the fact that religious and worldly music are not discrete domains within facets of black music culture. Helen Baylor’s Full Circle, Ann Nesby’s In the Spirit, and Patti LaBelle’s The Gospel According to Patti LaBelle demonstrate that not only are their musical aesthetics interchangeable, but the vocalists and musicians in African American musical traditions are free to vacillate between the sounds of the church and the sounds of the world.
There are several important commonalities that these women share. All three began their singing apprenticeships in the church, then crossed-over and recorded secular music, and at some point returned to recording gospel music. Despite these important similarities there are some notable differences between their recordings. Patti LaBelle’s The Gospel According to Patti LaBelle is an African American religious music sampler that contrasts diverse sacred styles, including traditional gospel, hip hop tinged gospel, and contemporary Christian music. The variety of musical styles on the album is matched by the broad artistic range of the guests artists. Each of the eleven tracks features either a gospel choir or soloist, including Yolanda Adams, Mary Mary, J. Moss, Tye Tribbett, the Soul Seekers and secular artists such as country singer Wynonna Judd and hip hop artists Kanye West and Consequence.
Although the songs are individually moving and artistic, collectively there is little cohesion. The result is a disjointed amalgam of religious songs that seem to come from various points in LaBelle’s life but are missing an overarching theme. There are several possible reasons for this: LaBelle’s and/or the record label’s desire to work with various artists who cannot easily be grouped under a single stylistic aegis; LaBelle’s desire to include her rendition of certain gospel standards such as “Walk Around Heaven” and her own “You Are my Friend;” or an approach to the compilation that viewed each song as a stand-alone entity. Despite this weakness, LaBelle’s passion for her message does break through. Her vocal prowess on “Walking Away,” which features CeCe Winans, sounds like an intimately spiritual confessional and is certainly one of the highlights of the album. (Continued in next post)
Posted by fredara mareva
Review Genre(s): Gospel Music and Spirituals