Gladys Knight – Before Me

Before Me
Gladys Knight
(Verve – 2006)
by Carmen Miller

First it was Chaka, then Natalie, now Gladys Knight is stepping into the jazz arena late in her career. Changing genres and styles late in one’s career is difficult. When you play Before Me you automatically expect the R&B Gladys that you came to know and love. The Gladys you get is proficient and controlled and on the mark, but some of the soul seems to be missing. Blame it on the type of songs, or the arrangements, but the CD is stylish and beautiful in places and it just didn’t reach my soul sometime.

To her credit, Gladys did this CD for the love of music. She chose to interpret timeless classics to pay homage to the female vocalists that came before her (hence the title.) Many of these artists and composers, including the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and Lena Horne, were Gladys’ friends, mentors and colleagues since the beginning of her career.

From the righteous blues of “God Bless the Child” and a bossa nova-kissed “The Man I Love” to the spirit-sending “Come Sunday” and brassy “I’ve Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good),” it’s clear that Knight’s voice is as clear, strong, and expressive as ever. It’s also clear how near and dear to her heart this project is because she is clearly trying hard to do it the way she thinks it should be done. When the CD shines, it is because of this passion to do it right. In the spots it fails, it does so for the same reason.

Fans of Glady’s old songs may be a bit disappointed because this is nothing like her old R&B material, but fans of Gladys Knight will find this a pleasing, if ocassionally underseasoned, dish.