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The great ones endure, and Gladys Knight has long been one of the greatest. Very few singers over the last fifty years have matched her unassailable artistry, and with the release of her new MCA album At Last, any other contenders may as well stop trying. Her first mainstream pop/R&B album in six years, At Last is Gladys' "welcome home" party, marking the return of a living legend. In its 13 tracks, the new album proves once again that no one has their way with a song like Gladys Knight.
At Last is a true labor of love for Gladys, a stirringly diverse collection of songs that span the spectrum of contemporary music, from R&B to jazz to country. If there's a common thread, Gladys puts it all into perspective: "I always look at my songs as little vignettes, little stories," she notes, "and I always try to identify with what they're saying."
The gently funk-flavored "If I Were Your Woman II" isn't a remake of the Gladys Knight & the Pips classic from the 60's, but is a different take on relationships, which asks, says Gladys, laughing, "Would you really be spending your money taking me to dinner, would you really be treating me this nice all the time if I were your woman, or are you just trying to woo me to get me there?" Another striking track on the new album is "I Said You Lied," a heartfelt tale of hurt and betrayal, and Gladys' stirring duet with comedian Jamie Foxx, "I Wanna Be Loved," showcases both artists' silk-spun vocal prowess.
The ballad "Better Love Next Time" boasts a powerful lead vocal from Gladys, while the sweetly sensual "Do You Really Want To Know" describes a deeper sense of love than the physical trappings we usually hear about in contemporary love songs. Says Gladys of the track, "I think this song is going to touch another spirit in people. It asks: if you want to make it with me, do you really want to know what makes me laugh, what makes me smile? It's more than what love and romance is usually projected as today - we're talking about touching the spirit in this one." In the big-shouldered anthem "Something Blue," Gladys sings about losing someone special, while the gorgeous gospel-flavored "Love Hurts" whispers truths about love.
In the prayerful "Please Help Me I'm Falling (In Love With You)," the singer seeks the strength to walk away from the storm and stress of an illicit love affair, while "Greatest Love Of All" is nothing but sleek, smooth R&B performed as only Gladys Knight can do it. "Just Take Me" is a passionate tribute to unbridled eternal love, while "Rose Bouquet" just might be the album's biggest surprise: a country song, sung in a husky lower register, which takes a long wistful look back. "That's Why They Call It Love" boasts a swirling melody over a powerful arrangement and Gladys' incomparable vocals.
One of the highlights surely is Gladys' performance of the Bill Withers' classic "Grandma's Hands." Says Gladys, "It's always been one of my favorites. When we were coming up with the songs for the album, I started singing 'Grandma's Hands' to a different groove. I needed to have someone to co-produce it with me, and Jamey Jaz, a wonderful young producer, said he'd love to do it. I'm really excited about it because the song is so personal to me."
At the age of four, she began singing as a guest soloist in church. At age seven she won the Grand Prize on Ted Mack's Amateur Hour, and the following year, she, along with her brother Bubba, her sister Brenda, and her cousins William and Elinor Guest, formed The Pips. In 1959, Brenda and Elinor left the group, replaced by cousin Edward Patten and friend Langston George. The group was renamed Gladys Knight and the Pips, and following Langston's departure in 1962, the classic line-up was in place.The party kept rolling with hits like the #5 "On And On," written by Curtis Mayfield for Claudine, the 1974 screen comedy about love in the inner-city. Gladys enjoyed another #1 hit in 1985 when she teamed with Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and Dionne Warwick on "That's What Friends Are For." All told, Gladys Knight has recorded over 36 albums over the years, including three solo albums during the past decade, Good Woman (1991), Just For You (1994), and her inspirational Many Different Roads (1999).
Says the singer of her career today, "I love this industry because it's ever-changing. Music speaks to people's spirits; wherever the social consciousness is, that's where music is going to be. Doing as much as I do satisfies my creative spirit, because I do enjoy wearing a lot of hats: I've been at the board for a long time, producing - many people don't know that, but I've always had a direct hand in the production of all of my projects."
Now it's time to let the music do the talking. It's time to let Gladys sing once more, and reveal to her countless millions of fans the very essence of her soul. It's time for Gladys Knight... at last.
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