Show 332: Classic Album Dissection of Amazing Grace, Review of Willis Earl Beal, Jim's DIJ
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1 The electronic dance music trend shows no sign of slowing down, even as two of its biggest promoters, Pasquale Rotella and Reza Gerami, face criminal charges for bribery and embezzlement. For 13 years Rotella mounted the hugely successful Electric Daisy Carnival in Los Angeles. Last year it was moved to Las Vegas after a 15-year-old girl died of an ecstasy overdose. But despite all this controversy, almost 75,000 tickets have already been sold for June’s festival. And as Jim and Greg point out, EDM crowds are one of the few still able to fill arenas around the country.
2a It’s a big year for Aretha Franklin. The “Queen of Soul” just turned 70, and her bestselling album, Amazing Grace, turns 40 this June. No, you won’t find megahits like “Respect” or “Think ” on Amazing Grace’s track list, but this 1972 album of gospel covers influenced rock and rollers as diverse as the Rolling Stones and U2, and transformed gospel as we know it. In honor of the anniversary, Jim and Greg do a classic album dissection of Amazing Grace. They’re joined by Aaron Cohen, Downbeat editor and author of a book on Amazing Grace for the 33 1/3 series. Everything Aretha did in this era, Aaron explains, she did in a big way. Her return to gospel music after over a decade in the pop wilderness was no exception. The record was recorded live at a Baptist church in Watts, Los Angeles over two days. Gospel luminaries including singer Clara Ward and Aretha’s father, the Reverand CL Franklin, were in the audience (as were the Stones’ Charlie Watts and Mick Jagger). Freed from the constraints of cutting a three-minute single, Franklin takes her time on Amazing Grace, stretching songs and combining them in surprising medleys. But the real magic of the album, Aaron contends, comes from the combination of Aretha’s voice with that of Reverend James Cleveland’s Southern California Community Choir. This combination of star soloist and choir became standard in gospel music from this point forward.
2b As always with classic album dissections, Jim and Greg choose their own tracks from Amazing Grace to highlight. Jim goes with “Precious Lord (Take My Hand)/You’ve Got a Friend,” a medley that melds a classic gospel tune with Carole King’s decidedly secular pop hit. Greg chooses “How I Got Over,” a Clara Ward cover that, he explains, was closely associated with the ongoing civil rights movement.
3 The story of Willis Earl Beal is unlike any other. The Chicago native only took to music to curb loneliness after moving to Albuquerque, N.M. He had no training, but a desire for emotional connection that eventually led to some press and an eventual signing to XL Recordings. Now he’s got a new debut album out called Acousmatic Sorcery. Jim compares his sound to that of alternative hip hop artist Divine Styler. It’s a kind of “Martian blues” with a lo-fi, folk edge. The production needs some work but Jim says Buy It. Greg admits Beal can’t really play much, but his percussion, and especially his voice, are quite strong. This is the kind of stuff Alan Lomax would’ve dug. Greg doesn’t know if Beal has another album in him, but he gives Acousmatic Sorcery a Buy It rating.
4 Jim spoke about the French pop group Les Calamités during the SXSW show, and now he has an opportunity to further showcase them. The British press called them better than Bananarama. The American press called them better than The Bangles. However they stacked up, the songs were irrepressible and high energy. In fact reviewing their LP A Bride Abattue, was Jim’s first professional review job, and his editor stole his copy of the record. So to re-appropriate what was rightly his, he adds “Nicolas” to the Desert Island Jukebox.
Songs Featured in Show #332
Skrillex, “Right In,” Bangarang, Big Beat, 2011
Aretha Franklin, “Climbing Higher Mountains,” Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings, Rhino, 1999
Aretha Franklin, “Mary Don’t You Weep,” Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings, Rhino, 1999
The Rolling Stones, “Shine a Light,” Exile on Main St., Atlantic, 1972
Aretha Franklin, “Remarks by Rev. C.L. Franklin,” Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings, Rhino, 1999
Aretha Franklin, “Won’t Be Long,” Aretha, Columbia, 1961
Aretha Franklin, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings, Rhino, 1999
The Staples Singers, “I’ll Take You There,” Be Altitude: Respect Yourself, Stax, 1972
Aretha Franklin, “Wholly Holy,” Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings, Rhino, 1999
Aretha Franklin, “Old Landmark,” Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings, Rhino, 1999
Aretha Franklin, “Aretha’s Introduction,” Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings, Rhino, 1999
Aretha Franklin, “There is a Fountain Filled With Blood,” Aretha Gospel, Geffen, 1991
Aretha Franklin, “Amazing Grace,” Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings, Rhino, 1999
Aretha Franklin, “Precious Memories,” Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings, Rhino, 1999
Aretha Franklin, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings, Rhino, 1999
Aretha Franklin, “Precious Lord (Take My Hand)/ You’ve Got a Friend,” Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings, Rhino, 1999
Aretha Franklin, “How I Got Over,” Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings, Rhino, 1999
Willis Earl Beale, “Take Me Away,” Acousmatic Sorcery,” XL, 2012
Willis Earl Beale, “Evening’s Kiss,” Acousmatic Sorcery,” XL, 2012
Les Calamites, “Nicholas,” A Bride Abattue, New Rose, 1984
Orbital, “Straight Sun,” Wonky, ACP, 2012
Phoenix, “Long Distance Call,” It’s Never Been Like That, EMI, 2006
The Kills, “Nail in My Coffin,” Blood Pressures, Domino, 2011
Madonna, “I Don’t Give A,” MDNA, Interscope, 2012
Britney Spears, “Hold It Against Me,” Femme Fatale, Jive, 2011
Madonna, “Some Girls,” MDNA, Interscope, 2012