Friday, July 9, 2010

A Tribute to Rosetta Tharpe: Shout, Sister, Shout! (2003)

(As published in the Times of Acadiana ... )

A Tribute to Rosetta Tharpe: Shout, Sister, Shout!

With three lead and two background-vocal performances from Maria Muldaur, who’s aged into a soulfulness that’s all barefeet and earth-mother hair let down, this seventeen-cut album (eighteen if you count the computer-only video clip of Tharpe herself) is Muldaur’s best since Gospel Nights. It’s also a Holmes Brothers showcase—whether hunkering down quietly behind Odetta or getting Phoebe Snow to belt or rocking Joan Osborne to new heights on “Nobody’s Fault but Mine,” they clearly get off on backing singers other than themselves. It is not, unfortunately, a showcase for Janis Ian (who learns the truth at fifty-two without making late seem better than never), Victoria Williams (who’s aged into a daffiness that’s all cartoon hick), or Sweet Honey in the Rock (precious memories, how they malinger). But no matter. The album deserves a gospel Grammy if only for Michelle Shocked and Joanna Connor, a jump-blues Grammy if only for Muldaur, Marcia Ball, Tracy Nelson, and Angela Strehli (singing “Shout, Sister, Shout!” and “I Want a Tall Skinny Papa”), and a best hard-funk Grammy if only for Toshi Reagon’s “Rock Me,” a slow-boiling musical embodiment of the carnal-spiritual mix that made Tharpe’s road so rocky. Rating: Four-and-a-half Rosetta Stones out of five.

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