Long before I owned Aretha Franklin’s “Amazing Grace“, “Mary, Don’t You Weep” was very much apart of my Sunday morning even when I was younger and not attending church. The song was and still is a staple of Sunday morning radio. From the opening piano intro to the first notes of the heavenly choir to the angelic wailing and voices swaying when Aretha tells how Jesus rose Lazarus from the grave, you know this song. Many will argue that this album was Aretha’s finest moment, but I would like to think of it as one of her finest moments over a career that has lasted several decades. She may not be able to reach the highest heights now, but on January 13 and 14, 1972 at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church she made one of the greatest recordings, period.
In 1999, Rhino released Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings which features the original unedited takes of the songs on this landmark album. You get to hear these precious gems before they were fully shaped and polished which is still quite enjoyable. Aretha is backed by The Southen California Community Choir under the direction of her mentor, Reverend James Cleveland and a host of outstanding musicians.
As I listen to this album is it very hard to pick favorites for each song is a stellar performance of high praise. I love the call and response of “Old Landmark“, Aretha’s vocal ascension on “Wholly Holy“, how she sits down at the piano tells us of a land where we will “Never Grow Old” and “What A Friend We Have In Jesus.” She and James sing of “Precious Memories” and “Climbing Higher Mountains.” Of course, she let’s us know that God’s “Amazing Grace” is always with us so that “You’ll Never Walk Alone” for “God Will Take Care Of You.” She even intertwined Thomas Dorsey’s classic hymn “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” and Carole King’s ballad “You’ve Got A Friend” and made them into something extra special. As Aretha’s father, Rev. C.L. Franklin, said, “Aretha is just a stone singer.” Amen!