Amazing Grace (Classic Album Dissection) & Willis Earl Beal Review

Hosts Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot conduct a Sound Opinions Classic Album Dissection of Aretha Franklin’s 1972 release Amazing Grace. They talk to author Aaron Cohen about the gospel masterpiece, which was recorded forty years ago.

main image
Download Subscribe via iTunes

Music News

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.

Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace

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.

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.

Acousmatic Sorcery Willis Earl Beal

Acousmatic Sorcery

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.

Jim

Jim spoke about the French pop group Les Calamit’es 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.

Dear Listeners,

For more than 15 years, Sound Opinions was a production of WBEZ, Chicago's public radio station. Now that the show is independent, we're inviting you to join the band and lend a hand! We need your support more than ever because now we have to do all the behind-the-scenes work that WBEZ handled before (like buying insurance and paying for podcast hosting, ugh). Plus, we have some exciting ideas we'd like to try now that there's no one to tell us no!