In the newest addition to Continuum’s terrific 33-1/3 series, which focuses on such landmark albums as Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life and Patti Smith’s Horses, Downbeat associate editor Cohen, winner of the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award, tells the full story of Aretha Franklin’s innovative, even daring Amazing Grace. On this double-platinum double-LP recorded live in 1972 at the New Temple Missionary Church in Watts, Los Angeles, Franklin performs both gospel and secular works, accompanied by her sure-shot band, the choir, and Reverend James Cleveland. Writing with the confidence and fluency born of deep knowledge and drawing on remarkably fruitful interviews, Cohen chronicles key moments in Franklin’s creative life, beginning with her first recording session in a Detroit church in 1956, at which the already hard-pressed 14-year-old daughter of the famous Reverend C. L. Franklin sang with surprisingly “rough fervor and conviction.” Widening the lens, Cohen presents an incisive history of black gospel music and its tradition of protest and empowerment. In all, an electrifying appreciation of Franklin and her magnificent voice, musicality, artistic vision, and courage.
This Booklist review of the volume on Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace really nails it: