Prime Cuts: Mama Said, (Something Inside) So Strong, I Want to Know What Love Is
Overall Grade: 5/5
English soul artist Mica Paris not only scored a UK top 10 hit with "My Only Temptation," but she was one of the few elites for whom the late Prince wrote a song specifically for. Paris has not only been a successful singer, she has had been involved in TV, theatre, radio and many charitable ventures. Though she has often included Gospel-infused songs on her previous albums, "Gospel" is her first array into the genre. It is also her first full-length album since 2009's "Born Again." "Gospel" features 12 newly-recorded entries with 10 of them being covers. Paris has spread her song selection net wide as she has included U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I Am Looking for," Paul Robeson's "Go Down Moses," Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is," and traditional hymns such as "Amazing Grace," "Take My Hand, Oh Precious Lord," and "Oh Happy Day."
Let's start with the album's two originals. You will be glad to have a mother like Paris'. Encapsulating the wisdom of her own mother's words, "Mama Said" finds Paris recalling her mother's advice not to worry in times of trouble because our problems are fleeting in the light of eternity. Likewise, "The Struggle" is another slice of autobiography; this time Paris narrates her own experiences of experiencing racism. Nothing about "The Struggle" is pretentious or cliche; rather, it's honest, palatable and it hits right at the heart. Paris' bluesy take of Robeson's "Go Down Moses" continues the theme of racism and oppression which again is noteworthy.
Paris sings with command on Labi Siffre's "(Something Inside) So Strong." Her expressive alto, her attention paid to the vocal nuances, and her ability to soar make her rendition on this ode to conviction stunning. Never given to uncontrolled theatrics, yet delivered with power and conviction is Paris' take of "Amazing Grace." Meanwhile, she takes her time to deliver what is a languish and jazzy take of "Take My Hand, Oh Precious Lord." U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is" bring Paris to the more contemporary terrain. Not since Wynonna Judd has anyone delivered "I Want to Know What Love Is" with such class and verve.
Top marks go to the production of this album. The gorgeous orchestration, for instance, imbues "A Change is Gonna Come" with a sense of majesty that is sublime. And the versatility in giving "Motherless Child" a 60s brassy R&B feel show how much forethought is given to re-imagining these covers. This is indeed a beautifully crafted record performed by one of the best soul singers in the UK. Classy, elegant, and yet penetrating, this album deserves to be played over and over again.