January 15th: Gladys Knight with special guest The Whispers

It was Sunday, July 12th, 1992, when I first saw Gladys Knight live in concert. The Northsea Jazz Festival in The Hague (now in Rotterdam) and its biggest location, the Statenhal, was packed to the roof. I was pretty close to the stage witnessing a flawless, charming, entertaining, rousing set by one of soul music’s greatest voices. And when Gladys Knight threw her towel into the audience, one of my friends actually grabbed a piece and gave me a piece of the piece which I used as a bracelet in the ensuing weeks until it disappeared. True story, but I guess that’s what you do in your late twenties…

Gladys Knight The WhispersNow, over 24 years later, I’m more than thrilled to be able to see her live in performance again. Gladys Knight will play New Jersey’s most beautiful arena, the NJPAC, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, on January 15th. And she has very special guests in tow: The Whispers are on the same bill, having to endure the loss of Nicholas Caldwell who died earlier this year (see report on these pages).

I first came across the music of Gladys Knight in 1983. Not through her dozens of hits from the 60s (“Every Beat Of My Heart”, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”) or the 70s (“If I Were Your Woman”, “Neither One Of Us”, “Midnight Train To Georgia”, “Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me”, etc), which I discovered later. But it was an album that didn’t fare well on the charts in comparison to most of her charted records. The LP “Visions” went to Number 34 on the Pop Album Charts and the only single to enter the Pop Singles Chart was “Save The Overtime (For Me)” which went to Number 66. That particular song still resonates big time, a lavishly produced soul bummer (Rickey Smith produced) that featured Edmund Sylvers as vocal co-arranger and Leon Sylvers III as rhythm arranger.

But of course the album had much more to offer: something like a second “Save The Overtime”, a similarly exciting and mesmerizing “Ain’t No Greater Love”, and one of songwriter legend Sam Dees‘ heartbreaking ballads, “Heaven Sent”. Another lush and luxurious ballad is the Joey Gallo-produced “Just Be My Lover”. Gladys is in peak form throughout the album which also boasts with a dramatic Sam Dees/Ron Kersey composition, the very strong and thunderous “Seconds” featuring Webster Lewis on piano and the horn section courtesy of Jerry Hey. Also, James Harris and Terry Lewis contributed one of their signature pre-Janet Jackson “Control” cuts, the album opener “When You’re Far Away”, produced by Edmund Sylvers and still one of the best Jam & Lewis songs to this day.

Elsewhere on the album, there is a wonderfully light and free-flowing “Don’t Make Me Run Away”, written by Michael Lovesmith, the great anthem “Hero”, later taken to Number 1 by Bette Midler as “Wind Beneath My Wings”, and the only so-so track on the album, a mediocre, but still brilliantly produced and executed “Oh La De Da”. Not to forget my favorite track from the LP where Gladys shines like a diamond with adorably rough edges and gels perfectly with the Pips: the glorious and breathtaking “You’re Number One (In My Book)” which ranks among my all-time favorite tunes.

Don’t miss Gladys Knight with special guests The Whispers on Sunday, January 15th, at NJPAC’s Prudential Hall. 7pm. For tickets and more info, please visit http://njpac.org/

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