Shirley Caesar

The Passion of Jesus

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The title and cover art of this album -- both more than a little similar to that of 2004's blockbuster film The Passion of the Christ -- prove that there's room for bandwagon-jumping in gospel just as there is in less spiritual forms of pop music. That said, The Passion of Jesus is yet another of Shirley Caesar's effortless-sounding updates of traditional gospel sounds. Though the album remains rooted in the black gospel tradition, synthesizers, drum machines, and other of-the-moment touches are subtly mixed into the arrangements, so that songs like "He's Got a Love That Will Last Forever" sound almost like quiet storm-format R&B love songs, and the funky, hip-hop-influenced "Heavenly Father" swings with an updated version of the '70s soul grooves that Al Green and Willie Mitchell perfected. None of it sounds like a cynical crossover attempt, however, because the focus of the songs is always on Caesar's phenomenal voice and her impassioned delivery of the testifying lyrics. Despite the cash-in suggested by the title and cover, The Passion of Jesus sounds 100 percent sincere.

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