Della Reese


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The incomparable style and grace of Della Reese (vocals) shines through every second of Amen! (1958). The effort would be her third overall and first full-length platter dedicated to honoring her considerable background as a sacred singer. Reese honed her chops in the Olivet Baptist Church Choir where she was director. It was there in July of 1944 that Reese was hand-picked by the First Lady of Gospel -- Mahalia Jackson -- to replace her ailing soprano for the remainder of Jackson's tour. Amen! also reunites Reese with another influence from her past. Beginning in the late '40s, it was the Rev. L. Rundless -- pastor at New Liberty Baptist Church, Reese's concurrent place of worship -- who encouraged the vivacious vocalist to join his wife Earnestine Rundless -- and form a duo. They were ultimately called the Meditation Singers and nearly a decade later, Reese reconnects with Earnestine and Rundless' daughter-in-law Laura Lee -- who, incidentally, had been the one to take Reese's place in the group after her departure in the early '50s. The majority of the selections are time-honored spirituals that have been arranged by producer Morty Palitz, who keeps the proceedings true to their long, rich spiritual heritage. Accompanied by piano and a robust Hammond organ, the opening title track builds incrementally in intensity as Reese's full-bodied resonance leads the choir. Interestingly, the chosen pronunciation is "ah-men" -- retaining the vowel's longer sound -- as opposed to the more common "ey-men""Jesus Will Answer Your Prayer" follows as Reese takes listeners on a rollicking singalong between her and the support ensemble. The languid and humbling "Last Mile of the Way" is a moving musical narrative that is embellished only with the tandem keyboard accompaniment. Reese's larger-than-life presence undeniably helps to drive the heartfelt message home. Equally intimate is the practically palpable sense of noir permeating "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen." By stark contrast, "Rock a My Soul" matches the likes of "Jesus Will Answer Your Prayer" with its exceedingly jubilant message and delivery. While the tempo is nowhere as lively, Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "Up Above My Head I Hear Music in the Air" is unquestionably among the most exuberant sides on Amen! as Reese's vivaciousness is infectious. "I Know the Lord Has Laid His Hand on Me" combines the give and take of the call and response with Reese's authoritative command to create a powerful, if not poignant impression on the audience. The bright and optimistic "Jesus" concludes the album on quite literally an up note as the artist trades some one-on-one lines with the aforementioned Laura Lee -- whose sonic similarities to Reese are striking. In 2008, Collectors' Choice Music paired this project with What Do You Know About Love (1959) for a two-fer CD, making both LPs accessible to fresh ears for the first time in several decades.

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