You Can Make It

Shirley Caesar

(Digital Download - Word Entertainment #)

Review by William Ruhlmann

Shirley Caesar has a masterful command of gospel praise song, and "Lift Him Up," which comes right in the middle of You Can Make It, is a practically generic example of the style, with its frantic tempo, excited chorus, and repeated exhortations to "Praise His name!" Caesar, of course, both leads the choir and provides emotive variations. You might say that the album breaks down into two types of songs, ones like "Lift Him Up" that start out at a pitch of excitement and stay there throughout, and others like the title song that proceed at a slower pace and begin more quietly, only to build to a fervent climax. But within the strictures of the form, Caesar demonstrates a willingness to incorporate elements of other pop music styles, sometimes ones that are known for being influenced by gospel. You could listen to the first part of the opening track, "Rejoice," and almost think you had put a James Brown record on by mistake, as the music takes a funky turn. "You Can Make It" sounds like a Patti LaBelle ballad for much of its run, while the horn-filled "Nicodemus" has a 1970s pop sound that recalls the rock band Chicago. But Caesar's throaty, impassioned voice is unmistakable, and she's at her best on more traditional gospel tunes like "What Joy," a duet with Bobby Jones. Nevertheless, the subtle varying of styles serves to broaden the appeal of a music that often finds itself preaching, however joyfully, to the choir.

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