With Before Me, the legendary Gladys Knight delivers a heartfelt and very personal tribute to the great vocalists who were her early role-models Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Mahalia Jackson with incandescent performances of twelve great songs they made popular. Gladys Knight is one of the world's most beloved and best-selling pop music icons Before Me, Knight's first recording of classic American song repertoire, shows her at the peak of her vocal and interpretive powers. An exceptional production by Tommy LiPuma and Phil Ramone make this a Rolls-Royce of a vehicle for one of today's greatest ladies of song. Gladys Knight's two previous releases were both Grammy winners: At Last (2001) was Best Traditional R&B Album and her 2005 gospel CD, One Voice, won Best Gospel Choir Album.
By now, the list of late-career standards-coverers stretches a mile long--in addition to Rod Stewart, Barry Manilow, Smokey Robinson, and a host of less-successful others, add Gladys Knight to the tally. Don't just lump her in, though, because Before Me
differs from its forebears in ways that won't let you forget it. Here is a flawlessly selected and executed exercise in nostalgia for all the right reasons: Knight, in a voice entirely undiminished, extracts the elegance from each of these legendary numbers and smears it all over the surface, something most listeners would expect only from a master stylist on the order of Tony Bennett. Yet the former Pip leader presides with a light touch. Replacing the powerful pop-soul that launched her legend with the swankiest, most black-tie jazz imaginable, she whispers her way through George and Ira Gershwin's "The Man I Love" and the candy-sweet lament "I'll Be Seeing You." Elsewhere, she smokes up the Lady Day classics "Good Morning Heartache," "The Man I Love," and "God Bless the Child," unintentionally turning the latter into a master course of vocal restraint. If "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)" is the disc's wild card--Knight plays it light--the Duke Ellington stunner "Come Sunday," made popular by gospel legend Mahalia Jackson, is its five-star clincher: Knight punches her way through tirelessly, with a true believer's fervor. --Tammy La Gorce