Gladys Knight is one of the most underrated artists from the Motown stable. Even by Motown themselves, who only rarely put much effort into the promotion of her records. And the songs and arrangements Gladys is often saddled with do not allow her to show the full extent of her vocal capacity.
This is really a shame for an artist of her calibre. The quiet un-nerving power with which she delivers her vocals have at times made the most mundane of material seem inspired. And when Gladys occasionally has all the necessary ingredients she never fails in producing a minor soul classic. ‘Friendship Tram’ and her version of ‘I heard it through the grapevine’ are fine examples of her artistry, who’s roots are, deeper into blues and spirituals than most of the company’s other artists. These two tracks, although monstrous single hits in the States, meant very little over here except to Motown freaks. Even they though have managed to ignore many other great sides Gladys has put out.
One of the main problems is that Motown usually fails to bring out an album that is consistently good throughout its two sides. Marvin Gaye, now that he has broken loose from the company’s strictly self enforced production confines, has managed to release one of the best soul albums ever. What’s Going On’. Usually the only albums of Motown to make it are the ’Greatest Hits’ packages, of which Gladys’s is one of the better ones, for it contains all the most memorable tracks she has laid down whilst being with this company.
On ‘Standing Ovation’, Gladys succeeds in making a fairly well balanced album. The outstanding tracks are ‘It takes a whole lotta man for a woman like me’ and ‘Help me make it through the night’. Whilst most of the other tracks are memorable, the inclusion of ‘Fire and Rain’ is a great mistake. It’s a good song, but completely the wrong sort of material for Gladys. It is also a great pity that ‘He ain’t heavy, He’s my brother’ and ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ are sung as a melody. Both songs are powerful enough on their own, and this type of severely restricting arrangement loses much of their potential.
If only Gladys would break away from the confines of her recording company, then we would hear her true worth; that of a gutsy evocative blues-based singer who would turn each song she sang into something personally her own, and stamped with her special brand of soul. But till this happens, ‘Standing Ovation’ is worth getting into, despite its limitations.