Celebrating her 50th year as a performer, Gladys Knight expresses her gratitude on her latest album, offering thanks not to her audience but to her maker. Yet longtime fans will find plenty of familiar rewards here as Knight pours her heart and soul into a series of inspirational themes, both traditional and contemporary.
The album's fine print holds some surprises. Senator Orrin G. Hatch and collaborator Janice Kapp composed both the title track -- a musical contrivance that links the lives of Princess Diana, Mother Teresa and Knight's mother, Elizabeth -- and "Jesus' Love Is Like a River," a comparatively simple and heartfelt ballad.
Still, anyone familiar with Knight's gritty tone and passionate delivery in R&B settings will discover plenty of stirring similarities when she sings the Lord's praises. On "Good Morning Heavenly Father," her unmistakable voice is wrapped in signature harmonies generated by two of the Pips, Bubba Knight and William Guest. On "Precious Lord," she summons the spirit of old-time religion with just a piano underscoring her pleas and prayers for most of the performance. And on "Saints Medley," Knight conjures a tambourine-thumping joy and fervor while segueing from "Just a Little Talk With Jesus" to "Bye and Bye" to "When the Saints Go Marching In." Although the more traditional arrangements best suit Knight's extraordinary vocal gifts, nothing obscures her talent or undermines her mission for very long.
Appearing Wednesday and Thursday at DAR Constitution Hall with the Temptations. To hear a free Sound Bite from Gladys Knight, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8111. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)