9.99 In Stock
This Shout Factory two-fer reissue of two 1970s soundtracks featuring Gladys Knight & the Pips is an occasion worth celebrating -- even if one is far superior to the other. The first album here is Claudine, the score penned and produced by Curtis Mayfield for a 1974 film of the same name that starred Diahann Carroll and James Earl Jones. It was cut in a weekend at Mayfield's Curtom studios in Chicago. The timing for the set couldn't have been better: Knight was coming off three Top Ten singles and a gold-selling Top 40 album (Imagination for Buddha). Mayfield's identity is inextricably woven into everything -- the poignant, socially conscious lyrics; the driving, funky soul in the backbeats; the edgy guitar lines; and even the gorgeous string arrangements -- and Knight is at the top of her form as a singer and performer; she delivers these tunes as if she wrote them. Claudine netted a number two soul chart hit, "On and On," which is forceful, gritty, and leather-tough funky; it's the most downright sensual tune Knight ever cut -- without a trace of vulgarity. The song is based on the character's determination to keep her home and family together. Who says "family values" can't be sexy? Mayfield gets to the heart of the issue -- and his charts with a roaring B-3, his own stinging wah-wah guitar, and a hummer of a bassline don't hurt. When the strings kick in, the entire thing goes into the stratosphere. Another aspect of this cut is the amazing rhyme schemes Mayfield put together. Knight's sense of time is perfect, her ability to adjust her phrasing to fit a set of rhythms impeccable. While all seven cuts are excellent, some of the other standouts include the beautiful ballad "The Makings of You" (Mayfield recorded it himself on his self-titled debut offering in 1970) and the scathing funk-rock of "Mr. Welfare Man." Knight's performance throughout is larger than life. The magnificent instrumental "Claudine's Theme" carries the album out with a string chart that could have come from the pen of Richard Evans. The other soundtrack represented here is for the film Pipe Dreams, made in 1976. Knight starred in the film as well as sang its soundtrack, but with the exception of a few tunes -- most notably the Gerry Goffin-penned single "So Sad the Song," which made it to the Top 20 on the soul singles chart -- it's a bit of a mess due to a lack of focus and overly sweet production throughout. Another notable, "Alaskan Pipeline" (which was actually being built at the time), is an unacknowledged funky killer with some call and response between the singer and the Pips. The title tune is a favorite, too -- even if its production is a bit saccharine -- because of the authenticity Knight brings to the lyric (it was written by Tony Camillo, who also penned her hit "I Feel a Song [In My Heart]"). Even if Pipe Dreams isn't the smoker than Claudine is, it's well worth the purchase price. Gladys Knight & the Pips are in top form throughout, and the former album is a must for anybody interested in her work or even soul music. Come to think of it, if Knight is looking around for projects, she might consider cutting her own album of Mayfield tunes. Nobody could do it better.