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An ambitious project released on EMI in the U.K. and licensed to House of Hits in the U.S. for distribution on 7N/BMG, Rhythm and Spirit: Love Can Build a Bridge has that universal appeal of gospel music blending with popular melodies and familiar voices. Put together by record exec Tristram Penna and industry legend Vicki Wickham, author of the Dusty Springfield biography Dancing With Demons, Rhythm and Spirit: Love Can Build a Bridge is a very wonderful look at some music that is familiar but not remembered as interpreted here. Tramaine Hawkins of the Edwin Hawkins Singers reinvents the Joe Cocker/Jennifer Warnes hit "Up Where We Belong" in a way that Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker aspired to when they changed the lyrics for their TV show. The Bakkers failed, but Hawkins succeeds, the song bearing very little resemblance to Stewart Levine's original production. The reggae is mostly stripped away from "No Woman No Cry," hints of it overpowered by the cascading choir vocals to embellish that of Billy Cliff and SWV's Cheryl "Coko" Gamble, along with her mom, Clyde "Lady Tibba" Gamble, who do a marvelous job on Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven." Ditto for Ashford & Simpson on Bette Midler's smash "From a Distance." It's the amazing work of the Institutional Radio Choir that pours collective hearts over these solid Benny Diggs productions, bringing these renditions to another level. Patti LaBelle works her magic on the England Dan & John Ford Coley hit from Todd Rundgren's pen, "Love Is the Answer," the choir having performed on Broadway with LaBelle and the delivery stunning, a perfect choice to open this compilation. Nona Hendryx gives "Gotta Serve Somebody" reinvention, as Tramaine Hawkins did earlier with her tune, the song's message delivered with far more clarity than on Bob Dylan's Top 25 original from 20 years earlier. The 11 tracks all shimmer with the elegance these respected vocalists bring to the table, the melodies put in a different light with moods and tempos shifting dramatically from the better-known versions, and the powerful addition of the choir creates something new and very appealing. Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" enjoyed many covers and variations before Whitney Houston sent it through the roof, but give Sherry McGhee and the production team credit for treading on sacred ground and coming away triumphant. It's a truly remarkable work, this entire collection, and one deserving of more attention.
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Performance CreditsTramaine Hawkins Track Performer
Institutional Radio Choir Choir, Chorus
Ashford & Simpson Track Performer
Jennifer Holliday Track Performer
Patti LaBelle Track Performer
Nona Hendryx Track Performer
Vivian Reed Track Performer
Billy Cliff Track Performer
Sherry McGhee Track Performer
John James Track Performer
Technical CreditsBob Marley Composer
Dave Darlington Engineer
Benny Diggs Arranger,Producer,Vocal Assistance
Joseph Joubert Arranger,Producer,Vocal Arrangements
Vicki Wickham Executive Producer,Concept
Tristram Penna Executive Producer,Concept
Vincent Ford Composer