Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Gladys Knight & the Pips: I Feel a Song [Buddah, 1974]
Compared to sisters like Aretha Franklin or Tina Turner, Knight is a moderate. Her way with a ballad is suspiciously smooth and direct, and her demeanor flirts with the respectable. But she always radiates a great singer's luminous conviction, and beneath the moderation she's very comfortable with her emotional extremities. When she adds a squeal or a grunt or a growl on this album, or holds back a tear, or turns a song into a trembling sigh, you know she means exactly what she isn't saying, and I've never heard her in better voice. The material is still a little flat, but it does take in uptempo soul and Dionne Warwick pop and Bill Withers funk and Bill Withers sentiment. Plus a version of "The Way We Were" that establishes her claim to a middle-class veneer in perpetuity. B+