Naomi Shelton - Cold World LP
Gospel and rhythm & blues have long been close siblings even if they don't always acknowledge each other in public -- many early R&B hits were essentially secularized versions of classic sacred numbers, and dozens of soul stars got their start singing with gospel groups -- so it certainly makes sense that the soul revivalists at Daptone Recordings would open their arms to the talents of Naomi Shelton, who has sung both Saturday night and Sunday morning music over the course of her career that's spanned six decades. Shelton's second album for Daptone, Cold World, mixes elements of traditional gospel with '60s-influenced soul, and while there's less of a churchy feel to this album than 2009's What Have You Done, My Brother?, it certainly fits in with the mindset of acts like Curtis Mayfield and the Staple Singers, who weren't afraid to add some Christian-leaning commentary to their music. "Sinner," "Heaven Is Mine," "Humble Me," and the title track all have the slinky feel of vintage soul (Shelton's longtime musical director Cliff Driver and Daptone chief Gabriel Roth, the latter of whom wrote six of the album's 12 numbers, have helped give this music a groove that's authentic yet unforced), while Shelton's voice -- compassionate and muscular, with just a hint of sass -- has both the power and the emotional heft to bring these tunes to life, not so much preaching as offering her audience advice about life lessons she learned the hard way. Shelton's style makes a virtue of her maturity while showing off an energy and passion one would expect from a much younger woman; Cold World is an example of what Daptone and the retro-soul crowd are doing right, and it's an authoritative and affecting piece of work.