Album Reviews

Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens – Cold World (Daptone)

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Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens

This first-class soul band with gospel roots is a vital part of the soul revival bubbling up everywhere. They’ve played at Bonnaroo, Monterey Jazz, Montreal Pop and done two tours in France. Thanks to producer Gabriel Roth, here’s the first studio recording to capture the fun of their live New York shows. Naomi Shelton sings with a gritty, heartfelt vitality that recalls James Brown or Sam Cooke. Hers is a message of hope you can dance to.

Shelton went pro at six when her sister trio sang on the radio in Alabama. In 1963, she moved to Brooklyn and met bandleader Cliff Driver (keyboards), who has worked with Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and Solomon Burke. For 20 years, Gospel Queens Edna Johnson and Bobbie Jean Gant have sung with Shelton; Angel McKenzie joined in 2013. Add Fred Thomas (bass) of James Brown’s band; Jimmy Hill (organ), formerly of Wilson Pickett’s band; Max Shrager (guitar); and Mikey Post (drums) and you’ve got an honest, hearty celebration of spirit.

Shelton’s favorite theme is this: The Lord accepts us unconditionally, so if I try my best, “Heaven Is Mine.” This same faith echoes through the high-steppin’ country chutzpah of “I Earned Mine,” the train ride “Bound for the Promised Land” and the irresistible, sing-along excitement of “Thank You, Lord.” Also recommended: The truly uplifting “Cold World,” plus a lilting rhumba about losing faith, “Everybody Knows.” Naomi Shelton has always believed her day would come. Thank Heaven, that day is here.

– Annie Dinerman

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