We gave it a B
America’s greatest living singer may well be the Philadelphia gospel singer Marion Williams, 63, a great blues shouter whose phrasing is unbelievably facile. Rock & roll owes her an incalculable debt, for in her ’50s heyday with the Famous Ward Singers, Williams perfected the oscillating upper-octave whoo that has been one of rock’s most ear-piercing hallmarks — from Little Richard’s greatest hits to today’s heavy-metal legions. For this, even AC/DC owes homage.
Williams records today for tiny Spirit Feel Records, where she’s produced by gospel historian Anthony Heilbut. Her new Strong Again — on which she ranges from the spiritual ”Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” to the jazz classic ”God Bless the Child” — lacks the powerhouse groove of her ’50s sides, but the blues and ballad set pieces amply display her continuing richness of tone and technical command. In her throat, the moan achieves the status of high art, the growl stands revealed as a mighty form of prayer, and those piercing whoos become temples of majesty. ”Holy Ghost, don’t leave me,” she implores on Strong Again, but a deity being worshipped with such skill and fervor would have to be deaf not to stay. B