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Naomi Shelton & The Gospel Queens: Cold World Review

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Naomi Shelton & The Gospel Queens: <i>Cold World</i> Review

Gospel music, at its most potent, is often a shock to the system. Hardcore, thrown down, lightning bolts and sanctification, it hits the core before you even process what you’re hearing.

There is no doubting Naomi Shelton’s gospel bona fides. A voice of baked clay and fire, the old-school exhorter can lay back in a pocket then wail spring-loaded with the kind of fervor that torches the most worn-in resistance to ashes. But there’s something more to her flame than merely the glory of the spirit set on stun.

Shelton knows of the other side, having sung in Brooklyn nightclubs 50 years ago. When the striding “Movin’” rolls with such purpose and 17-year-old Max Shrager’s wiry guitar slashes, it is from the temporal, the carnal that its frisson springs. It’s not that Shelton is about praising “things of the flesh,” so much as she embraces the secular to lift the rest of us up.

The purposeful “Cold World” lands like the best of Curtis Mayfield, equal parts “Shaft” swung low and Arc Angel Gabriel striding through. Honoring what’s hard, the jukin’ soul transcendence comes from Shelton’s witness, strung between the towers of harmony from her Gospel Queens—not call and response, but more witness and vamp strewn across three equally potent female voices keeping the faith.

Like the Staples Singers, whose religion offered an on-ramp to all by virtue of their message, Shelton brings a broader spectrum to the dozen new songs produced by Gabriel Roth. Known for his work with Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, he melts time and creates a lush old school rhythm-and-blues casing. These songs ignite for the lived-in sensibility they’re given.

From the vaudeville/spaghetti Western-tempered “I Earned Mine” to the noir soul drama of “I Don’t Know,” the funeral B-3 starting “Get Up” that descends into an almost barrelhouse altar call to the halting shuffle “Humble Me,” the various feels weave into a core sample that merges old-school Stax with church music for anyone who’d dare to listen.

That’s the genius: those voices are a siren call. Edna Johnson, Bobbie Jean Gant and Angel McKenzie are a trio of such impeccable thrust, one can only lean into the magnetic pull of their harmonies. Like the i-Tals, the “ooohs” and echoing parts, as well as their set-up lyrics, lend a dimension to the discussion that makes room for sinner and saint alike.

“Heaven Is Mine” percolates with the promise. One listen, and you, too, can believe.