Easily the most underrated on the major soul sirens that emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Gladys Knight did not possess the singular talents of Ms. Franklin or the baby-daddy/promotion machine at Motown that supported Ms. Ross. If Franklin was the original “round-tha-way” girl, Knight was damn sure from right on the block (though it was Ms. Ross who was actually from the projects). The darker and yes, more voluptuous Knight seemed to take a back seat to the aforementioned Diva-Supremes and up-and-coming Divas such as the more subtle Chaka Khan and much more histrionic Patti Labelle. Knight has recorded nearly 40 albums over the past 35 years including three solo releases during the 1990s, among them the inspirational Many Different Roads (1998) and Just for You (1994), which includes her stirring rendition of the Boys II Men classic “End of the Road”. Knight’s vocals that have been a model of consistency over those years as she has seemingly been able to negotiate the current popular music terrain in ways that all of the aforementioned Divas have not. At Last marks Knight’s first “mainstream” recording in more than six years.
At Last is not filled with any great creative leaps. Most of the tracks are functional, listenable R&B ditties that allow Knight to do what she does best, which is “sang”. “Do You Really Want to Know”, which opens the recording, “Something Blue”, which Knight co-produced, and “I Said You Lied”, where Knight borrows a riff from her classic “Neither One of Us”, are the best examples of the kind of cookie cutter R&B that one would expect from an established and well regarded artist trying to hang with the “young folks”. One of those “young folk”, Gary Brown, is behind the boards for Knight’s “If I Were Your Woman II”, which while sharing the same title of her Motown era classic with the Pips, is not a remake of the original but lyrically reminiscent of Prince’s “If I Were Your Girlfriend”.
Given Knight’s appeal to mature audiences, At Last, of course, contains its share of droning adult contemporary tracks such as the painful “Love Hurts”, “Better Love Next Time”, and “Just Take Me”. Ironically the one track that might cross the recording over to broader audiences is Knight’s version of the country music classic “Please Help Me I’m Falling”, which was initially a hit for Hank Locklin almost 50 years ago. The track is a pleasant surprise from Knight, as is her duet with comedian Jamie Foxx. Foxx, who is no stranger to the recording studio having released a solo recording in 1993, more than hold his own on the track “I Wanna Be Loved”. Knight appeared on the now defunct Jamie Foxx Show as the mother of Foxx’s character. Knight also revisits the music of Bill Withers, with her own rendition of his classic “Grandmas Hands”. Whereas Will Downing’s recent version of the song on last year’s All the Man That I Need seemed overly manufactured, Knight’s rendition is believable, thought is falls short of the passion that Withers conveyed in the original nearly 30 years ago. Other highlights from the recording include the sweet “Greatest Love of All” and the closing anthem “That’s Why They Call It Love”.