ROCK / Riffs: A vital service rendered: Natalie Merchant of 10,000 Maniacs on Aretha's gospel

'Six or seven years ago we were on tour, and my road manager gave me a tape of his favourite gospel music. And on it was this Aretha Franklin performance of 'Mary, Don't You Weep', recorded in church (the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, Los Angeles). I'd never heard that side of her before, and I went out immediately and bought the entire record, Amazing Grace. It's a form of music that isn't at all contained and it opened a window into a world I could never fully enter myself. You hear an organ and a bit of a drum kit, and James Cleveland's vocal arrangement of the choir in the background. And then there's Aretha, singing the song as if she could raise the dead. She'd become successful by the time of this recording (1972), but some of the important people from her past are in the audience - Cleveland, her father the Rev C L Franklin, Clara Ward - and it's obvious the whole community is ecstatic that Aretha's there, that she's achieved so much. The performance reaffirms the support of her family and her tradition. One thing to the album's advantage - the quality of the sound is good. I buy gospel records all the time, but I'm usually disappointed by the recording. This one works, though it may be to do with the fact that Aretha sings like an angel possessed. I like the gatefold sleeve as well. Incredible pictures - the entire audience with Afros.'

'Amazing Grace' was released by Atlantic.

(Photograph omitted)