Recordings

Various artists American Pie (Universal Records)

Despite his gospel pedigree, this 10-song set is an uneven and, at times, uninspired collection. Generally marred by muddy production values typical of the era, the more disturbing aspect is the vocals. Often singing in an affected and annoyingly froggy voice, Little Richard's performance lacks the feral energy and abandon that stood as the hallmark of his secular recordings. Only occasionally does he break out of this vocal rut, most notably on the rousing stomp of "Does Jesus Care" and the soulful croon of the title track.

This apparent lack of vocal fire is puzzling given his obvious affection for and background in the traditions of gospel music. While it would be unreasonable to expect Little Richard to punctuate a song like "Does Jesus Care" with one of his ecstatic "woooos," the rigid arrangements of standards like "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" and awkward nature of spoken-word recitations like "Coming Home" are ill-suited to his particular talents.

Fortunately, God Is Real is just one of three new historical reissues from the Peacock Gospel Classics imprint. Among the other entries are much worthier titles from Inez Andrews and the Staple Singers.

While it's clear that Little Richard saved more souls by "emancipating" rock 'n' roll than with his gospel output, the circumstances surrounding the recording of God Is Real make it an interesting, if somewhat disappointing, historical document.

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