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Song Premiere: Naomi Shelton And The Gospel Queens, 'Sinner'

Naomi Shelton
Jacob Blickenstaff
Courtesy of the artist

In 1963, Alabama was culturally closer to Brooklyn than it is now. The Great Migration of African-Americans out of the South created enclaves in cities all over the country, and the Civil Rights movement trained the eyes of the North on cities like Birmingham. Alabama native Naomi Shelton came to Brooklyn that year with the gospel in her heart and soul music turning her head. She found a place to sing, a bar on Flatbush Avenue, and a musical partner in keyboardist Cliff Driver. Flatbush Avenue rang out with the sound of her Southern blend of grace and grit.

Fast-forward to 2014, when the South's seems to be moving back toward that old proximity with New York. As part of the Daptone Records family, Naomi Shelton has been a key player in the soulful revival that's been heating up for the past few years. Shelton's powerful personality connects her to Daptone labelmate Sharon Jones, but grit and sense of the groove also recall the music of younger Southerners the Alabama Shakes.

Produced with just a touch of reggae flavor by Daptones boss Gabriel Roth, "Sinner," from her new album Cold World, out July 29, unfolds as intense testimony, with Shelton confessing and expressing her determination to rise above the pitfalls of the human condition. You can feel the spirit of the great Alabama gospel queen, Dorothy Love Coates, and her Gospel Harmonettes shining down on this track. Not just for believers, but also for anyone who's shouldered a burden, "Sinner" simply tells the story of one soul's survival through life's inevitable changes. Naomi Shelton has crossed many boundaries in her long career, and here she brings the spirit home.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.