Darlene Love got her start in her local church choir as a young girl before getting drafted into the Blossoms. The rest is musical history, best exemplified by “He’s a Rebel,” “He’s Sure the Boy I Love,” “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry,” yet Love always expressed an interest in recording a gospel album. A musical return to her roots and an expression of solidarity with the music that best informed and forged her vocal style.
Well, in 1998 she got her wish with Unconditional Love. It’s a fine album with dated late-90s production styles and a highly theatrical vocal performance by Love throughout. Of course, gospel singing practically demands and makes allowances for vocal indulgences, and Love’s church soaked alto nearly demolishes the walls of Jericho with their emotive fancy and power.
The problem is that much of Unconditional Love begins to sound the same with one song bleeding into another with little differentiation. I’m not sure if it’s the uniformly dated R&B sounds or the arrangements of the gospel mainstays, but Unconditional Love lands with a softer touch then you’d imagine. I wonder if the presence of a few secular songs reimagined as gospel numbers, Love’s version of “Lean on Me” or Marvin Gaye’s “Wholy Holy,” for instance, would have provided more personality. It’s fine, a bit generic, but Love’s in damn fine voice here and gives some truly memorable and powerful performances. The New York Times didn’t describe her voice as a thunderbolt for nothing.
DOWNLOAD: “It Is Well”