I have always cared more for instrumental music than for vocals. This became especially true after I discovered the Mahavishnu Orchestra in the early 70's. But after watching American Idol with my wife for the past two seasons, I find myself paying more attention to vocals. Not so much the vocals of so-called "American Idols" as those of truly great singers.
I believe that two of the greatest singers I have ever heard are Aaron Neville and Aretha Franklin. I had heard Aaron Neville for years but never paid much attention to him until I saw a late night commercial for his greatest hits album and heard portions of some of the songs adorning it. When I later heard his full version of Amazing Grace, I was overwhelmed.
I have always loved this song even though I am not Christian. It reaches into my heart and soul like perhaps no other song. But Neville's angelic voice takes it to another level of sheer transcendence. I have read that when Neville performs this song in concert, he touches his audiences so deeply that he leaves most of them in tears. I can understand why. Here is a YouTube clip of him singing it, and here is an excerpt of Aretha Franklin giving a very different but enrapturing rendition of it.
After watching some of Aretha's performances on YouTube and hearing them on Rhapsody, I now understand why she's the "Queen of Soul" and a force of nature with that miraculously powerful and inspiring voice of hers. And after seeing Neville perform a devastatingly poignant version of Randy Newman's Louisiana 1927 on an NBC benefit concert in the summer of 2005 for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, he became my favorite singer of all.
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