Esther Marrow – Sister Woman – Craft Recordings

by | Apr 15, 2022 | Jazz CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Craft Recordings releases a remastered vinyl of a gospel singer’s foray into soul.

Esther Marrow – Sister Woman – Fantasy Records (1972)/Craft Recordings CR00487 180-gram stereo vinyl Record Store Day Release [4/23/2022] 36:15 ****1/2:

Esther Marrow – vocals, and ensemble (listed below)

Perhaps the greatest influence in soul music has been gospel. With a combination of call and response, group singing, rhythmic instrumentation and complex tempo structures, the fervent religious music lent itself to the development of modern genres.  Like gospel, modern soul reflected the African-American experience in America, but with secularized socio-political themes. Many of the great soul singers had roots in gospel, including icons like Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. Another of these soul pioneers was “Queen” Esther Marrow. She began her illustrious career with Duke Ellington, and has performed with Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King, Thelonious Monk, Ray Charles, Chick Corea and Bob Dylan. She has appeared on the Broadway stage and television. One of her greatest achievements was founding the Harlem Gospel Singers.

Craft Recordings has released a re-mastered vinyl of Marrow’s second album, Sister Woman. This was the epitome of polished 70’s soul, consisting of polished arrangements and a veritable “who’s who” of session players including Bernard Purdie, Cornell Dupree and Richard Tee. Side 1 opens with the hook-driven rocking “Woman In The Window”. Marrow’s gritty vocals are backed by a dense horn section, gospel backup vocals and a propulsive organ (Tee). Distilling more funky grooves, “Ghetto” has a slow-burning intensity with a jaunty feel. Jimmy Johnson (drums) and Ralph McDonald (conga) set the stage for a funky arrangement with Cornell Dupree and Keith Loving excelling on electric guitar. Marrow’s vocals are compelling, and she ratchets up the emotion with authenticity and controlled intensity. “Trade Winds’ is a tempo adjustment. It is gospel balladry anchored by soulful vocals and Sunday morning piano. The arrangement folds in horns with subtlety which adds texture. Marrow is in her element on the earnest gospel opus, “Turn On To Jesus”. Her vocal exchanges with The Reflections are glowing, and a mid-number tempo uptick is flawless. It is gospel in its purest form, and will get any listener out of their seat. 

Side 2 kicks off with an inspired Bernard Purdie re-arrangement of “Rainy Night In Georgia”. Eschewing the languid aesthetics of the Brook Benton pop hit, the band provides upbeat coolness. Marrow infuses fluidity and silky exuberance that breathes new life into the song. The “funk” train continues on the topical “Things Ain’t Right”. Marrow keeps up the intensity and her exchange with drummer Johnson is forceful. The horns on this cut are more prominent and help drive the message. In a significant change-of-pace, “Ask Me To Dance” is romantic and tender, featuring a simpler arrangement with acoustic guitar and vibes. Laura Nyro’s gospel anthem, “And When I Die” is a suitable finale. With a slow-burning opening chorus, Marrow captures the deep spirituality of the composition. When the full band kicks in, it is celebratory testimony and the Queen simply rules. Her soaring vocals are complemented by a nasty horn section.

Kudos to Craft Recordings for re-introducing an under-appreciated artist like Queen Esther Marrow. The re-mastered 180-gram vinyl pressing (Kevin Gray/Cohearant Audio) has a dynamic sound mix. Marrow’s vocals are centered and the stereo separation of the instrumentation is superior.

Performing Artists:
Esther Marrow – vocals
Drum, Percussion:  Ralph McDonald, Jimmy Johnson, Idris Muhammad, Warren Smith, Specks Powell (vibes)
Guitar:  Cornell Dupree, Walter Raim, Sal Detoya, Keith Loving,
Bass:  Chuck Rainey, Gordon Edwards
Piano, Organ:  Bobby Scott, Richard Tee, Paul Griffin
Trumpet:  Jimmy Owens, Snooky Young
Saxophone:  Seldon Powell, Frank Weiss
Trombone:  Tony Studd
Harmonica:  Buddy Lucas
Backup Vocals:  The Voices

Side 1: Woman In The Window; Ghetto; Trade Winds; Turn On To Jesus
Side 2: Rainy Night In Georgia; Things Ain’t Right; Ask Me To Dance; And When I Die.  

—Robbie Gerson 


Album Cover for Esther Marrow - Sister Woman

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