Much like our ‘Retro Rewind’ and ‘From the Vault’ segments, readers of That Grape Juice know what avid music lovers we are – especially of hits past. So in a quest to re-spin the gems and jams of yesterday we introduced a new retrospective segment – ‘TGJ Replay’.
Unlike its ‘Rewind’ and ‘Vault’ predecessors, ‘Replay’ looks to dust off and showcase albums (and eras) from a library of pop music hits. Finally, we go back to the debut solo project of gospel legend Karen Clark Sheard…1997’s ‘Finally Karen’…
By 1997, Karen Clark Sheard‘s name – though highly revered in and out of the gospel music industry – was solely known as one-fourth of the dynamic gospel girl group The Clark Sisters. The familial foursome, originally a quintet, had lent over two decades worth of gospel classics like ‘Name It, Claim It’, ‘Is My Living In Vain’, and, of course, ‘You Brought the Sunshine’.
But, after lead singer/songwriter Twinkie Clark departed in the late 80s, early 90s to carve a solo path up gospel charts, the latter half of the 90s saw Sheard – the family’s youngest – gear up to follow in her big sister’s footsteps. The result of such ambition was the Donald Lawrence-helmed ‘Finally Karen‘.
‘Balm In Gilead’
The album’s leading single ‘Balm In Gilead’ – a reworked version of an earlier Clark Sisters hit – immediately soared to the top of gospel charts. Almost immediately cementing the then-budding diva’s placement among gospel’s songstresses, the dynamic vocals displays littered throughout the tune quickly set the precedent for what could be expected from the other offering’s of Karen’s debut solo project.
A welcomed mixture of soaring soprano wails, throaty growls, a rollercoaster of melisma, and incomparable passion helped ‘Finally’ land an impressive #2 debut during the fall month of its 1997 release.
‘Praying Spirit’ (Clark Sister remake)
Already cited by many in and out of the gospel music industry as a vocal inspiration, Sheard previous offerings with her elder Clark Sisters had already seen them experiment with a number of “mainstream secular” sounds ranging from R&B to reggae. This time, for her solo project, Sheard thought to bring some of R&B’s top divas on board to assist (see: ‘Nothing Without You’ ft. Faith Evans and ‘Just For Me’ written by Kelly Price).
While praised for Price and Evans’ feature, it’s pretty safe to say the most memorable cameos came from the Clarks themselves. Playing co-star to tunes ‘Jesus Is A Love Song’ and ‘Pure Gold’ (both remakes of earlier Clark Sister classics), one would be forgiven if he or she forgot whose album it was.
The album would also serve as the introduction to Karen’s dynamic daughter Kierra who, since 1997, has gone forward in her own right – blazing a trail of contemporary gospel hits.
Nearly two decades since its release and ‘Finally Karen’ is still regarded as not only her best album, but one of the decade’s best offerings. Weaving together an incomparable mix of traditional and contemporary gospel, ‘Finally’ lifted Karen to a well-deserved solo spotlight – winning Stellar and Lady of Soul honors. Placing the performer on a platform that would eventually serve as inspiration for the likes of Mariah Carey, Beyonce, and so many of today’s top vocalists, Sheard still holds tight to that very pedestal.
And, while we await the songstress’s new album due this September, we press play on ‘Finally’ to fondly remember our first intro to Karen the solo siren!