Gig review: Naomi Shelton, Edinburgh

ON THE opening night of the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, the fans were out in force, ready – after some persuading – to be taken to church.

Naomi Shelton, in white, blends a gospel boom with a rhythmnblues rasp
Naomi Shelton, in white, blends a gospel boom with a rhythmnblues rasp

Naomi Shelton - Spiegeltent St Andrews Square, Edinburgh

* * * *

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Naomi Shelton devoted decades to giving praise while earning a crust singing in Brooklyn nightclubs before she was signed late in life to the wonderful Daptone Records who have introduced many a veteran New York soul singer to a worldwide audience.

Live, she was backed by her Gospel Queens, Edna Johnson, Bobby Jean Gant and Angel McKenzie, who provided sweetly soulful harmonies, and a typically dapper Daptone band of young bucks with a real feel for the tradition they are playing in.

Led by veteran funk bassist Fred Thomas, who played with James Brown from the early 70s, they struck up a blithe and breezy soul funk groove to warm up the polite audience, followed by the tight jazz funk of the JB’s Pass the Peas before the frail Shelton was wheeled on to stage.

Shelton sounds like she came from the church and from the streets, blending a deep gospel boom with a rhythm’n’blues rasp, like Mavis Staples crossed with James Brown on the testifying whoops.

Experience was written all over her versions of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come and Etta James’s At Last.

She effortlessly struck up a testifying flow, but being sedentary throughout, it was left to her fellow musicians to bring some life to the performance.

The band preferred a controlled to an abandoned approach, with just the occasional guitar or piano flourish, and the Queens were initially reserved.

However, as Shelton emerged as quite a playful character, the crowd gradually warmed up with outbreaks of straight-laced clapping and some sashaying at the back of the room to the tasty low-slung groove of Heaven Is Mine and the tight and funky It’s a Cold, Cold World.

Each of the Queens took a turn on lead, bringing subtly different flavours to the table, from pop gospel to swinging rhythm’n’blues. They provided the girl group call-and-response and Shelton the authoritative challenge on What Have You Done My Brother? and there was further humanitarian food for thought on What More Can I Do? before curfew put an end to a show which had really hit its stride.