Elizabeth King’s I Got A Love radiates hope and love without judgment or moral chains, a straight-from-the-well bucket of soul and immortal Memphis groove. It’s the kind of record that reminds you where rock n’ roll came from– yes, the juke joints and honky tonks played their parts, but the joy came from rooms of worship where sometimes the only instruments were faith and a collective voice.
King’s professional singing career began in 1970, a year after a drunk driver smashed into her flower delivery truck, breaking both the then 25-year-old’s legs. The single mother of four may have survived the accident but was informed by doctors that she’d never walk again. King recovered in the hospital for two weeks, during which time, she was visited by a snowy-haired “priest”, who asked to pray with her daily. When she was finally deemed fit enough to return home, Elizabeth inquired after the man in black only to be informed that such a person didn’t exist on the staff. King felt she had been encouraged by the spirit of God, and despite the initial diagnosis, willed herself to stand and walk once more.
Back on her feet and singing in church, Elizabeth was approached by the manager of the 10-man Gospel Souls. She began performing and touring with the group– at the time, the only woman in Memphis leading an all-male ensemble– and that same year released her first sides for Style Wooten’s Designer Records. Next came an offer from South Memphis pastor Juan Shipp, who in 1972 brought in King and the Gospels Souls to be the vanguards for his own imprint, D-Vine Spirituals. Even though D-Vine would run its course in the mid-1980s and the Gospel Kings would succumb to time in 2010, Shipp would remain King’s manager throughout, and in 2019, he called Elizabeth with an exciting proposition.
Fat Possum Records’ Bruce Watson, a Sacred Soul enthusiast, had been working with Juan Shipp on a compilation of D-Vine singles (available now from Big Legal Mess) and was interested in recording Elizabeth King. Living In The Last Days was recorded in pre and post-COVID sessions at the newly built Delta Sonic Sound studio in Memphis and released in April of 2021, marking King’s debut full-length at the age of 77. The follow-up, I Got A Love, reunites King with Bruce Watson who shares the helm with Texas guitarist, songwriter, producer, and leader of the Sacred Soul Sound Section, Will Sexton.
There’s no stretching or whittling at the corners– I Got A Love is devoted gospel. Stand-out tracks include the thrumming kickstarter “What You Gonna Do?”, the Jimbo Mathus-penned, Daptone-ish title track, and the funky Wonder-esque “I Need The Lord”. King’s performance of “My Robe” is one of the most emotional of her return to recording and borders on the epic, raising eyes and pulses with the mantra, “My robe is gonna fit me well/Tried it on at the gates of hell.”
The power of King’s voice is on full display with “Give Me Wings”, an acapella number that truly soars with the backing of her daughters, Jennifer Stewart, Betsy Spring, and Yolanda Sherrod, while the album’s closer, “My Time Ain’t Long” rolls with organ, sweet wah, and sax.
For fans of soul music more akin to revelry than revival, I Got A Love may not check all the boxes. But the album’s showcase of King’s still-powerful voice and excellent arrangements are worth the spin. Like Elizabeth’s fellow Memphian, Don Bryant, who jumpstarted his second act at age 75 with 2017’s Don’t Give Up On Love, there’s not a moment in 10 tracks where the singer is anything less than superb. Elizabeth King has picked cotton for $3 a day, survived illness and accident, raised 15 children (58 was the number of grandchildren listed in a 2021 interview), and half a century after her first studio session with the Gospel Souls, she sounds just as immaculate. No matter whatever else you may believe, that’s gospel.