Picks and Pans Review: Churchs

updated 05/19/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/19/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Songs of Soul & Inspiration
Various Artists (UTV)
Critic's Choice

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"Church is where I don't have to go because it is always with me." So says poet Maya Angelou in "It's Sacred: Church," her spoken-word composition that opens this inspired compilation of uplifting songs performed by female vocalists who got started in Sunday-morning choir. The project is the brainchild of opera star Denyce Graves, whose heavenly mezzo-soprano graces a gospel-infused rendition of "Ave Maria." But the album mostly shows how gospel and R&B are at home in the same pew. Soul divas such as Jennifer Holliday, Dionne Warwick and En Vogue shine on church-steeped arrangements of secular covers, while Patti LaBelle gets right to the spirit of the matter on "Way Up There," the disc's only original tune. Best, though, is Stephanie Mills's righteous remake of "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)." It'll make you say, "Diana who?"

BOTTOM LINE: Soul-stirring

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