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Playing Around: Ashley Cleveland 

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When I think of gospel, I think of hot, humid churches filled to the brim with worshippers, raising their hands toward God, eyes closed, swaying to the soulful rhythms of a satin-robed choir. At the forefront of my dream, stands a sweaty-browed songstress framed by clapping hands, her powerful devout voice grabbing the prayers from the lips of the congregation and shuttling them up to Heaven where they are hand-delivered to God Himself.

I do not, however, think of Ashley Cleveland. The wild-maned, guitar-slingin', stern-faced woman isn't exactly what you'd expect of a gospel singer. She doesn't have the sugary sweetness and hometown goodness of, say, Amy Grant, but Cleveland has something strong going for her: a talent recognized by the Dove and Grammy Awards collected on her mantle.

Cleveland's knack for taking old gospel standards like "Revive Us Again" and adding a rock spin to them has set her apart in the world of Christian music. Also unlike many devout bands, Cleveland doesn't take herself too seriously. While she considers her music a gift to God, she isn't afraid to play Him a Rolling Stones cover every now and then with her husband, guitarist and producer Kenny Greenberg.

Ashley Cleveland will be making a rare appearance on Saturday night thanks to Vanguard. Tickets are $8 in advance. Call the concert hotline at 278-9363 for details.

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