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Aretha Franklin
Albums

  • Yeah!!
  • I Never Loved A Man...
  • Aretha Arrives
  • Lady Soul








  • Adrian's Album Reviews |

    Aretha Franklin

    Related Artists - Erykah Badu, Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder
    Related Genres - Hip Hop & Soul

    Yeah!! 7 ( 1965 )
    This Could Be The Start Of Something Big / Once In A Lifetime / Misty / More / There Is No Greater Love / Muddy Water / If I Had A Hammer / Impossible / Today I Love Everybody / Without The One You Love / Trouble In Mind / Love For Sale

    Franklin is the second most honored female singer in Grammy history after Alison Krauss Pardon? Is that right? Well, I know it's right, but what stupid idiots caused such a state of affairs? Well, it doesn't matter. I'm coming in right towards the tail-end of her Columbia era, because most of those albums aren't available at all. It's long been said that Columbia didn't understand Aretha, didn't set her free and only once signing to Atlantic did she produce persuasive, truly soulful material. Columbia intially took Aretha's secular, gospel roots but tried to then shape her as a crossover singer of supper-club, jazz friendly standards. She arrived at this point in 1965 with the 'Yeah!!' LP only to find excellent soulful vocals stuck over a jazz band and tacked on taped audience applause. The legendary John Hammond had recognized Aretha as 'the greatest voice since billie holiday', but Aretha didn't want to be shoe-horned into being a supper-club Jazz singer. 'Yeah!!' was the 2nd to last album she recorded for Columbia and sees her seemingly trying to ignore the accomplished Jazz band in places to sing soul over the top, anyway. The taped-applause is not required and gets irritating. If 'Yeah!!' were to be given a proper reissue without the audience needlessly tacked-on, 'Yeah!!' could have the chance of a proper re-evaluation. Whilst it's not upto the standards of course of her finest Atlantic releases, there truly are some jaw-droppingly great vocals sprinkled across the LPs twelve cuts. As for the Billie Holiday comparison, we can make a direct one as such by taking Aretha's performance of 'There Is No Greater Love' as a means of comparison. Aretha invests the song with so much genuine soul. The band play their polite supper-club Jazz yet Aretha, ignoring this, just let's out her soul and really gets into the song. It's transformed and very different from a Billie Holiday version. Even without any say in the music to speak of, Aretha could still sparkle.

    'Yeah!!' has a strong central selection of tracks. Following 'There Is No Greater Love' Aretha absolutely slays 'Muddy Water'. As an example of the gulf between the vocal and the music, although Aretha herself would play prime piano on these type of Columbia cuts, you could remove the music altogether, just keep the vocals, and the song and performance arguably would be improved and all the better for it. Completing the strong central trio of songs that give 'Yeah!!' its heart, Aretha takes the old chestnut 'If I Had A Hammer' and turns it as much into her own as a Johnny Cash would when faced with the same kind of material. Aretha still grew at Columbia, she learnt a lot in the studio about her playing and harmonics. Her vocal talents, it's fair to say, were already there just waiting to really burst out. 'Yeah!!' is very listenable but without the music and vocals really gelling together, can't rank too high, a '7' seems fair for the Aretha vocal qualities alone.

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    I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You 9 ( 1967 )
    Respect / Drown In My Own Tears / I Never Loved A Man... / Soul Serenade / Don't Let Me Lose This Dream / Baby, Baby, Baby / Dr Feelgood / Good Times / Do Right Woman, Do Right Man / Save Me / A Change Is Gonna Come

    Aretha, the daughter of the Rev.C.L.Franklin. She was born to a musical, gospel family and as a teenager sang with her two sisters. She was signed to CBS records, without any notable album success, so when her contract came up for renewal in 1966, moved off to Atlantic Records and recorded with Tommy Cogbill, Roger Hawkins, Chips Moman, Spooner Oldham and Jimmy Johnson. The sessions were produced by Jerry Wexler, but Aretha herself seemed to be in control, especially when seated at the piano. I find it interesting that the superlative guitar and horn led "Save Me" features the guitar riff from Van Morrison's "Gloria". In those days, Soul singers made good use of their musicians, and guitar wasn't alien. "Save Me" really swings, and the horns pipe up in all the right places. It's a joyous, wonderful thing - but far from being the best thing here! Perhaps some of the songs have suffered from over-exposure, but really listening to them with the volume cranked right up still brings a chill to my spine, at least. So, let's briefly mention "Respect", what a groove and perfectly recorded as well. You can hear each and every instrument but most notable is Aretha's voice and the horn led instrumental break following the first chorus is simply a joy. "Drown In My Own Tears" opens with a brief burst of piano and then it's Aretha. Well, it's Aretha and piano. The bass comes in, her vocal is just..... How I can say this? It's full of power, feeling, pain and passion. Again this is beautifully recorded, the piano most notable along with the bass. The gospel flavour and feeling is prominent in Aretha's own performance although the backing singers help out as well. The title song is impeccably performed by everyone involved, "Soul Serenade" is a beautiful ballad with horns again to the fore.

    "Don't Let Me Lose This Dream" has a little Jazz bossa-nova feel to the rhythm of it and it's very welcome. Every track so far in fact has had a different feel, a slightly different rhythm. When Aretha sings 'i only know, i only know...' to a descending vocal melody, that's a joy, another wonderful song and performance. "Baby Baby Baby" was co-written by Aretha and Carolyn Franklin and is just as great a song as many of the classics that have come before on the album. The bass and piano are again kings on this particular song. Aretha sings, of course - and sounds amazing, goes without saying, really. And then she screams, the horns kick in. It's a beautiful thing. "Dr Feelgood" is another piano led ballad, not quite so sparkling melodically this time, though equally as well performed. This is really just the first song that comes across as a repetition of what's gone before. "Good Times" uses a blues groove to great effect and "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man" just happens to one of my favourite songs, EVER! This is quite possibly the best version of the song, although Gram Parsons didn't do badly with the composition either. It's just a combination of beautifully recorded piano and bass, there isn't much else in fact but Aretha. We have a totally wonderful vocal full of emotion, sadness, yet joy at the same time. When she sings 'Yeah, yeah - they say it's just a mans world' it's just.... ah, well, you get the impression. It's good! "Save Me" arrives next, a fantastic guitar groove as i've already said and this is followed by the closing Sam Cooke written song "Change Is Gonna Come", another beautiful combination of power vocals and piano. A land-mark, fantastic, heart-breaking wonderful album. And, that's it! Is that enough?

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    Readers Comments

    Andre Ellis AEllis@tvnz.co.nz
    Save Me is also very interesting because the lead guitar player laying down the "gloria" progression is famous but long dead... this particular recording is before his fame.

    Egie Aisien egieaisien@hotmail.com
    Agreed ... your description of 'Baby, Baby, Baby' is on pt .. & I particularly related to your review of Erykah's 'Worldwide'. Check out Meshell (www.meshell.com) .. I think you'll adore her stuff.......

    john, county kildare john.j.doyle@nuim.ie
    although i prefer lady soul [review please adrian] nobody can ever underestimate the importance of this album in terms of artistic quality, sexual politics, and racial equality. powerful stuff. 9/10.

    gazza garyhess44@hotmail.com
    The quintessential southern soul album . I love the way arethas voice brings its gospel and blues influnces right to the fore and surrounded by the cream of memphis musicians and with a great collection of songs she couldnt fail with this record. This album launched aretha and she seized the opportunity tearing through american music with an impact seldom seen in soul music,matching the grit of otis redding, the musicality of ray charles , the seductive passion of sam cooke and the consummate song choice of say nat king cole . This is a sexy , raw record - so not what berry gordys assembly line blacks at motown were delivering , this was a black woman bringing it home on her own terms . 40 years on it still delivers .. 9/10

    top of page Aretha Arrives 8 ( 1967 )
    (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction / You Are My Sunshine / Never Let Me Go / 96 Tears / Prove It / Night Life / That's Life / I Wonder / Ain't Nobody (Gonna Turn Me Around) / Going Down Slow / Baby I Love You

    Released mere months after 'I Never Loved A Man...', 'Aretha Arrives' seems to have been all but overlooked in comparison. True, the material chosen for this album is seemingly a fairly rag-bag bunch, with country tunes and blues tunes alongside a Rolling Stones cover and a Frank Sinatra song, yet Aretha transforms these songs. It's cliched I know, but the material hardly even matters. She just invests so much into every performance here, no matter what the song or style the song was originally performed in. Recorded in a mere three days and featuring Franklin playing her piano with a broken elbow on seven of the eleven tracks, 'Aretha Arrives' may well be the missing link in your Aretha collection. Otis also tackled 'Satisfaction' of course, Aretha's version sticks to the same template as his did to open this LP with a bang. 'Night Life' is an absolutely stunning blues ballad and Aretha gives a truly powerhouse vocal performance, absolutely owning your own front living room, let alone the song. That's how good it is. Anybody sick and tired of hearing 'Think', 'Respect' or 'Natural Woman' and doubts how good Aretha really was should listen to this! Another soulful ballad 'Never Let Me Go' is a further highlight of a generally strong first half to this LP, a good tune for the romantics among you is 'Never Let Me Go'.

    'Baby, I Love You' was this LPs biggest hit at the time, although we don't get to hear this on the radio these days, do we? Perhaps it's because this is more of a pure soul tune rather than the soul/pop/rock crossover stuff she was turning the likes of 'Respect' into? She transforms Sinatra's 'That's Life' into a semi-soul classic proving yet again, as if proof were needed, that she was a great interpretive performer. 'Aretha Arrives' does lack slightly in the material department, it's true, despite what I said earlier. The rushed nature of this LP is hard to ignore, although vocally everything is absolutely top notch.

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    Lady Soul 9 ( 1969 )
    Chain of Fools / Money Won't Change You / People Get Ready / Niki Hoeky / (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman / Since You've Been Gone (Sweet Sweet Baby) / Good to Me as I Am to You / Come Back Baby / Groovin' / Ain't No Way

    Musically, Aretha plays Piano on these recordings, and then you've got Joe South and Bobby Womack on guitar, you've got Carolyn and Erma Franklin on backing vocals, you've got Roger Hawkins on drums and Spooner Oldham on Keyboards and Electric Piano. We've got Trumpets, Trombones and Saxophones and the whole package is produced by the legendary Jerry Wexler for Atlantic Records.'A Natural Woman' was written for her and elsewhere she tackles songs by James Brown, Curtis Mayfield and of course a few of her own, albeit in collaboration. Oh, I should mention a certain Eric Clapton even gets in on the act, adding bluesy guitar to 'Good To Me As I Am To You'. So, this was a big production and a serious album yet it's clear who the star is and who plays the supporting roles. 'Chain of Fools'. 'People Get Ready' and "You Make Me Feel Like (A Natural Woman) were the hits but on top of that you've got performances equally as good with 'Money Won't Change You', 'Good To Me As I Am To You' and the closing 'Ain't No Way'. Aretha's gospel upbringing is readily apparent during 'Lady Soul's ten tracks and whilst some may feel short-changed by the original LP only running for 30 minutes or so, that kind of length wasn't at all unusual at the time. Besides, i'm often one to say less is more and an album twice the length of 'Lady Soul' would hardly ever manage to be twice as good and many would say quite the opposite. During 30 minutes you get a blast of the best Soul/Gospel singer the world had, at the height of her powers, and next to no filler.

    The album is expertly paced with uptempo party tracks like 'Niki Hoeky' and the driving likes of 'Come Back Baby' right where they should be. The nearest we get to a weak link is possibly 'Groovin', a version of the Young Rascals 1967 hit. It doesn't sound like she feels this song and the mixing is perhaps an indication, pushing her a little back in the mix whilst the musicians try their best to make the song sound soulful and relaxing. The highlight for me arrives with 'Ain't No Way', compare and contrast the passion of the vocals here compared to her take on 'Groovin'. This is genuinel soul, pouring from the heart. I nearly actually forget to mention the powerhouse 'Since You Been Gone', an Aretha co-write that also managed to be a hit single in the US. So, four hits and eight or so utter classics? It's a no brainer then to recommend you include this album in your record collection.

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    this page last updated 26/04/11


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