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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Aretha Franklin: Soul Sister


1) Until You Were Gone; 2) You Made Me Love You; 3) Follow Your Heart; 4) Ol' Man River; 5) Sweet Bitter Love; 6) A Mother's Love; 7) Swanee; 8) (No, No) I'm Losing You; 9) Take A Look; 10) Can't You Just See Me; 11) Cry Like A Baby.

Not to be confused with the same-titled compilation of some of Aretha's biggest non-hits from the Columbia years, which, out of the two Soul Sisters, is the more widely available. This Soul Sis­ter is a fully original release, one that finally sets Aretha on the right track — except that Colum­bia lacked the manpower and the creativity to put the track on the same level with the train.

Most of the numbers, once again, return us to the Great American Songbook, but the sound is not as thoroughly retro, and the arrangements not as thoroughly traditional / nostalgic. Furthermore, slow sappy ballads occupy less than half of the album; someone finally realized that if Aretha's general style is most perfectly suited to belting it out, she should stick to belting it out on the «bel­ters» instead of belting it out on the «crooners». Songs like the midly rocking 'Can't You Just See Me' already give us an early glimpse of the classic Atlantic Aretha, except that the backing band obviously cannot compete with the classic Atlantic backing. Unquestionably the biggest surprise, however, is '(No, No) I'm Losing You', a little-known tune written by little-known song­writer Joy Byers which, however, could proudly stand its own on par with all those other songs about losing you (e. g. the Temptations or John Lennon). It is the first time Aretha tries to invoke a mood of sincere desperation, and it works — why the song never became a hit can only be ex­plained by a ridiculous marketing policy.

Most of the other stuff is perfectly well listenable; the more upbeat, the more listenable, vividly demonstrated by the bouncy reworkings of 'Swanee' and 'Ol' Man River', and even the glitzy lounge entertainment of 'You Made Me Love You' is fun. Overlook silly excesses like the pathos of 'A Mother's Love' (pretty much every Aretha record, including the best ones, has dissatisfying moments like that), and Soul Sister truly qualifies as an album that needed very little to push the singer over the edge. Very little. Just a better backing band, a better set of backup vocalists, a bet­ter arranger, a better producer, a better sequencing, a better level of songwriting, and better choi­ces for the lead singles. Other than that, Soul Sister rules.

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