The Return of Aretha

Album review of “Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics”

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, released a tribute album on Oct. 21 of some of the greatest female vocalists of past and present: Adele, Etta James, Gladys Knight, Barbara Streisand, Alicia Keys and others. This album, the 72-year-old’s first release in 13 years, has garnered worldwide attention, and, as reviewer Bill Odidi put it, “taking a first listen to the new album by Aretha Franklin is itself an exercise in reverence.”

The album kicks off with Etta James’ seminal wedding dance favorite, “At Last,” sticking pretty closely to the original, but with a few jazzy touches. Aretha was definitely making a point with this first track: she can still maneuver her way through any notes with ease.

After its pre-album release, “Rolling in the Deep (The Aretha Version)” was listed 47 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, making Franklin the first woman, and only the fourth artist, to place 100 titles on the chart. Aretha’s version was a mash-up of Adele’s big hit and Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s hit, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” The song is second on the album, and it doesn’t disappoint. Aretha’s personal touches are just enough to make it something new, but Aretha is clearly a fan of Adele.

“No One,” written and produced by Alicia Keys in 2007, made Aretha’s cut for diva classics. Aretha’s spin was two parts reggae and one part cruise karaoke. I would have preferred more soul and less Caribbean, and the song felt like a missed opportunity.

Aretha’s take on “I’m Every Woman,” made famous by Whitney Houston in 1992, starts out perfectly with free soaring vocals and gospel-esque back-up singers, but the song took a dive about 45 seconds in, when it turned disco. However, two minutes later, Aretha introduces her famous “Respect” refrain, which was a high point on the album.

The album ends with “Nothing Compares 2 U,” written/performed by Prince and made famous by Irish recording artist Sinead O’Conner in 1990. Aretha plays the piano on this track, and her dancing keys and scatting give it a fabulous jazz tone.

This album isn’t perfect: there are some awkward mash-ups and some odd stylistic choices, but I would buy it again. Why? Because Aretha takes listeners back to an era of rawness and risks that are missing in today’s voice modified, cookie-cutter pop music world. Aretha does this while also honoring some incredible female musicians from the last fifty years. This album shows not only that Aretha has still got the vocals and the talent, but that she is above all else a fan of good music. Because of who she is, and because of what she does accomplish in this album, Aretha still commands respect.


Comments are closed.