Wilson and Alroy's Record Reviews We listen to the lousy records so you won't have to.

 Main page 

 New additions 

 Pop: 00s  90s 80s 70s 60s 50s


 Top 20: DBW JA 


Aretha Franklin

Reviewed on this page:
Her First Twelve Sides - Unforgettable - I Never Loved A Man - Aretha Arrives - Lady Soul - Aretha In Paris - Aretha Now - Soul '69 - This Girl's In Love With You - Spirit In The Dark - Live At Fillmore West - Young, Gifted and Black - Amazing Grace - Hey Now Hey (The Other Side Of The Sky) - Let Me In Your Life - Rare & Unreleased Recordings From The Golden Reign Of The Queen Of Soul - With Everything I Feel In Me - You - Sparkle - Sweet Passion - Almighty Fire - La Diva - Aretha (1980) - Love All The Hurt Away - Jump To It - Get It Right - Who's Zoomin' Who? - Aretha (1986) - One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism - Through The Storm - What You See Is What You Sweat - A Rose Is Still A Rose - So Damn Happy - This Christmas

Aretha Franklin, a preacher's daughter from Detroit, started out singing gospel as a young child (like so many other black future pop and soul stars). She made her first gospel records in the 50's (in her mid-teens), then went pop with a series of unsuccessful early 60s albums for Columbia. In 1967 she was signed to Atlantic Records and recorded a bunch of gritty R&B sides (with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section) that made her reputation. Since the early 70s Franklin has recorded soul, pop and gospel with varying degrees of success - she still has a hit single or duet from time to time - but at her brief zenith she was the world's foremost soul practioner, and did more than any artist besides James Brown to bring unvarnished, funky R&B into the musical mainstream.

I've got Franklin's autobiography, which I reviewed on our book review page, and I caught her 2003 tour, which I've reviewed on our concert review page. And without a shred of serious intent, I've compared songs sung by Franklin, Dionne Warwick and Diana Ross on our Diva Demolition Derby page. Note: Make sure you get the recent Rhino reissues, which have terrific liner notes and occasional bonus tracks. (DBW)

Her First Twelve Sides (rec. 1960, rel. 1971)
According to the liner notes on my LP, this collection of single sides wasn't released until well after Franklin hit the big time. Nevertheless, it's a lot of fun - a vocal jazz record with a strong blues influence. The small combo atmosphere (featuring Spike's father Bill Lee on bass; Aretha plays piano on four tracks) leaves lots of room for Franklin, and her voice is at its most earthy and engaging. Half the tunes are by Johnny McFarland, including the fine blues shouter "Won't Be Long" and the contemplative "(Blue) By Myself." The six standards are less consistent: she gives a magnificent performance of the gospel "Are You Sure," but seems unsure of herself on the Gershwin's "It Ain't Necessarily So," and doesn't add anything new to "Over The Rainbow." Though far from the funky R&B of her best-known work, and she doesn't write any of the tunes, this is an extraordinary testimony to how well developed her talent was at the age of 18. (DBW)

Aretha (1961)
Her secular recording debut, on Columbia. (DBW)

The Electrifying Aretha Franklin (1962)

Laughing On The Outside (1963)

The Tender, The Moving, The Swinging Aretha Franklin (1963)

Running Out Of Fools (1964)
Contains a cover of Bacharach and David's "Walk On By." (DBW)

Unforgettable (1964)
A tribute to Dinah Washington, done up in big band jazz style. Franklin's singing is far smoother and less individual than her later work - it's pleasant rather than moving - and you can smell the mothballs on worn standards like the title track and "What A Diff'rence A Day Made" (for comparison see India's full-throttle 1996 version). She's most effective on the blues belters ("Nobody Knows The Way I Feel This Morning" and "Evil Gal Blues") and the mournful "This Bitter Earth." The arrangements, by Robert Mersey, are pretty much by the book, except for some curiously dissonant strings. The CD rerelease contains a bonus track, Ted White's "Lee Cross." (DBW)

Songs Of Faith (1964)

In Person (1965)

Soul Sister (1966)
Winding up six hitless years at Columbia, Franklin switched to Atlantic after this release. (DBW)

I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You (1967)
- Franklin's first Atlantic recording is a classic from start to finish. The covers are very strong: "Respect" is still her best-known recording, and there are also powerful interpretations of Ray Charles's "Drown In My Own Tears" and Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come." But the original material is even stronger: "Dr. Feelgood" is an incomparable performance, "Save Me" is smoking R&B, and "Baby Baby Baby" is a tender ballad. She also had hits with the title track and "Do Right Man - Do Right Woman." Throughout, the Muscle Shoals rhythm section - directed by Franklin on piano - is sensitive and solid. Do yourself a favor and pick this up. (DBW)
- Like the next few records, this was produced by Jerry Wexler and engineered by Tom Dowd. They milk a fat, sassy Stax-Volt sound out of the horn and rhythm sections, and a few tunes are graced with fine female choruses. It's good, with several total classics like "Do Right..." But a lot of it is pedestrian mid-60s soul, and there are better Stax-Volt records out there. (JA)

Aretha Arrives (1967)
This was rushed out after the amazing success of her first Atlantic record, and it's patchy -- Aretha didn't write anything, and her sister Carolyn contributes just one tune: the thumping "Ain't Nobody (Gonna Turn Me Around)." The sinuous midtempo "Baby, I Love You" was the only single; the traditional "Going Down Slow" is also terrific, perhaps her best blues vocal. There are a lot of covers, some of which, like Willie Nelson's "Night Life," work better than you'd ever think possible. Others, like "You Are My Sunshine" and "That's Life," don't quite come off despite her impassioned vocals. She continues to follow Otis Redding's lead, covering the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" in a soul version not unlike Redding's 1965 take. (DBW)

Lady Soul (1968)
- Hits galore: "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," Don Covay's "Chain Of Fools," and the incredible groove "(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You've Been Gone" written by Franklin and then-husband Ted White. In addition, the album features the fine soul ballad "Good To Me As I Am To You" with Eric Clapton on guitar, "Ain't No Way" by Aretha's sister Carolyn, and several classy covers - there's a lot of variety here. (DBW)
- Although the Stax-Volt sound is still unmistakable here, it's considerably modernized: a heavier guitar sound, more sophisticated orchestration, occasional percussion, and most importantly, freer, more Jamerson-like bass playing. But it's not really an improvement, and it doesn't have the historical import of her Atlantic debut record. Aretha only wrote two numbers, and sources include Ray Charles ("Come Back Baby"), Curtis Mayfield ("People Get Ready"), and James Brown ("Money Won't Change You"). There's also a take on the Rascals' monster 1967 hit "Groovin'," with flute and cheesy organ failing to ruin Aretha's classy performance. Just to cover all its bets, Atlantic followed the three major Top 10 hit singles with "Ain't No Way," and it too hit the Top 40. (JA)

Aretha Now (1968)
Once again, a mix of soulful new material and more popwise covers. The formula starting to lose some of its freshness, but it's still pretty effective. Much of the new material is first-rate: Aretha's magnificent "Think," Ronnie Shannon's funky "Sweet Sweet Man" and mournful "I Can't See Myself Leaving You." The covers are more uneven: "Night Time Is The Right Time," another Ray Charles hit, and Sam Cooke's "You Send Me" are professionally done but don't outdo the originals or put a new spin on them; "I Say A Little Prayer" by Burt Bacharach and Hal David (originally recorded by Dionne Warwick) , is given a lovely, soulful reading. "See Saw" by Steve Cropper (Booker T's guitarist and Otis Redding's producer) and Don Covay was also a hit; it's okay but just routine for this period. During sessions for this album longtime bassist Tommy Cogbill was replaced by Jerry Jemmott; the rest of the band remains much the same. Arrangements by Dowd and Arif Mardin. (DBW)
Along with the preceding record, this collects most of Franklin's amazing haul of a half-dozen hits in one year. However, her chart performances were already starting to flag at this point, despite steady output. (JA)

Aretha In Paris (1968)
Recorded live on May 7, 1968. Even the liner notes to the reissue concede that this is less than Aretha at her best: she rushes the tempos ("Night Life"), plays a predictable mix of material from her three Atlantic albums ("Baby I Love You," "Respect," "Chain Of Fools," etc.) and her road band (which Wexler never used on any studio releases) is lackluster. Granting all that, this is still great material delivered with passion by a great singer, so how bad a buy can it be? The sound quality is surprisingly good, several of the performances are outstanding ("Dr. Feelgood," "Don't Let Me Lose This Dream"), and though the breakneck pace is exhausting, the sheer energy is also exhilarating. The band is Garry Illingworth (piano), Jerry Weaver (guitar), Rodderick Hicks (bass) and George Davidson (drums). Produced by Wexler. (DBW)

Soul '69 (1969)
Two tracks were recorded at the same time as Now, and they're gripping soul in the same mold as Aretha's early Atlantic work: "Today I Sing The Blues" and Smokey Robinson's "The Tracks Of My Tears." The rest of the album is turned over to big-band jazz arrangements, featuring top musicians like Ron Carter, Kenny Burrell and Joe Zawinul. The brass-heavy arrangements (by Mardin) are corny, sometimes drowning her out even when she's belting out a Big Maybelle blues like "Pitiful." One more Cooke cover, "Bring It On Home To Me," is given a bouncy, distressingly lightweight treatment. She also does "So Long," earlier recorded by James Brown. (DBW)

This Girl's In Love With You (1970)
Franklin was struggling personally and commercially at this point; she took nine months off during the recording of this album, and the music here is lifeless and diffuse compared to her other Atlantic output. Wexler abandoned the experimentation of the previous album, returning to her earlier sound; in an attempt to recapture the top of the charts, Wexler persuaded Franklin to record "The Weight," about which he later said, "Commercial stupidity and greed got the upper hand in me." Her cover of The Beatles's "Eleanor Rigby" steamrollers the melody, gives the tune a standard Muscle Shoals arrangement and turns it into a soul cliché. The other singles were "Share Your Love With Me" (a 1964 hit for Bobby Bland) and Franklin's own love song "Call Me." The album also has a fine cover of the Beatles' "Let It Be," plus the title track (also recorded by Warwick and many others), and "Son Of A Preacher Man," a 1968 hit for Dusty Springfield. By now David Hood was on bass, beginning his successful partnership with Roger Hawkins. Duane Allman adds guitar to "The Weight" and the bluesy "It Ain't Fair." Produced by Wexler, Dowd & Mardin. (DBW)

Spirit In The Dark (1970)
A solid, blues-based return to form. Besides the gospelly hit title track (one of five Franklin compositions here) there's plenty of stripped-down soul recalling her heyday, including a cover of the 1962 Ben E. King hit "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)." She covers two B.B. King hits, "Why I Sing The Blues" and "The Thrill Is Gone" (with a spine-tingling echo of Martin Luther King's "Great God A'mighty, I am free at last"); her version of Jimmy Reed's "Honest I Do" puts the Rolling Stones to shame. Half the tracks were cut with the Memphis Shoals section, the rest with the Dixie Flyers, featuring Jim Dickinson and Mike Utley on piano, Tommy McClure on bass, Charlie Freeman on guitar, and Sammy Creason on drums. Allman turns up again, on "When The Battle Is Over," first recorded by Delaney & Bonnie, and Franklin's "Pullin'" -- an excellent tune with odd tempo and chord changes. (DBW)

Live At Fillmore West (1971)
Her first gold album in three years. Everything, from the West Coast hippie venue to the familiar assortment of rock tunes to the star-studded backing band, was crafted to capture a cross-over audience - and it works brilliantly. King Curtis led a band including Cornell DuPree and his Kingpins, the Memphis Horns, Franklin's usual backup singers, and Billy Preston. The fresh, but well-practiced combination of talent is exciting and powerful. Meanwhile, Ray Charles shows up for an encore version of "Spirit In The Dark" that absolutely rocks the house - Charles milks the song's sexual innuendos for all they're worth. And the material is flawless, including the covers "Love The One You're With," "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and "Eleanor Rigby"; Aretha's "Dr. Feelgood"; and of course "Respect," done here at a gallop. There's even Aretha's great take on Diana Ross's contemporary hit "Reach Out And Touch (Somebody's Hand)." A must-have for any fan. In 1971 Franklin also had two major Top Ten hit singles that didn't appear on an LP: studio versions of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and Ben E. King's "Spanish Harlem," which rocketed to #2. Her sudden commercial comeback lasted a couple years. (JA)

Young, Gifted and Black (1972)
- Another classic (and another Grammy) as Franklin puts together her meditative side ("Day Dreaming") with straight-ahead belting ("A Brand New Me") and funky soul ("Rock Steady"). Plus her moving way with a ballad ("All The King's Horses"). She sounds more driven than usual, particularly on the title track (by Nina Simone), and the new studio band (with Franklin back on keyboards) is right on the mark (Chuck Rainey's bass playing is outstanding on "April Fools" and "Rock Steady"). Covers include yet another Otis Redding song ("I've Been Loving You Too Long") and Elton John's "Border Song." Billy Preston is on organ, as is Donny Hathaway, and Al Jackson of MG's fame plays drums on two tracks; other guests include Dr. John, Hubert Laws and Eric Gale (on bass rather than his usual guitar). This was recorded in late 1970 and early 1971, but held back to allow for the release of Fillmore West and a greatest hits collection. (DBW)
- A solid, updated-sounding album that represents her commercial peak in this period, with two Top 10 singles ("Rock Steady," energetic funk James Brown-style; the bossa nova-like "Day Dreaming") and two other Top 40 singles (the mellow, nicely orchestrated "All The King's Horses"; "Border Song"), three of which she wrote herself. It shows off all of her stylistic range, including gospel (title track), big-band jazz ("A Brand New Me"), upbeat, Motown-influenced pop ("April Fools"), and even Philly soul (Thom Bell's "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time," a hit for the Delfonics the previous year). Some of the record drags and it's consistently too slick-sounding, but if you don't enjoy it you won't enjoy anything she's done. The big minus with respect to the Rhino/Atlantic re-release is the pile of contemporary single sides ("Bridge Over...") and unreleased tunes mentioned by the CD liner notes, none of which were used as bonus tracks. (JA)

Amazing Grace (1972)
A two-record set of gospel and other religious tunes recorded live in a church; includes her version of Marvin Gaye's "Wholly Holy." I'm not a gospel expert at all, but Franklin certainly gets some serious testifying in here: "God Will Take Care Of You" and the title track are outstanding. I find a lot of the softer numbers less affecting ("Old Landmark," "Never Grow Old"), and many of the tracks go on forever ("Precious Memories"). She's not Mahalia Jackson, but she was the first pop star to go back to recording gospel, and the record was important in bringing the music to a wider audience. The backing vocals are by James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir, and the instruments are ably handled by Franklin's regular band, including Cornell Dupree on guitar and Chuck Rainey. (DBW)

Hey Now Hey (The Other Side Of The Sky) (1973)
An underrated experimental set, co-produced by Franklin and Quincy Jones. The lovely ballad "Angel" (by Frankin's sister Carolyn) was a successful single, but there's much more to like: Franklin's originals are excellent (the funky "Sister From Texas," the light soul "So Swell When You're Well," and the stomping title track), and Jones has plenty of interesting arranging ideas (including odd strings on "Somewhere" from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story) and a solid sense of groove. Plus there's the long, bizarre ode to a drug user, "Mister Spain," and a frantic, pure jazz rendition of "Moody's Mode" by James Moody, though I could have lived without the long rambling blues "Just Right Tonight." Throughout, Franklin's voice is better-recorded than before, and she's clear and expressive, far from her usual style but still compelling. An army of uncredited musicians appears here, along with featured soloists Billy Preston, alto sax hero Phil Woods, and Joe Farrell on tenor sax and flute; Franklin herself gets in swinging piano solos on "Somewhere" and "So Swell When You're Well." The Grammy-winning minor hit "Master Of Eyes (The Deepness Of Your Eyes)" (co-written by Aretha) was released around this time, and is included as a bonus track. (DBW)

Let Me In Your Life (1974)
Back to Wexler, Dowd, Mardin and more standard soul; the hits are Stevie Wonder's "Until You Come Back To Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)" and "I'm In Love" by Bobby Womack (originally recorded by Wilson Pickett) with a soaring vocal. She also covers "Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing," earlier a hit duet for Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, and Leon Russell's "A Song For You," which everyone recorded in this period. It's enjoyable, but it's the same formula as her early work without the same kick. The guest list is impressive: Bob James, Stanley Clarke, future disco producer Eumir Deodato, Hathaway, Willie Weeks, Hugh McCracken, plus old standbys Dupree and Rainey; Cissy Houston and Gwen Guthrie are among a horde of backup singers. (DBW)

Rare & Unreleased Recordings From The Golden Reign Of The Queen Of Soul (rec. 1966-1973, rel. 2007)
A two-CD set of unreleased and underreleased material from Franklin's best regarded period, ranging from 1966 demos of her first Atlantic singles to outtakes from Let Me In Your Life. I'm assuming that Franklin didn't cooperate with this project at all: though there are detailed liner notes from Wexler, more than a dozen tunes - many of them from the innovative Hey Now Hey sessions - have no composer information, and I'm sure Ree could have straightened that out in fifteen minutes had she been so inclined. Then there are a bunch of covers of well known songs ("Fool On The Hill"; "Suzanne"; "You Keep Me Hangin' On," with bizarrely prominent slide from Allman), and decent but unexceptional originals ("So Soon"). There's one mind-blowing cut here, a powerful but subdued version of Paul Anka's "My Way" that will forever change the way you hear that song. If you agree with me that Hey Now Hey is woefully overlooked, you'll love the many moving, weird outtakes from that set ("Tree Of Life"; "Sweetest Smile And The Funkiest Style"), though the tracks don't sound finished. Apart from that, the live duet with Charles on Duke Ellington's "Ain't But The One" is worth hearing, and the various B-sides ("Lean On Me," not the Bill Withers song) are a boon for collectors. (DBW)

With Everything I Feel In Me (1974)
A refreshing return to the heavy Muscle Shoals sound of her first Atlantic releases, with Wexler, Mardin and Franklin producing; Franklin plays piano on every track, and much of her old band is back: Dupree, Rainey, Tee, Purdie. The originals (title track by Aretha, "Without Love" and "Sing It Again - Say It Again" by Carolyn) are terrific, Franklin testifying and crooning the way she does best. The covers, however, are a letdown: she tackles Bacharach & David's "You'll Never Get To Heaven" and Wonder's "I Love Every Little Thing About You," and in each case she loses the delicate melody by overdoing the R&B belting - it's disappointing and strange, considering the fine job she'd done with "I Say A Little Prayer" and "Until You Come Back To Me." A good score for fans, but there's nothing really new here, and the retro approach was commercial poison: this was her first LP in seven years not to crack the Top Forty. (DBW)

You (1975)
Franklin's last collaboration with Wexler, and though the personnel is almost completely different from the last release - she doesn't play a note, and her classic band is replaced by anonymous session players - it turns out much the same: solid, down to earth R&B. There are some powerful uptempo numbers ("Without You," Aretha's own "Mr. D.J. (5 For the D.J." - a single) and moving ballads (the title track by Chuck Jackson - another single). Plus "You Got All The Aces," a steady-rolling Ronnie Shannon love song that Franklin does in classic, effortless style. It's probably more consistent than With Everything, though there is some weak songwriting ("I'm Not Strong Enough To Love You Again"), and Carolyn's closing "As Long As You Are There" wanders amid atmospheric flutes. But the album was a commercial flop (I've never seen it on CD) and she hasn't cut a straightforward R&B record since. Players include Tom Scott, Ernie Watts, David T. Walker, Ray Parker, Tony Newton (bass) and Ed Greene (drums). (DBW)

Sparkle (1976)
Produced and composed by Curtis Mayfield; soundtrack to the film of the same name (starring two future recording artists, Philip Michael Thomas and Irene Cara). It's highly orchestrated smooth R&B, not far from the Philadelphia sound. The hit single was "Something He Can Feel," covered by En Vogue in 1992 (they also covered this album's other best track, "Hooked On Your Love"). I don't see why this was considered such a comeback; her voice is great, as always, but the production is faceless, and the songs start to blend together after a while. (DBW)

Sweet Passion (1977)
I have this on LP; I've never seen it on CD. It was a complete flop, but it's interesting, with no less than five Franklin originals including the sweet pop "When I Think About You" and the extraordinary title track, which wanders from one blues-tinged melody to another over its seven-minute running time without ever losing focus. "Meadows Of Springtime" is a bizarre, diffuse effort, mostly spoken word over orchestral backing. Then there's "Mumbles," a fine scat-sung jazz number that outshines almost anything on her earlier jazz-oriented albums. Producer Lamont Dozier also contributes three tunes, but they're weak disco-y efforts, and Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager come up with the surprisingly funky single "Break It To Me Gently." Not exactly a lost masterpiece, but better than a lot of Aretha that is currently available on CD - fans should snap this up if they can find a copy. (DBW)

Almighty Fire (1978)
Another collaboration with Mayfield; this one didn't sell, which is no surprise: it's dull and monotonous, with the same smooth disco sheen over every track, and hardly any real melodies or interesting lyrics. The only tracks saving the disc from total disaster are the opening "Almighty Fire (Woman Of The Future)," which makes nice use of layered vocals and allusive lyrics; "No Matter Who You Love," which has a nice tune to offset its mind-numbing arrangement; and Aretha's one composition, a slow, sketchy piano-and-vocal number ("I'm Your Speed") that's affecting despite being rather diffuse and incoherent. (DBW)

La Diva (1979)
Franklin was having a hard time in this period, and this is perhaps the most embarrassing outing of them all. Mostly produced by Van "Do The Hustle" McCoy in formula disco style ("The Feeling"); even two of Aretha's originals are mindless, mechanical dance tracks ("Ladies Only," "Only Star"). The one good tune was contributed by Skip Scarborough and Wanda Hutchinson; maybe Scarborough would've broken Franklin out of her slump if he'd gotten to do a whole album for her. Anyway, "Honey I Need Your Love" is her usual plaintive soul, but not as moving as usual, and the other tracks are so bad they're scary ("Half A Love"). Even if you don't have any respect for yourself, think of Franklin, and pass this one over. (DBW)

Aretha (1980)
Her Arista debut, and though it didn't sell, it would prove to be her best album of the 80s. Chuck Jackson produced half the record, and he went for a tight soul sound that walked the line between retro and contemporary while leaving Franklin plenty of room to belt ("Take Me With You," Aretha's "School Days"). Meanwhile, she's also in exceptional voice on the tracks produced by Mardin (his first work with Franklin in years) including a reading of the Doobie Brothers' "What A Fool Believes" that is (believe it or not) almost convincing, with a hot bass line from Louis Johnson. Mardin managed to be cutting edge with "Can't Turn You Loose," yet another Otis Redding cover: the spare rhythm guitar-led groove is remarkably like the sounds emanating from Minneapolis right around that time. The Jackson ballad "United Together" was the curious choice for a single. Lots of session musicians, including most of Toto, David Foster, Richard Tee, Scott Edwards, Paul Jackson Jr., Cornell Dupree and Bernard Purdie. Jackson's tunes include some of bass legend James Jamerson's last recorded work. (DBW)

Love All The Hurt Away (1981)
The whole disc is turned over to Mardin, and the result is painfully pop-oriented and tacky: most embarassing are uptempo hi-tech covers of Sam & Dave's "Hold On I'm Comin'" (by Isaac Hayes) and the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want." But the originals aren't much better: the title track is an ultrabland Adult Contemporary duet with George Benson; Rod Temperton's "Living In The Streets" is overrun with clichéd slap and pop bass; even Franklin's own "Whole Lot Of Me" and "Kind Of Man" are dull and devoid of panache. If you want to know why she was having such commercial difficulties in this period, check out this disc. An impressive array of LA session cats, including most of Toto, Louis Johnson, Greg Phillinganes, Marcus Miller, Paulinho Da Costa, etc. (DBW)

Jump To It (1982)
Franklin adjusted to the conservative 80s with a set of appallingly anti-woman numbers, produced by Luther Vandross: the hit title track features Aretha telling her girlfriends that she doesn't have any time for them anymore because she has to dance attendance on her man, and it doesn't get any better from there on in. The music is sluggish post-disco, all synth and slap bass, and her vocals are almost in the background. Commercially it was a big success, but the only track that's solidly enjoyable is a cover of the Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing." Franklin wrote one song, "I Wanna Make It Up To You," featuring the Four Tops, but it's as self-abasing as the rest. Despite some solid bass playing by Marcus Miller, this is one to skip. (DBW)

Get It Right (1983)
Vandross takes another shot, in exactly the same direction as his previous production, but he didn't generate any hits this time. Everything's in the slow to very slow tempo range, with slap bass from Miller, and the only way you can tell the ballads ("Giving In") from the funk (title track) is by the presence or absence of strings. The cover tune this time is the Temptations' "I Wish It Would Rain," soporifically slow like the rest of the disc. Franklin's game, and in better voice than most of her late 70s/early 80s work, but doesn't have much to work with. The musicians are Vandross' usual stable: Horton, Adderley, Doc Powell. (DBW)

Who's Zoomin' Who? (1985)
Very commercially successful album produced by Narada Michael Walden, with the huge retro hit "Freeway Of Love." The catchy, laid-back title track also got airplay, and then there's the hit collaboration with the Eurythmics, "Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves." Everything's got standard mid-80s pop trappings: tasteful bell-like keyboards, then-tasteful snare hits - overall it's too sedate for its own good. There's only one song by Franklin (plus a co-write on the title track), "Integrity," and it's just as anonymous-sounding as the rest, except for a nasty bass groove by Louis Johnson. Other guests include Carlos Santana on guitar, Clarence Clemons on sax, Peter Wolf on vocals, and future Mariah Carey collaborator Walter Afanasieff & future Stanley Jordan producer Preston Glass. (DBW)

Aretha (1986)
Big-time nostalgia here, with "Jimmy Lee" recalling early 60s girl groups, Franklin's own "He'll Come Along," the 1946 standard "Look To The Rainbow," and her cover of "Jumping Jack Flash," produced by Keith Richards, from the Whoopi Goldberg vehicle of the same name. All the other tracks were produced by Walden, including the hit duet with George Michael "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)"; it's generic pop like the last record, but not as tuneful. Larry Graham drops by to duet on the ballad "If You Need My Love Tonight." Glass and Afanasieff are on hand again, and the predictable set of backing musicians includes Randy Jackson, Aretha's son Ted White, and (on the Stones tune) Richards, Ron Wood, Chuck Leavell and Steve Jordan. (DBW)

One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism (1987)
Another return to gospel, apparently inspired by the 1984 death of her father. Rev. Jesse Jackson makes some remarks, as do Rev. Jasper Williams and Rev. Cecil Franklin. The production (by Aretha) is overblown in standard modern gospel style - personally I much prefer the uncluttered approach of Amazing Grace; I also don't find the tunes or the performances as inspiring. Mavis Staples duets on two numbers, including the record's best track: the powerfully testifying "Oh Happy Day." The original two-LP set was condensed to one CD by cutting out some of the spoken invocations. If you're not already a gospel fan, this set is not going to change your mind. (DBW)

Through The Storm (1989)
When I saw the negative reviews by people calling this a soulless electronic funk album, I assumed they were a bunch of 60s soul purists who just didn't like electronic funk. But it turns out that even if you dig synths and drum machines you probably won't like the dull, repetitive grooves on "Mercy," "It Isn't, It Wasn't, It Ain't Never Gonna Be" with Whitney Houston, or "Gimme Your Love" with James Brown - the remake of "Think" is more subdued and works better, although it's pointless. She shines, though, on the quieter, more acoustic numbers: her own composition "He's The Boy" is full of playful desire; her cover of "Come To Me" (the same Willard Price song she'd covered back in 1980, not the France Joli disco tune) recalls her early 70s ballad work, and Diane Warren's title track (a duet with Elton John) sounds like a hit, although I don't think it was. And the dreaded Kenny G is surprisingly inoffensive on "If Ever A Love There Was," also featuring the Four Tops. (DBW)

What You See Is What You Sweat (1991)
Twelve different producers this time... A cover of Sly Stone's "Everyday People" sets the stage: there will be nothing new about this record. There are still more duets (with Luther Vandross and former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald), more glossy hi-tech ("Mary Goes Around" by Oliver Leiber; title track), and a couple of fine songs (Aretha's own "You Can't Take Me For Granted" with her son Teddy White on guitar, and Burt Bacharach & Carole Bayer Sager's ballad "Someone Else's Eyes"). If you're not addicted to Franklin's voice, you won't find yourself listening to this very often. (DBW)

Greatest Hits: 1980-1994 (1994)
Her 80s hits, plus four new songs: a lame live version of "Natural Woman" with Gloria Estefan, Clivillés & Cole's house hit "A Deeper Love," and two by Babyface, his usual midtempo ballad ("Willing To Forgive") and a moving love song ("Honey") that really shows off Ree's voice. This is a decent buy, especially because none of her 80s albums are really worth owning. (DBW)

In 1995, Franklin appeared on the Waiting To Exhale Soundtrack.

A Rose Is Still A Rose (1998)
After a long layoff, Franklin continues in the Babyface synth ballad direction - every song is slow to very slow, which is a relief after all the forced uptempo numbers on her previous Arista releases. The problem is, Babyface didn't participate, and the crew of producers here (including his former protege Daryl Simmons) prove that his style isn't as easy to rip off as it sounds: track after track is just dull (Jermaine Dupri's "Every Little Bit Hurts," Walden's "How Many Times"), though Franklin's voice is well-recorded and as affecting as ever. Surprisingly, Sean "Puffy" Combs' "Never Leave You Again" is one of the best tracks here; Dallas Austin's "I'll Dip" is routine, though the use of live bass is refreshing. Almost the only nod to dancability is the title track written and produced by Fugee Lauryn Hill (with a clever string arrangement performed by the Indigo Quartet), though the sample of Edie Brickell's inane 80s hit "What I Am" nearly destroys the mood. Critics went crazy over Franklin's jazz vocals on the album-closer "The Woman" (the only tune here Franklin wrote), but that's due more to her iconic status than the quality of her performance: she's one of a handful of artists (like the Stones) who's assured of critical acclaim any time she makes even a half-hearted effort. All told, though, this is more enjoyable than any album she's done since 1980's Aretha, which is sad to say about such a great artist. (DBW)

So Damn Happy (2003)
Doubtless due to the retro-soul/neo-soul boom, Franklin's latest is a return to the gentle sounds and live instrumentation of her 70s releases. Unfortunately, flat songwriting makes it closer to La Diva and Almighty Fire than to Hey Now Hey or Sweet Passion. The producers - Troy Taylor, Ron "AMEN-RA" Lawrence, Gordon Chambers & Barry J. Eastmond - can't dredge up any originality or spark, just romantic clichés ("The Only Thing Missin'") and familiar-sounding melodies ("Ain't No Way"). Burt Bacharach's "Falling Out Of Love" is as predictable as virtually everything else he's done in the last thirty years. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis's "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" is another in a line of their "boys will be boys" numbers going back to 1983's "Just Be Good To Me." The reward for wading through this sea of mediocrity is Norman West's gospel tune "Good News" and two songs written and produced by Franklin, "You Are My Joy" and the title track - slow testimonials like the rest, but put over by genuine feeling. Two songs are co-written and co-sung by Mary J. Blige: "No Matter What" is as dull as the rest, but "Holdin' On" is a highlight. (DBW)

Jewels In The Crown: Duets With The Queen (2007)
A collection of duets, most of them previously released; the exceptions are "Put You Up On Game" with Fantasia, and "What Y'All Came To Do" with Johnny Legend. (DBW)

This Christmas (2008)
You're not having dèjá vu: Patti LaBelle released a Christmas album a few years ago with the same Donny Hathaway title track. Franklin's first Yuletide disc serves up the usual fare from "Ave Maria" to "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." As she's apt to do, Franklin ranges from the silly (her reworking of "'Twas The Night Before Christmas") to the sublime ("14 Angels") to the wonderfully overdone ("Angels We Have Heard On High," with a gospel choir, classical orchestra and blues guitar solo). Her outsized personality does a lot to bring life to the most familiar material ("Silent Night"), though at times she injects so much personality she completely loses the melody ("My Grown-Up Christmas List"). And on the rare occasions that Franklin plays it straight, she can still knock it out of the park (a rollicking R&B take on Gamble/Huff's "Christmas Just Ain't Christmas (Without The One You Love)"). (DBW)

Aretha: A Woman Falling Out of Love (2009?)
Guests to include Faith Hill and gospel singers The Clark Sisters, Karen Clark Sheard and Shirley Caesar. (DBW)

Save me.

 Main page 

 New additions 

 Pop: 00s  90s 80s 70s 60s 50s


 Top 20: DBW JA