October 19, 2014 Head of Music

Album Review – Aretha Franklin Sings The Great Diva Classics

It’s hard not to get excited when Aretha Franklin announces that she’s putting out a new album. After all, price she is the eternal Queen of Soul. Yet, viagra 100mg recent work by the Queen has gone somewhat unnoticed: her 2003 album So Damn Happy was very good, cialis and although sold well has been largely forgotten; whilst her attempts at forming her own ‘Aretha Records’ was mostly a failure – her 2008 album A Woman Falling Out Of Love was only released in the US via the WalMart supermarket chain, and was fairly forgettable. Add in a fairly serious health scare a few years back, and it’s been a rough ride for the Queen.

But, under the direction of musical impresario Clive Davis, the Queen is back – armed with some of her favourite Diva Classics from Gloria Gaynor, to Chaka Khan, to Adele. News first broke of a ‘surprise’ Aretha release in late September, yet the album release was pushed back – but a cover of Adele’s mega-hit ‘Rolling In The Deep’ was released on the final date for songs to be considered for the upcoming Grammy Awards. Indeed, a big splash was made about the cover – which is actually fairly good, and full of sass – including an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, with her all-star line-up of background singers including former-CHIC man (and Luther Vandross’ best friend) Fonzi Thornton, and Cissy Houston, Whitney’s mother, and gospel singer in her own right.

The album has been available to stream now for a week on both Aretha’s website and Amazon, and the reviews are in – most of them favourable. To begin with, Aretha still has her incredible pipes: she may be knocking on a bit now, and her upper range has diminished somewhat, she is still the best sounding woman in soul music.

The album begins with a cover of the late Etta James’ classic ‘At Last’, which is delivered with gusto even if the arrangement does stay largely true to the original. Moving swiftly on, Aretha’s take on Adele took a while for me to enjoy: after a few listens, I was hooked – Aretha’s vocal performance is outstanding, with the addition of ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ at the end proves how covers can actually be made decent.

Other highlights include her take on Chaka Khan’s epic ‘I’m Every Woman’ – in which she declares “I am the Queen!” – in which her all-star background singers demonstrate their vocal chops, with Aretha sounding like she’s really enjoying performing this classic. In a similar vein her version of ‘Rolling In The Deep’, Aretha adds in a line-or-two from her classic ‘Respect’, firmly putting her stamp on the track. The final track is a cover of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, which is possibly one of the finest tracks on the album. Aretha is given a real breezy, jazzy arrangement and she flies midway through with her jazz-scatting.

Aretha Franklin Sings The Diva Classics proves that she still has it: her vocals are a little gruffer and deeper than a few years back, but that’s only to be expected and can hardly be blamed for it. Some of the album doesn’t perform well: her cover of Gloria Gaynor’s disco-smash ‘I Will Survive’ starts jazzy and slow, and whilst drops into a dance beat the song, for me, doesn’t work as well as it could. Nor does her cover of The Supremes’ ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’ work as well as the other covers; admittedly, it would be hard for anyone to cover Diana Ross – but Aretha does give it a fair go.

Perhaps the overarching criticism of this album is that whilst it is great to hear Aretha back on record, what her fans really want is new music, rather than an album of covers. Yet, record labels appear not to want to make such a risk: legendary artists covering their own songs, or the hits of other legendary artists. Indeed, legendary artists such as Barbara Streisand and Smokey Robinson have already put out albums of duets covering songs already covered hundreds of time. But record labels know these sell; new music, even by such legends, may not. If this album is a stepping stone for Aretha to put out a record of brand new material in the near future. Although I, along with millions of others, adore Aretha, I’d rather she record some new songs, rather than Diva Classics Two.


George Haffenden. 


Aretha Franklin Sings The Great Diva Classics is out Tuesday 21st October on RCA Records/Sony Music.