Aretha Franklin: Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics

Posted October 23, 2014 by in Jazz



2/ 5


Genre: , ,
Producer: , , ,
Genre: Soul, R&B, jazz
Producer: Harvey Mason, Jr., Babyface, Antonio Dixon, Andre 3000
Label: RCA
Format: Digital download, compact disc
Time: 41:25
Release Date: 21 October 2014
Spin This: "People," "Teach Me Tonight"


"People" and the other jazz remakes are in good standing with Franklin's legacy


The production, Autotune shenanigans and watered-down backing vocals burdens the disc from reaching soulful incline

Rolling in weak production, Great Diva Classics has a hard time reaching the legend of the originals

by J Matthew Cobb
Full Article

Rolling in weak production, Great Diva Classics has a hard time reaching the legend of the originals

The Queen of Soul is used to doing cover tunes. “Respect” was an Otis Redding firework before she cranked out her fiery update. And before her Atlantic Records debut, Aretha Franklin was singing the Great American songbook like an Ella stand-in. Throughout her 50+ year career, Lady Soul has put her spin on the biggest hits of the day, turning them into larger-than-life versions. Her takes on Simon & Garfunkle’s “Bridge over Troubled Water” and Stevie Wonder’s “Until You Come Back to Me” are just classic examples of Franklin’s magical prowess. Now as Franklin returns to the hands of Clive Davis for a much-needed reboot, she takes a swing at the now-redundant covers song template in hopes to satisfy the 50-and-up crowd who can’t get enough of hearing the same old song. It’s always a different meaning when Franklin puts her stamp on some very recognizable diva-pampered classics. Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” turns into a spectacular full of riffs, squalls and bonus features (Ashford & Simpson’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is tagged to the final vamp roundouts). The production is apparently too glossy for Franklin’s type of soul and even sounds generic when compared with Adele’s masterpiece, but it’s Franklin’s attempt at a very ambitious and very relevant pop song that triggers the most emotions to the curious ear. “I Will Survive,” another hit-and miss moment, is stuffed with outrageously flamboyant formulas, going from sexy urban contemporary into full-throttle disco in a matter of seconds. Cheesy keyboard-designed strings and an unnecessary nudge at Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” are also added, eating away at almost everything Franklin and her background singers builds up. By the time she works up her sassy diva with her jazzy scats and soul sistah ad-libs (“Beat it, get ta’ steppin/keep it movin’”), the song feels as if it’s been downgraded into a dangerous category of theatric camp. In the right hands, this tune could have had the same mix and gusto as did “A Deeper Love.”

Thankfully, the ten-track album comes packaged with a few decent doses of memorable highlights. Barbara Streisand’s “People” is properly executed, so is her take on Dinah Washington’s “Teach Me Tonight’ and a surprising big band take on Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” handled by Andre 3000.  It’s a satisfying trip back to the training wheels of her jazz era and opens up another window of opportunity to a prospect Blue Note tribute album. But we were already certain that Franklin could deliver in that area of music; she’s done it way too many times before. Her tackling the anthems of the young’ins like Alicia Keys (“No One”) and even other soul rivals (Gladys Knight’s “Midnight Train to Georgia”) is where most of the attention rests and where much of the criticism billows. Unfortunately these interpretations on Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics is mostly underserved and falls a bit below expectations. Even with Franklin in good spirits and still reaching for those vibrato-drenched high notes, it doesn’t have the polish or the grit of Davis’s last ambitious project – 2005’s So Amazing – An All-Star Tribute to Luther Vandross. The music has a hard time reaching the magnificence of the originals. Even with the alliance of trusted contemporary R&B producers like Babyface, Harvey Mason, Jr. and Antonio Dixon at the fray, Franklin rolls in the deep of substandard moments. Had she been surrounded by some Alabama Shakes or some Dap Kings or anything with some this would have been an exercise for the gods.


About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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