With the sad news of Aretha Franklin’s passing, there’s an added emotional resonance to this extraordinary 2LP set. Chronicling an unimpeachable three years at the start of her spell with Atlantic Records, the quality control exhibited here is quite breathtaking. Between 1967 and 1970, Franklin was transformed from promising starlet into one of her era’s most important figures – the finely honed studio sound of the time was the perfect foil for the powerhouse vocalist as she reached her peak with Jerry Wexler. Quite how Columbia could work with Aretha for eight albums and still not get the best out of her remains one of soul music’s great imponderables: she excels at everything she touches here, from the perfect balladry of A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel Like) and I Say A Little Prayer to the urgent R&B of Respect and Think. The slinky funk of The House That Jack Built is the horns-led soul sound in excelsis. Oozing with confidence, Franklin transforms Eleanor Rigby into the polar opposite of McCartney’s mournful original. She more than holds her own when tackling a sacred text of the enormity of The Band’s The Weight. The full 34-song tracklisting of the two-disc CD set is trimmed on vinyl to 25 tracks, but there’s no sense of being shortchanged. Is Aretha Franklin the greatest female singer of all time? Unquestionably.
Written by Steve Harnell. Released on Rhino.