Prime Cuts: At Last, No One, People
Aretha Franklin has trotted the sure-footed path as other septuagenarians such as Barry Manilow, Rod Stewart and Barbra Streisand. Instead of rivalling the younger counterparts with the same outlandish beats and shaking their hips like they were only a fraction of their ages, these artists have gone back to re-record the classic and ageless popular songs of times passed. Despite over their career prime, each one of them is still able to shift truckload of records in sales and chart with astonishing stellar numbers. Franklin has already been reaping the benefits even before this new record hits the store. The lead single from this new set, "Rolling in the Deep (The Aretha Version)" has already debut at Billboard's R&B/Hip Hop Songs chart at #47 making this Franklin's 100th charting single on the chart.
"Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics" finds Franklin teaming up with the music industry's mogul Clive Davis for the first time since 2003's "So Damn Happy." After Davis had resurrected the careers of the aforementioned Barry Manilow and Rod Stewart lately, Davis has applied the same prodigious tutelage on this record. Here Franklin gets to record some of the biggest and most obvious hits of music industry's divas including Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand, Sinead O'Connor, Gladys Knight, and Etta James. And to keep things a little more contemporary, Franklin also tackles Adele's career hit "Rolling in the Deep" and Alicia Keys' "No One."
For most of the songs, Franklin has kept abreast to the adage, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." And in this regard, she has kept close to Etta James' version of her iconic "At Last." Though the song has definitely benefited with Franklin's vocal flourishes and Babyface-helmed brighter percussions, Franklin has kept close to James' version bringing out the long awaited ecstasy of love getting the final say. With Davis also behind Whitney Houston's version of "I'm Every Woman," Franklin has literally borrowed the same balladry intro of Houston's version for this dance anthem that is destined to be a club favorite in no time. Again with Babyface on the rudder, Gladys Knight and the Pips' "Midnight Train to Georgia" is imbued with a Gospel feel. And the song features some prominent backing vocals from Cissy Houston (Whitney's mother), who apparently record "Midnight Train to Georgia" before Knight took it to the top of the charts.
"I Will Survive (The Aretha Version)" brings back the disco ball for the first couple of minutes before the tempo drops as Franklin veers into a sublime version of Destiny Child's "Survivor." Franklin does give Streisand's "People" a bluesier take but she just doesn't have the vocal purity of Streisand to bring out the angst of the song. Again Franklin takes some liberties when it comes to her take of Alicia Keys' (another protégé of Clive Davis) "No One," which is given a Caribbean vibe. Age certainly has taken a toll on Franklin in her version of Adele's "Rollin in the Deep (The Aretha Version)." Franklin may still be great with her vocal shrieks but she lacks the more sturdy grit to make this mid-tempo sink with an added soul.
The dud has to be the Queen's take of Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares to You." While O'Connor's version was a tear-inducing heartbreaker where she takes the time to nuance her pain, Franklin's version almost makes a mockery of the song's sentiments as Franklin turns this Prince-composition into a jazzy cocktail party as if she couldn't be happier to see her paramour disappear. Covering such well known songs is itself a double-edged sword. It will naturally invite criticisms as these songs were huge because they already had untouchable iconic performances. But on the other hand, the songs' appeal is already established and thus this record is bound to be a natural seller as far as numbers go.
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