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Aretha Franklin’s “Aretha (1980 album)” Reviewed

When Aretha Franklin first went from Columbia to Atlantic she took the face of modern pop and soul with her and became an instant icon. Thirteen years later, the Erteguns had given up on her and it was Clive Davis ‘s turn at bat.

Atlanta’s inability to crack “La Diva” (here) was a failure of imagination, but Arista’s disappointing first at bat, Aretha was a failure of songcraft; Clive kept swinging for the fences, he wanted to get Aretha back on top with his imprints. And he would. But not on this one.

Anyway, it is 1980 and the first single stiffs, “United Together” didn’t do much business and the reason is the same as the problems throughout, it is all gas to the peddle and while Aretha sounds incredible vocally, she trills right up there on the remembrance “School Days” and “United Together” opens with a full orchestra drowning her in strings: as though it was early 70s with a touch of Bacharach and David.

The trick for Aretha is how she decides to harness and release that voice and when the material is good enough, and even when it isn’t, she can improve anything she sings. Take “Take Me with You”, the second of three Chuck Jackson writing credits, is a generic piece of r&b and while Aretha does credit on the Doobie Brothers (a Loggins and McDonald song), “What A Fool Believes’, it swings nicely and is a pure, if slight, pleasure, and as for the Otis Redding cover? They have a history and this doesn’t add to it.

Meanwhile, the sound is tinny, the bands rhythm section is arthritic, and Aretha sings better than her material by lightyears. Which means, having said that, it is pretty good. And the next will be better.

Grade: B

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