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Aretha Franklin’s “Aretha Sings The Blues” Reviewed

Aretha wasn’t made for blues, she was made for gospel and its secular variation soul, but definitely not the blues first. She could sing it because she could sing anything (hell, she could sing opera) but her blues seemed a touch too strong for the sound, if you compare her to a Sarah Vaughn or (God knows) a Billie Holliday, she can still turn any song around. Early on here we get a “What A Difference A Day Makes” and compared to Esther Phillips in 1975, maybe it’s not all that.

Of course, this is a compilation of blues tracks from her Columbia Records years, album # 34, is pre-her Atlanta breakthrough. I have no idea why her longterm Columbia producer couldn’t quite get Aretha right; the ache and resilience were there but the power seemed besides the point and the popness that Atlanta glommed on, Columbia failed.

But is it really blues? “Only The Lonely” is closer to jazz, and while the sixteen year old Aretha’s “Today I Sing The Blues” -by this age she had been raped by her father (allegedly) and pregnant twice, she had been on the stage since the get go and at sixteen she knew the blues but they should have moved her to soul and didn’t. “Evil Gal Blues” is a horn blowing r&b workout, . “Muddy Water” is the best moment, just straight up wails it babe, and nothing here is bad at all. In 2023 they could just send us the playlist and we’d do it again for ourselves, but in 1980 it was a timely reminder of Aretha before Arista and Clive really kick in with songs from:

From the albums:

Unforgettable: A Tribute to Dinah Washington (1964)
Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo (1960)
Yeah!!! (1965)
Soft and Beautiful (1964)
Laughing on the Outside (1963)
Soul Sister (1966)

They should have killed the blues concept and done a greatest near hits.

Grade: B+

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