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Pop Music Review

Queen of Soul, Not the Diva, Shows Up for VH1 Show

April 12, 2001|GLENN GAMBOA | NEWSDAY

NEW YORK — With Aretha Franklin, anything is possible--even the ordinary. During nearly three hours of performances for VH1's fourth installment of its "Divas" series, Franklin tackled opera, gospel, jazz and, of course, her unparalleled legacy as the Queen of Soul with an equally diverse cast of stars.

Unfortunately, the results rarely stretched above standard tribute-concert fare--a barrier that Franklin so effortlessly surpassed during the initial "Divas" concert in 1998 when she reminded the likes of Mariah Carey and Celine Dion why she is the queen.

Maybe Franklin missed the challenge during Tuesday's show at Radio City Music Hall, since her best performances clearly came during duets with other strong singers. Her duet with Mary J. Blige on "Do Right Woman" worked well because the singers were on relatively equal footing. The same goes for her excellent pairing with gospel singer Paul H. Morton and her scatting trade-offs with jazz singer Clark Terry.

The other high-profile duets did not fare as well, however. When Kid Rock arrived onstage during "Rock Steady" and began kicking old-school rhymes, Franklin didn't seem to know how to respond. Her teaming with the Backstreet Boys' Howie Dorough, A.J. McLean and Kevin Richardson on "Chain of Fools" didn't give the guys enough to do.

Surprise guest Stevie Wonder only sang a few words and other guests such as Jill Scott and Nelly Furtado were limited to singing "Freeway of Love" with the backup singers. Scott, for example, was sorely underutilized. It was thrilling to watch her take on Franklin's "A Natural Woman."

Franklin could have used some of that ferocity on some of her own performances. Though "Ain't No Way" was strong and her interpretation of Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" was stirring, Franklin's classic "Think" and "Respect" seemed like afterthoughts.

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