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Queen holds court with treasure from the vaults

October 02, 2007|Robert Hilburn | Special to The Times

Despite distinguished work by Jill Scott, D'Angelo and other neo-soul artists in recent years, no single album captured the heart and intensity of classic soul music as fully as Angie Stone's "Mahogany Soul."

Stone's 2001 CD reflected the spirit of Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and other masters in almost every number. It has taken six years for another soul album to arrive with the authority of "Mahogany Soul," and, interestingly, it's from one of the masters herself.

The title tells it all: "Aretha Franklin: Rare & Unreleased Recordings From the Golden Reign of the Queen of Soul."

Though this material was recorded in the '60s and '70s on Atlantic Records, it qualifies as "new" in one sense: Most of it is being released for the first time in the set, which is due Oct. 16.

The selections include such treats as Franklin's interpretations of the Beatles' "The Fool on the Hill" and Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne." There are also eight unreleased selections produced by Quincy Jones.

Anyone with a love of soul music should also be interested in a second new release. Arthur Alexander was never the "King of Soul," but he won a place in pop/R&B history in the '60s when his songs "Anna (Go to Him)" and "You Better Move On" were recorded by the Beatles and Rolling Stones, respectively.


Aretha Franklin

"Aretha Franklin: Rare & Unreleased Recordings From the Golden Reign of the Queen of Soul"


The back story: Jerry Wexler, who produced many of the classic Atlantic soul hits, was impressed by Franklin ever since she signed as a teenager to Columbia Records.

So he jumped at the chance to sign the gospel-blues singer when she left the rival label in the mid-'60s. He then teamed Franklin with young Southern musicians who had already helped him go from old-school recording strategies to new ones.

"Old school meant having arrangements written out beforehand," Wexler says in liner notes co-written by David Ritz. "New school meant going with the spirit and making it up on the spot."

Wexler made a second crucial decision by having Franklin play piano on the sessions. The reasoning, he writes: "Let Aretha be Aretha. Let her be comfortable. Let her play piano. Let her help develop the rhythms, horn riffs and backing vocals that will open her heart and expose her soul."

Franklin went on at Atlantic to work with other producers and other musicians, but those initial sessions helped set a direction that led to some of the most electrifying moments in American pop music.

The music: You see just how great a natural resource Franklin was in the two-disc set's first three tracks, which the singer apparently made in Detroit and sent to Wexler. "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)," one of the three, became a Top 10 single after it was re-recorded with Wexler, but the demo displays a commanding presence.

A few of the songs in this package are so obscure that Wexler and the Rhino staff weren't even able to determine who wrote them. The package also includes a 1973 duet with Charles on Duke Ellington's "Ain't but the One."


Arthur Alexander

"Lonely Just Like Me: The Final Chapter"


The back story: Alexander had a pure, country-tinged R&B vocal style that was especially convincing on heart-stirring ballads. After years of hard times, the Alabama native recorded a much-acclaimed comeback album ("Lonely Just Like Me") in 1993 that was filled with the compelling undercurrents that made his early work so engaging.

Just when the "Lonely" album was rebuilding interest in his career, however, he died at age 53.

Even if it just included the 1993 album, this CD would be worth attention, but additional material makes it doubly inviting. Among the extras: stirring live tracks from a radio show and hotel-room demos, including a version of Neil Diamond's "Solitary Man."


Backtracking, a biweekly feature, highlights CD reissues and other historical pop music items.

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