Born on March 25, 1942, it could be said of Aretha Franklin that music was woven into the fabric of her being. Not only was her birthplace — Memphis, Tennessee — one of the most important cities in the history of blues and rock ‘n’ roll, but her father, C. L., was a Baptist minister and gospel singer known nationwide as “The Man with the Million-Dollar Voice.” He moved the family to Detroit — another musical hotbed — in 1944. Aretha’s mother, Barbara, was a singer as well, although she left the family when Aretha was just six and died four years later, the first in a long string of heartaches that would run through her life.
When Aretha was recording for Columbia in the 1960s, the label didn’t seem to know what to do with her. Now that they’re reissuing material from that time on CD, they still don’t know what to do with her. It’s hard to determine why someone would pick this over the far more extensive double-disc, Jazz to Soul, that covers the some era. Nevertheless, about half of this doesn’t show up on that collection, which means short value overall, but some value at least. It’s generally considered that Aretha’s Columbia output has been somewhat undervalued, and this is a good cross-section of ballads and grittier R&B-influenced items. It’s usually overproduced, but not in as unlistenable fashion as some old-school critics might have you believe. But it’s hard to determine what focus (if any) this collection has, especially as it’s missing her most soulful (and therefore best) Columbia cuts, “Lee Cross” and “Soulville.”
Video: Aretha Franklin – Skylark (Live 1964)