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Since Aretha’s sad passing in 2018 there haven’t been that many retrospective/ greatest hits packages to (for want of a better phrase) “cash in” on the tragic news. Rhino released a 4 CD/81 track chronological overview in 2021 (sadly culled to just 2 LPs for the vinyl release) and there have been occasional album reissues; thus soul collectors in general and Aretha fans in particular will be delighted with this new and quite  splendid 5-CD / 6-LP limited edition of all of the Queen Of Soul’s studio albums released between 1970 and 1974. That’s to say, ‘This Girl’s In Love With You’, ‘’Spirit In The Dark’, ‘Young, Gifted And Black’, ‘’Hey Now Hey (The Other Side Of The Sky)’ and ‘Let Me In Your Life’. The album also delivers plenty of bonuses. The CD set offers session alternates, outtakes, B-sides, and demos compiled with their accompanying albums, while the LP set includes a sixth LP of highlights from the bonus material. Fans will know that within the time span of the collection (70-74), Ms F also  released 1971’s Filmore live set and her ’72 live gospel masterpiece, ‘Amazing Grace’. Nothing from them here …maybe they’re due for re-issue sometime soon.

Whatever, across this new collection there’s ample proof  (if proof were needed) that Aretha fully justified and deserved the praise an epithets lavished on her. Yes, quite simply, she was “The Queen Of Soul” and though over the years many  pretenders have come along, their art will forever be overshadowed by Aretha’s soul  masterpieces and this  collection delivers plenty of them.

All the period’s big hits are here and  age has not staled things like ‘Call Me’, ‘Don’t Play That Song’, ‘Daydreaming’, ‘Until You Come Back To Me’ and ‘Angel’. The collection also boasts masses of evidence underlining a true musical genius’s ability to take a familiar song and re-birth it into something very different but equally special. So, here enjoy Aretha’s innovative  treatments of, for   things like ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ and ‘Didn’t I Blow Your Mind’. Nor was Aretha afraid to tackle songs made famous by other divas. So, for instance, she cut her own take on ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’. Better than Dusty’s version? The jury’s still out on that one. Aretha’s musical fearlessness is also shown by her jazzy, innovative treatments of the familiar. Some work better than others. Her pacey version of Burt Bacharach’s ‘April Foos’, for instance, has divided opinion.

This collection also highlights Aretha’s often  overlooked but remarkable ability as a pianist. On track after track she displays her mastery of the instrument – making it sing in unison with her unmatched, gospel-reared voice; a voice that is the star of this spectacular show!

(BB) 5/5