ARETHA FRANKLIN : ‘Sings The Blues’ (Label: SPV Blue)

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ARETHA FRANKLIN : 'Sings The Blues'

It’s something of a myth that Aretha was a no-hit no-hoper during her first recording stint at Columbia Records in the early 1960s. Sure, when she went to Atlantic in 1966, she set the pop charts on fire but it’s a fact that she struck the US R&B Top 10 as early as 1960 with her electrifying rendition of ‘Today I Sing The Blues.’ That particular song is one of the key cuts on this 18-track overview of her time with the label that legendary music mogul and talent spotter, John Hammond, signed her to in 1960 (it’s actually a reissue of an original 1980 Columbia/Sony LP retrospective and appended here with four bonus cuts). Although the material isn’t as catchy as her classic Atlantic repertoire, there’s some scintillating stuff included here – like ‘Trouble In Mind,’ and a pulsating uptempo version of ‘Muddy Water’ – and Aretha’s voice, though still belonging to a twenty-something girl, is simply magisterial. Given that one of her producers at Columbia was the late Clyde Otis – who also helmed sides for Dinah Washington – it’s not surprising that she covers some of Dinah’s songs – like ‘Evil Gal Blues,’ ‘What A Diff’rence A Day Made’ and ‘This Bitter Earth.’ Perhaps if Columbia had concentrated on letting Aretha Franklin be herself instead of trying to mould her as a replacement for Washington – who died in 1963 – she may have found greater chart success in her earlier years. One thing’s for sure, these impeccable early sides are saturated with the kind of passionate, church-infused soulfulness that only Aretha can deliver. Sensational stuff.
(CW) 4/5