Aretha Franklin

The Essential Aretha Franklin: The Columbia Years

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This two-disc, 40-track anthology collects the key tracks from Aretha Franklin's stay with Columbia Records in the early '60s, and they catch the young singer and pianist in her first secular pop recordings -- they’re not quite soul and they’re not gospel and most of them fall to the jazz-pop side of things. Franklin was already too good a singer (and pianist) not to catch fire in a few of these selections, most notably “Lee Cross,” where she lets in some gospel fervor, the elegant “Trouble in Mind,” the romping “Soulville,” and an almost majestic “Try a Little Tenderness,” complete with lush strings, but the sheer emotional power of Franklin's voice feels held in check on most of these tracks. That doesn’t make them bad performances -- Franklin is a force of nature when she sings no matter what the material is -- but listeners expecting the Queen of Soul will find a talented Princess in Waiting here instead.

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