Rhino Handmade issued the Aretha Franklin/King Curtis Live at Fillmore West box collection in 2005 as a limited edition via their Internet-only site. This double disc collects the original Franklin album, presents it in gloriously remastered sound, and adds a bonus disc of alternate takes and unused songs from the four-night stand. The original LP was a double, and for good reason. Franklin used King Curtis' band, the Kingpins, for these dates -- after being persuaded by producer Jerry Wexler -- in lieu of her regular road band. It was a solid call on Wexler's part. The music here sparkles and crackles with the energy of a top-flight rhythm section -- Cornell Dupree on guitar, Bernard Purdie on drums, and Jerry Jemmott on bass, with Billy Preston on organ, Curtis on saxophone, and the Memphis Horns. The backing vocals were provided by Franklin's own crew, the Sweethearts of Soul (Brenda Bryant, Margaret Branch, and Pat Smith). Whew! Franklin also plays a Fender Rhodes on four cuts, including "Eleanor Rigby," "Spirit in the Dark," "Don't Play That Song," and "Dr. Feelgood." In addition, there is a guest duet vocal by Ray Charles on "Spirit in the Dark." Beginning with "Respect" (a house-burning tear-up read), Franklin then digs deep into her pop song bag of tricks for "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and Stephen Stills' "Love the One You're With," and also redeems Bread's saccharine "Make It with You" -- all of them in the first set! The second set contains the originals "Spirit in the Dark," including a long reprise with Charles, and "Dr. Feelgood." The album-ending "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)," written by Ashford & Simpson, is a scorched-earth soul ballad that unites the entire crowd. The bonus material is just as righteous, with unused cuts such as "Call Me," "Mixed-Up Girl," "Share Your Love with Me," and "You're All I Need to Get By." The disc is filled out with alternate takes of nine album cuts that easily could have been included on the released version. In sum, it makes for the most dramatic and deeply satisfying of Aretha Franklin's live recordings, and is a historical document that every soul fan should own -- especially as a new and much improved package with great liner notes by David Nathan.
Live at Fillmore West Review
by Thom Jurek