Aretha Franklin

The Essentials

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Aretha Franklin's Jerry Wexler-produced hits for Atlantic Records in the late '60s and early '70s are about as close to the church as secular pop can get, and her gospel-fueled soul vocals on songs like "Chain of Fools," "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," "Respect," and "Think" have simply never been equaled. This rather brief collection has all of these, and each is truly essential, but there is more to the picture. Few would argue that Franklin's Atlantic years were her commercial and artistic high-water mark, but she is also, and maybe first and foremost, a fiery gospel singer, a surprisingly subtle jazz stylist, and a thumping good piano player, none of which are really evident here. That said, these are the songs most casual listeners will want, although it's hard to believe that 36 minutes of Aretha is ever really enough.

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