In anyone else's hands, this would have been a huge mistake. Few singers would ever consider tackling Barbra Streisand's
"People" or Etta James' "At Last" or anything by Adele -- much less all of them at the same time.
However, Aretha Franklin is unlike any other artist, and her new album shows why. On "Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics" (RCA), aided by mastermind executive producer Clive Davis and producers Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds and Andre "3000" Benjamin among others, Franklin takes other singers' signature songs and makes them her own.
Her approaches aren't perfect, but they are real (and magnificent). Her ad-libs about selling "that raggedy old hoopty of a car" in "Midnight Train to Georgia" are as essentially Aretha as her runs later in the song. Yes, she's straining a little too high in a few places in "Midnight Train," but it only serves to distance her version from Gladys Knight's warm, more measured tones in the legendary original. Perfection, after all, can be boring.
The combinations here also show that Franklin and friends know how to freshen up the classics. Welding "Rolling in the Deep" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" is smart, but bringing "Respect" to "I'm Every Woman" is brilliant.
The Queen of Soul's crown has always been secure, but sometimes a reminder is in order, whether it's her gorgeous reading of "Teach Me Tonight" or her jazzy take on "Nothing Compares 2 U." "Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics" proves it is still good to be queen.
ARETHA FRANKLIN "Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics"
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BOTTOM LINE The Queen of Soul expands her kingdom.