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REVIEWS

Aretha Franklin

THE ATLANTIC SINGLES COLLECTION 1967-1970

RHINO

With the sad news of Aretha Franklin’s passing, there’s an added emotional resonance to this extraordinary 2LP set. Chronicling an unimpeachable three years at the start of her spell with Atlantic Records, the quality control exhibited here is quite breathtaking. Between 1967 and 1970, Franklin was transformed from promising starlet into one of her era’s most important figures – the finely honed studio sound of the time was the perfect foil for the powerhouse vocalist as she reached her peak with Jerry Wexler. Quite how Columbia could work with Aretha for eight albums and still not get the best out of her remains one of soul music’s great imponderables: she excels at everything she touches here, from the perfect balladry of A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel Like) and I Say A Little Prayer to the urgent R&B of Respect and Think. The slinky funk of The House That Jack Built is the horns-led soul sound in excelsis. Oozing with confidence, Franklin transforms Eleanor Rigby into the polar opposite of McCartney’s mournful original. She more than holds her own when tackling a sacred text of the enormity of The Band’s The Weight. The full 34-song tracklisting of the two-disc CD set is trimmed on vinyl to 25 tracks, but there’s no sense of being shortchanged. The greatest female singer of all time? Unquestionably. Steve Harnell

Jeff Buckley

MYSTERY WHITE BOY

COLUMBIA

Nearly 20 years have elapsed since the initial release of this amalgam of live recordings compiled by Jeff Buckley’s mother Mary Guibert from performances in Germany, Australia, France and the US as Buckley toured debut album Grace. It captures his outrageous vocal talent and uninhibited guitar playing, although lacks the natural flow of a complete live set and the quality of the recordings is inconsistent. While the performances are extravagantly thrilling, on occasion, things stray a little too far into the realms of excess. What Will You Say meanders past the sevenminute mark and the sludgy thrash through Eternal Life doesn’t improve on the album version. The highlights make this a worthwhile purchase, though. On a ragged six-minute Mojo Pin, Buckley lets rip with an anguished scream that shifts to become vulnerable and delicate as Matt Johnson hammers away urgently behind the kit, and the shimmering subtlety of the guitar playing on Lilac Wine and Last Goodbye is seriously affecting. The sheer drama of Buckley’s delivery on Grace is the highlight, before a 20-minute series of covers – Arlen and Gershwin’s The Man That Got Away, Big Star’s Kanga Roo and the medley of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and The Smiths’ I Know It’s Over – closes the record. Fans will find this document of an extraordinary talent and fatally troubled soul an enticing purchase for the glorious finale alone. Gary Walker

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