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Aretha Franklin: Jewels In The Crown: Duets With The Queen Of Soul

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Aretha Franklin: Jewels In The Crown: Duets With The Queen Of Soul

Aretha Franklin: Jewels In The Crown: Duets With The Queen Of Soul

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The Bottom Line

The latest in a series of recent attempts to extend the Aretha Franklin "brand," Jewels In The Crown too often sounds just that calculated: a series of high-profile summit meetings between the Queen of Soul and her pop, rock, and R&B peers. And, like their political counterparts, these meetings usually promise a lot more than they deliver, and often seem quaint or hopelessly naive in retrospect.
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Pros

  • Many of these duets are from albums that are long out of print, so this isn't just for completists.
  • Aretha can hold her head up in any musical situation, even when mismatched.

Cons

  • Many of these duets were bad ideas to start with, frankly.
  • The production, particularly on the Eighties cuts, has not aged well.
  • Fantasia? Really?

Description

  • Release date: November 11, 2007
  • Arista 78668
  • Studio (1983-2007)
  • Duets / Various artists
  • Single disc

Guide Review - Aretha Franklin: Jewels In The Crown: Duets With The Queen Of Soul

Look, Aretha -- who earned first-name-only status when Madonna was still in diapers -- doesn't need to prove anything to me, or you, or even the music industry. But after her commercial fall from grace in the late Seventies, it became important to make the Queen of Soul seem relevant, and so her producers at the Arista label (guided by Clive Davis) arranged several cultural makeovers designed to reach out to different areas of the pop marketplace. Of course, what was relevant in, say, the Reagan years seems weird and overblown now, but that's only part of what mars Jewels In The Crown, the third release this year to mine the vaults in an attempt to male Aretha seem... well, relevant.

All the big-duet sins are present and accounted for in these sixteen tracks, many of which have been unavailable for years due to the deletion of Franklin's back catalog: here's the Queen up against lesser vocal talents (Whitney Houston, a new John Legend duet), here she is with equal legends far past their prime (an excruciating "What Now My Love" with Sinatra), here's a topheavy affair with Gloria Estefan and Bonnie Raitt, here's a misguided, badly strained attempt to make her "rock" ("Jumpin' Jack Flash" with Keith Richards, a single so dull it killed her first comeback). Make it to the second half, though, and there's some good stuff here, duets with singers who actually have soul and are adept in the lost duet art of singing to, not around, their partner: George Benson, Michael McDonald), not to mention a fine new Mary J. Blige track. The r-word still looms over this collection, though, not just because some of these hail from a time when Bryan Adams could be thought of as a producer -- Fantasia gets badly served on "Put You Up On Game," just as Whitney did two decades ago. And both were supposed to be doing Aretha a favor. Right.

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