What does it sound like?:
Aretha Franklin’s voice is one of the seven wonders of the musical world. It is ripe with rich hues of complex colour. Her phrasing is startlingly dynamic and articulate. Her melisma is fluid but each note is as clear as a single drop of rain. Most of all, her belting range is incredibly elastic and powerful yet she retains a strong resonance through all its frequencies. It is this that gives her the Aretha Franklin signature sound. She hovers and swoops with the grace and agility of a Falcon Soprano.
There is one thing being a fabulous singer and another being an amazing artist. Aretha brought a maturity to popular music. Her songs tackle complex, adult themes. Her performances, at her peak, are potent in provoking an emotional reaction. The ten albums she released on Atlantic between 1967 & 1972 define a genre, Soul Music. She is, literally, without peer.
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra have a long history of performing rock songs, such as by The Beatles, Queen, Deep Purple and Pink Floyd. This time, they have taken the original vocal tracks from fourteen of Aretha’s best known performances during her imperial period and have added the their lush strings to the backing tracks. There are some who cry foul. Those records are holy texts that should not be tampered with. Even if it were alright to change things, the Orchestra simply suffocate them with mountains of sugar.
However, A Brand New Me is a very pleasant listen. The essential ingredient at the core of these songs is Aretha herself. Aretha’s voice gleams in this setting, confirming her status as an icon. The backing arrangements are professional and sensitive to the original spirit. They do, after all, have Aretha’s blessing. All that Soul is still there in the voice.
The good thing is that this release does put Aretha back in the limelight where she belongs. We will hear her voice on the radio, in shops and cafés again. It has a chance of reaching some people who have never previously heard of her. It also refreshes her catalogue. There are many people who will actually enjoy these *versions* as much as any other, Mrs Lion senior for one. It will probably put a few bob in her purse (Aretha’s not Mrs Lion’s).
There are few artists whose voice is distinctive and robust enough to tolerate this sort of treatment. There is no other female voice to start with other than Aretha’s. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra pay their tribute.
Those original albums are still available, if you prefer, and an entirely new album of duets is scheduled for the new year.
What does it all *mean*?
One to consider as a Christmas stocking filler for a beloved family member. The cover is awful, though. It looks like her throat has been ripped open. Make sure you wrap your gift well.
Goes well with…
A nice glass of sherry.
Might suit people who like…
The other Royal Philharmonic Orchestra releases: Elvis Presley If I Can Dream and The Wonder Of You and Roy Orbison A Love So Beautiful. It’s doubtful Afterworders will bite.