We gave it an A
Of all the soul pioneers who transported the sound of gospel music from sanctified church to secular pop surroundings — a group that includes Ray Charles, James Brown, and Sam Cooke — the one whose artistry most clearly and consistently succeeds in standing the spirit-flesh coin on its edge is Aretha Franklin. Just how clearly and consistently is one of the ever-unfolding revelations to be found on Queen of Soul: The Atlantic Recordings, a gathering of 86 tracks from Miss Re’s glory-filled 13-year career (1967-80) on Atlantic Records.
There are literally scores of transcendent Aretha performances here: The amazing sense of self-discovery on such early hits as ”Chain of Fools” and ”Respect”; the stunning reinventions of other people’s hits (”Bridge Over Troubled Water”); the triumphant forays into funk (”Rock Steady”); and the (perhaps) inevitable ascension to pop divahood (”Until You Come Back to Me”).
Still, it’s Aretha’s dichotomy-dissolving dynamism — what Thulani Davis, in the set’s lavish booklet, calls Aretha’s ability to ”work the sacred/profane with power” — that may define Lady Soul’s place in musical history. For one everlasting example, take 1970’s ”Spirit in the Dark.” It begins as a slow meditation, revs up as a testimonial, roars into a bridge fusing images of childhood innocence and adult sensuality, and climaxes with a call-and-response congregational rave-up that leaves you exhilaratingly exhausted — body and soul. On every level, the woman knows how to take care of business. A