Artist: ARETHA FRANKLIN; Title: ARETHA; Label: CBS - EMBASSY; Format: LP;
Cat. No.: EMB 31006; Year: 1961; Reissued: 1971 & 1983; Country: UK
There are those out in the music critic world who'd have you believe that Aretha Franklin didn't record anything of worth before she signed to Atlantic in 1966. One listen to this her debut for CBS/Columbia in 1961 shows that this is certainly not the case - as this cracking collection of Jazz flavoured Soul clearly show!
So okay some of her subsequent releases for CBS aren't as good as this debut - swamping her with strings and choral backing singers when a series of producers tried to make her into a jazz/cabaret singer. Effectively missing what made Aretha Aretha. Thankfully not the case here, as the production's handled by legendary producer and talent scout John Hammond - his signing to CBS include Billie Holliday, Bob Dylan, Duke Ellington, Son House, Springsteen to name but a few!
Onto the album then! Side One kicks of with the superb "It Won't Be Long" which features Aretha on piano - back by member of Ray Bryant's group - as fine a piece of Soul/Jazz as you're likely to find, and impressed Dusty Springfield enough for her to include it on her solo debut LP. Next up is a rather good version of "Over The Rainbow" - and takes it to a complete place compared with the Judy Garland original. It's followed with "Love Is The Only Thing" with a harmony vocal from Paul Owens - which when I first heard I was convinced was a trombone only (it's actually both!). "Sweet Lover" follows - and is one of those that wouldn't sound out of place alongside Aretha's subsequent Atlantic material. The last two tracks on this side tow great bits of blues - first up "All Night Long" and then the Billie Holliday penned "How Needs You" - and again featuring Aretha on piano.
Side Two opens with "Right Now" which sees Aretha backed by Ray Bryant and his band. Next up is the one of the 2 show tunes on the record ('Over The Rainbow' being the other) "Are You Sure" from the 'Unsinkable Miss Molly Brown' (!) belvered with that distinctive Aretha gospel kick - and it's her again on piano as you've probably guessed! She's again on piano for "Maybe I'm A Fool" - and again wouldn't be out of place on on of her Altantic LPs. It's followed by a good of the jazz standard that is "It Ain't Necessarily So". The penultimate track gives you "By Myself". Whilst the album's closer is the cracking bit of Blues that is "Today I Sing The Blues" - the guitarist question being Lord Westbrook - and issued as a single here in the UK as well as in the US.
Incidentally the reason for the 1971 reissue being called "The First 12 Sides" is due to Columbia in the States issuing the whole LP as series of 6 stereo jukebox 45's as part of their 'Stereo Seven' series. Other in the series included Miles Davis 'Someday My Prince Will Come'.