One of the Queen of Soul’s very best.
Daryl Easlea 2010-12-13
Young, Gifted and Black is a remarkable album, finding Aretha Franklin at the peak of her powers. It appeared chronologically between her two groundbreaking live records – Live at Fillmore West, which celebrated her acceptance by the rock audience, and Amazing Grace, which placed her at the heart of her gospel roots. On Young, Gifted and Black she acts as a conduit for all her influences, and produces a mesmeric, frequently rapturous work.
Recorded in late 1970 and early 71, Franklin worked again with producers Jerry Wexler, Arif Mardin and Tom Dowd. They corralled the cream of Atlantic’s session men, as well as Donny Hathaway, Billy Preston and Dr John at the label’s New York studio and Criteria Studios in Florida.
Unlike some of her previous albums, Young, Gifted and Black stands as a complete work and her own compositions rank among her best. Day Dreaming is beautiful. The vocal arrangement on its run out, where she joined by her sisters Erma and Carolyn and the Sweethearts of Soul, is little short of breathtaking. Rock Steady is one of her most propulsive grooves, still at home on any dancefloor today. Taking the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty and making it a lovelorn ballad is masterful.
In Franklin’s choice of covers, she acknowledges the shift to smooth soul in the early 70s by covering The Delfonics’ Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time). She remodels Nina Simone’s Young, Gifted and Black as a gospel anthem. It is arguably its most potent recorded version. Franklin takes the then-recent Beatles hit, The Long and Winding Road, and locates it somewhere between Spanish Harlem and Son of a Preacher Man. She was also one of the first artists to cover an Elton John song with her touching version of Border Song (Holy Moses), which closes the album.
Aretha is caught in mirrored reflection on the cover. Her four faces could symbolise the musical strands on this album – political, gospel, rock and soul. Although there are those that will always argue that the best long-form Aretha Franklin recording is a hits compilation, Young, Gifted and Black exudes superiority, confidence and class. There is little doubt on this album that ’Ree is Queen Bee.