There’s soul. And then there’s Aretha Franklin.
Daryl Easlea 2013
Released in January 1968, Lady Soul completed a remarkable 12 months of achievement for Aretha Franklin. Having been signed to Atlantic in 1966 after years in the doldrums at Columbia, her Jerry Wexler-produced albums, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You and Aretha Arrives had finally made her the critical and commercial toast of America.
Pieced together from material recorded since the start of 1967 - with the bulk captured at a December session in New York - Lady Soul won a set of remarkable statistical achievements that testify to how widely it cast its net. For example, the album peaked at numbers 1, 2 and 3 on Billboard's Black Album, Pop Album and Jazz Album charts respectively.
It is one of those rare records that truly captures a moment; not just of Franklin’s singing, playing and writing, but of the electrifying support of the FAME studios session players. Guests included Bobby Womack and Eric Clapton, then in his imperial phase with Cream, and the album featured the vocal majesty of Franklin’s sisters, Carolyn and Erma.
Lady Soul hooks the listener in from the first very note of Joe South’s detuned guitar on Chain of Fools. Written by Don Covay, it became one of Franklin’s biggest hits and was to take on an incredible resonance as the Vietnam War destructively limped on for America.
And (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman is one of the greatest performances of one of the most sublime songs ever written.
At a little over two minutes into Good to Me as I Am to You, there is possibly the answer to the vexed and ongoing question, “What is soul?” It’s when Franklin sings the phrase “listen to this” over swelling horns, led by King Curtis, and the bass of Tommy Cogbill, sounding like he has several pairs of hands. It is simply perfect.
Nobody does it quite like Franklin (or, as Wexler called her, “the lady of mysterious sorrows”) – that irresistible marriage of the spiritual and the secular, the warm passion of her vocal.
Often copied, yet never equalled, these 10 tracks represent Aretha Franklin’s coronation as the Queen of Soul.