Aretha Franklin – Yeah!!! – Columbia LP /Pure Pleasure vinyl

Aretha Franklin – Yeah!!! – Columbia CS 9151 (1965)/Pure Pleasure vinyl (2016) PPAN CS9151, 35:23 ****:

This vinyl re-master captures the early career of an iconic artist!

(Aretha Franklin – vocals, piano; Teddy Harris – piano; Kenny Burrell – guitar; James “Beans Richardson – doublebass; Hindell Butts – drums)

She was known as The Queen Of Soul. But that moniker does not begin to assess the musical force that is Aretha Franklin. As a young girl, she became a gospel recording star with a traditional, limited audience. That changed when she was signed to Columbia Records by none other than John Hammond. The label attempted to find a way to market Franklin. Her versatility was unusual. The mezzo-soprano was comfortable singing rhythm and blues, jazz, rock, pop and soul. The Queen never hit her stride at Columbia. However, at Atlantic Records, she became the greatest singer of all time, winning 18 Grammys. Aretha was the first woman inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

A lot of the Columbia sessions are becoming available once again. Pure Pleasure Records has released a 180-gram vinyl reissue of Aretha FranklinYeah!!!. This album reflects the label’s attempt to showcase Aretha Franklin as a jazz singer (or as the liner notes proclaim…”a swinging chick”). She is backed by a stellar quartet (Teddy Harris/piano; Kenny Burrell/guitar; James “Beans” Richardson/bass and Hindell Butts/drums). There are 12 tracks recorded live in studio. (Note: there was a lot of nightclub background chatter and noise that turned out to be fake). Opening the “set” is  Steve Allen’s theme song, “This Could Be The Start Of Something Big”. The arrangement is finger-snapping jazzy and Aretha goes with the flow. There are flashes of that unbridled vocal power just under the surface. Drawing on accessible standards, “Once In A Lifetime” (from the Broadway show Stop The World I Want To Get Off) is an odd choice. The innate schmaltz of this number is somewhat distracting, but Aretha’s vocal tone and soulful inflection shine through. “Misty” has been covered by a plethora of jazz singers. Even within a restrained structure, her powerful emotions cannot be restrained.

Switching to up tempo, “More” (from Mondo Cane) is a high-speed waltz that cooks. This quartet is efficient at backing up the star vocalist and they stay in lockstep. Franklin’s extraordinary voice is an equal instrument. “There Is No Greater Love” is torch music with a decidedly soulful core. The band contributes a nimble bossa nova break in the second chorus. Her talent is finally cut loose on the blues classic, “Muddy Waters”. Her overall command and singing eminence is unstoppable. Teddy Harris gets a rare, but well-deserved solo.

Side B elevates the session. On “If I Had A Hammer”, Franklin does what great artists do, transform a well-known song. She exerts her gospel roots with dynamic, heartfelt vocals. It is evident where her trademark sound was born. The arrangement is dramatic, as Franklin sits in at the piano. A pair of melancholic slow dance tunes (“Impossible” and “Today I Love Ev’rybody”) display some jazzy nuances. When she returns to piano on an original composition (“Without The One You Love”), the gospel testimony and chords show her core style. She is a first-rate blues singer and her cover of “Trouble In Mind” is up-lifting. The saucy, confident wailing has a spine-tingling resonance. The finale, Cole Porter’s unforgettable “Love For Sale,” is the most compelling arrangement on the album. A nimble, fast-walking bass line launches a cool, swinging take on the American Songbook.

Aretha Franklin – Yeah!!! is a glimpse into the early search for an artistic vision. There are high points and low points, but her phenomenal talent is never obscured. Pure Pleasure Records solidify their reputation in pre-eminent vinyl re-mastering. The stereo separation is excellent. Franklin’s voice is captured with verve and precision. Both higher and lower-registered vocals are crystalline. The backup instrumental mix is understated, and never interferes with Aretha’s singing. There is a stunning, tight face shot on the cover.

Side A: This Could Be The Start Of Something Big; Once In A Lifetime; Misty; More; There Is No Greater Love; Muddy Water
Side B: If I Had A Hammer; Impossible; Today I Love Ev’rybody; Without The One You Love; Trouble In Mind; Love For Sale

—Robbie Gerson

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