When Aretha Franklin was signed to Columbia Records in 1960, she was positioned as Ella Fitzgerald's successor, the new queen of pop. In fact, she was quite different—earthier, girlish and of her times. Not until Franklin was signed to Atlantic in 1967 was she fully maximized as soul's leading lady and the regal extension of Ray Charles' naturalism. This instant transition from Tin Pan Alley ingénue to gospel diva is fully explored on Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul (Atlantic). This hits are all here (Respect, Chain of Fools, Day Dreaming, Spanish Harlem, I Say A Little Prayer and others) but so are the forgotten sleepers like Don't Let Me Lose the Dream; Baby, Baby, Baby; Ain't No Way; and The House That Jack Built. There are 87 tracks on four discs, and the remastering gives this material much-needed sonic dimension.
A companion set to the Franklin box is Otis Redding: The King of Soul (Atlantic). Redding's attack was grittier than Franklin's and more of a snarling emotional belter than a glossy gospel crooner. Redding also was a master interpreter. His My Girl is easily on par with the Temptations' original, Day Tripper is searing, Knock on Wood with Carla Thomas rocks and his own Respect, which Franklin recorded, has the kick of a mule. This box, like the Franklin set, is meant to be heard from start to finish, providing a clear sense of what made Redding special at the dawn of the soul revolution and before his career tragically ended in a 1967 plane crash. Four CDs and 67 remastered tracks.
If you're a fan of The Mamas & the Papas (I certainly am), you'll love the re-issue of A Gathering of Flowers: The Anthology of the Mamas & the Papas (Real Gone Music). Originally released in 1970 as a double-LP, the greatest-hits album was assembled by Dunhill after the group broke up. This CD is worthwhile for two reasons: First, the 20-song CD features all of their best work remastered, letting you hear the depth of their arch vocal harmonies. Second, each song was preceded by interviews with the principals, making this album an audio documentary. You'd think that hearing this CD once would be enough given the pre-song interviews, but the short talks actually give the material character and remind you that the group delivered an unmistakable sound during the late '60s, rivaled perhaps only by the 5th Dimension.
Between his album Woman in 1979 and the movie Arthur in 1981, Burt Bacharach wrote the score to the film Together? (Real Gone Music). The lyrics on the vocal tracks were written by Paul Anka. As the title's question mark implies, the movie—starring Jacqueline Bisset and Maximilian Schell—was a Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf for the post-disco era, as Bisset tries to right her sinking life as Bisset and Shell spend much of the film snapping at each other. If you're a Bacharach fan, then you know this album has been out of print for some time. High points include Jackie DeShannon singing I Don't Need You Anymore and Find Love, Michael McDonald on I've Got My Mind Made Up, and all of the poetic Bacharach instrumentals. Though the music is more mid-life crisis with tennis sweater over the shoulders fare than Dionne Warwick, the music remains worthy.
Robert Prester's Dogtown (Commonwealth Ave.) has a breezy Latin-fusion feel that instantly engages. Songs like Vincenzo's Blues, Toy Soldiers and The Prophecy are uplifting pieces that are beautifully crafted and arranged. All of the music except Giant Steps was composed by pianist Prester. As for Giant Steps, it's given a strong Latin piano treatment and Prester doesn't falter, coming at you with a skippy beat and line after joyful line of improvisation.
Saxophonist Lenny Sendersky is from Russia and guitarist Tony Romano is from New York. Together, they make rollicking South American music on Desert Flower (LeTo). Sendersky has a tone akin to Bud Shank and David Sanborn while Romano brings an authentic Brazilian flavor on the acoustic guitar. To sweeten the pot, they're joined by special guests—trumpeter Randy Brecker, vibist Joe Locke and vocalist Cleve Douglass. This is mostly a gentle bossa-jazz recording that sways and grooves all the way through.
The Weave is a septet from Liverpool in Britain, and songs on their new album The Weave like Hollie Dancer and Apart From That Mrs Lincoln aptly show off the band's lyrical chops and whimsy. The front line of two trumpets backed by a five-piece rhythm section is a sound rarely heard in jazz these days. As the band says on their site: "The Weave is a collection of world-class Liverpool-based jazz musicians playing a repertoire of warm, melodious and largely friendly home-grown tunes." Available only in Europe at this point as far as I can tell.