Album review: Aretha Franklin's 'A Woman Falling Out of Love'
It’s a relief just to hear Aretha Franklin’s divine voice again, considering that several months ago, rumors swirled as she lay in a Detroit hospital, recovering from surgery (its nature still unconfirmed). On her 38th studio album, available only at WalMart, the queen of soul sounds voluminous with life and optimism -- soaring, scatting, growling and belting through a gospel number, a blues song about adolescent desire and a movie theme about summer places.
Aretha (really, no last name needed) executive-produced “A Woman Falling Out of Love” and produced most of the tracks herself. Never one for restraint, she piles on the strings and keyboards, matching her multi-octave melismas with lavish instrumentation. “A Woman Falling Out of Love” is like a gourmet Sunday brunch buffet, overflowing with opulent deliciousness -- indulgent, fattening, sugary, and just in time for Mother’s Day.
Franklin pours it all on the opening track “How Long I’ve Waited”: strings over synths over operatic overstatement. But she gets gritty by the next track’s ode to B.B. King, her Big Mama Thornton howl echoed by swinging horns. She scats like Ella on “U Can’t See Me” and praises the Lord with all the magnificence of Mahalia on “Faithful” (a duet with Karen Clark-Sheard). Aretha is truly, as Rolling Stone recently named her, the greatest singer of all time.
Her taste, well, as we all know from that inauguration hat, that’s another matter. (“A Woman Falling” includes her presidential rendition of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”) Aretha has long added a second title to her name: the queen of smooth. Tracks like the über-schmaltzy cover of “The Way We Were,” with Ron Isley, will play well on soft jazz stations. Her chatty, inspirational, girl-talk liner notes -- signed “Ree Ree” -- cater to Oprah’s crowd. Forgive her her bourgeois affectations; I’ll welcome a “New Day” with Aretha any time.
-- Evelyn McDonnell
"Aretha: A Woman Falling Out of Love"
Two and a half stars