It's about time. This is one of three "twofers" from Aretha's Columbia period that has been recently re-released. And there are many gems to be had here on each of the two original albums that make up this disc.
Of those three twofers though, this is probably the set that has the two albums that are about as different from each other as they can get. Aretha has been somewhat of a chameleon during her lengthy career, changing vocal textures and styles both over time and abruptly. Nowhere is this more apparent than these two albums from 1962 and 1963.
** The Electrifying Aretha Franklin **
We have a young, fiery Aretha Franklin on the sides that made up the original release of TEAF: the title of the album was quite appropriate. Her voice was light, yet raw and powerful. There was a stronger Dinah Washington influence and you will hear it on many numbers. The arrangements are straightforward but Aretha works her young magic with all of them. There are no weak tracks here, but especially noteworthy is the elusive "Rough Lover," which many fans have been trying to track down for years.
TEAF was available for a limited time before, but only as a costly import. So many other tracks here may be new to fans only familiar with the countless compilations of the Columbia period which duplicate the same tracks over and over. Again, there is not a weak track in the bunch and Aretha consistently impresses with her energy and verve on every one of them, even the comparatively quieter ones (notably "Just For You").
** Laughing On The Outside **
LOTO is as mellowing as TEAF was energizing. This set is probably as close to an Aretha version of Natalie Cole's Unforgettable as we'll ever get: lots of strings, mellow supper-club pop/jazz, and more subdued performances.
(Note: Originally, LOTO followed the release of a second 1962 album, "The Tender, The Moving, The Swinging Aretha Franklin," which nicely bridged the gap between TEAF and LOTO. It is also now available as a twofer released a couple years ago, and it's coupled with the "Soft And Beautiful" 1969 comp.)
Except for arrangements that might be a touch too similar to each other, this mellow treatment works. Be warned, though: ALL songs are slow except for the closer, "I Wanna Be Around," which is a loping mid-temp number that hints at a little of the soul and attitude that the Queen is famed for.
Aretha's voice is sweeter and heavier on LOTO. If TEAF was black coffee, LOTO is melted caramel. She is much more calm, relaxed, and "non-violent" in her delivery. The quality of her voice and the supernatural control she was blessed with is probably more evident on this album than anything else during her Columbia tenure, and that's really saying something. Her reading of "Solitude" may be the best ever and makes its first appearance on disc here along with "Mr. Ugly, "Make Someone Happy," and the aforementioned "I Wanna Be Around." These songs are tastefully done and are worth hearing just for the quality of Aretha's voice alone.
** Disc presentation **
This is a budget release, and it shows. The sonics are good, but they don't sound remastered. There are a few misspellings in the song titles. And while the back covers of the original LP's are presented, the photos are so small that you wouldn't even think about trying to read the content. The only credits provided are the song titles and their authors.
But no matter. We have 2 unique treasures by the Queen of Soul, available for a reasonable price. Enjoy.