Very interesting collection of music that inspired Queen of soul - so this goes way back to the roots of the music we call R&B today,with some of biggest stars of chitlin' circuit and (even better) some not so well known. The idea was simple - take originals of the songs Franklin covered herself and present them in one place so we can hear how they sounded before they got royal treatment.
Most of the songs were already recorded by other artists so it was relatively easy to get originals - I am not so convinced about inclusion of Little Miss Cornshucks 1952. version of "Try a little tenderness" because this is an old jazz standard that goes way back to Bing Crosby in his 1930s radio days and we can never know for sure was Franklin fan Cornshucks or simply heard popular Crosby version. But for the most of the part of this CD artists make perfect sense since they really visited these songs before Franklin herself did - besides some of expected names like Ray Charles and Otis Redding,the biggest surprise here are those who somehow got little forgotten,so obscure names like Thelma Jones who did "The house that Jack built" or jazz singer Helen Humes who had 1940s hit "Today I sing the blues" come as the main course and naturally comparisons with later versions are inevitable.
Most of the times Franklinised versions are superior but occasionally (like in The house that Jack built") she didn't really change much and some songs are simply strong the way they were from the start. Since I am already familiar with Queen's recordings and most of the 1960s output,my main interest here were 1940s and 1950s recordings (Percy Mayfield,Johnny Ace,Big Maybelle) that would eventually shape classic soul sound.
The best of all might be inclusion of "Soulville" that young Aretha Franklin recorded on her tribute to Dinah Washington - it is strong,uptempo gospel shouter (link between secular and religious music) but since I wasn't familiar with Washington original,it always bothered me why it was recorded on an album full of ballads - here,finally is Washington original and it's a blast,tantalizing glimpse of soul music Washington would make had she not died so early.
And no Sam Cooke? I always thought he was crucial into convincing young gospel singer to follow his steps and cross over to pop. After all,she did cover his "You saved me". But he is so well known that it's better to have lesser names instead.
CD ends as it fits,with great gospel singer Clara Ward who was Franklin's house friend and perhaps greatest inspiration - late Ward was big star in her time but might have been forgotten had Franklin not continued to remind the world that she was always inspired by her singing.
With or without Franklin connection,this is a very good collection of several generations of afro-american artists and quite fascinating anthology of early soul music.