Young Gifted and Black is my favorite Aretha Franklin album. It's not her most highly acclaimed, and not her most succesful. There isn't a British hit single here, but what feeling and what healing pours out of the grooves.
The title track was a No 1 British hit for Bob & Marcia in 1970. As much as I like that version and Nina Simone's original, Aretha takes the song to a whole new place. Her voice swoops and soars around the melody, taken at a slow pace.
'Brand New Me', 'Oh Me Oh My (I'm A Fool For You Baby)' and 'Day Dreaming' are joyous statements of new love. Her own song 'First Snow In Kokomo' offers a rare glimpse into Aretha's personal life, and a happy new relationship.
The album has it's dark corners, notably 'All The Kings Horses' (covered a couple of years ago by Joss Stone on 'Soul Sessions'). Never was a hopeless lost love lamented so finely. Given that, the album is much more upbeat than much of her earlier work. There isn't a single blues on this set. I love Aretha singing blues, but she was always capable of a lot more too.
She was never a prolific songwrier, most of the songs here were versions of songs that had been out before. I don't use the term 'cover versions', because Aretha Franklin brought something new and special to every song she sang. She chose her songs with care, wisdom and the odd flash of genious. She was probably the first major artist to acknowledge Elton John by including 'Border Song'.
'Rock Steady' proves that the lady could funk it up with the best of them, and she makes The Beatles 'Long and Winding Road' sound like a gospel song.
If you have a greatest hits compilation and want to get into Aretha Franklin a bit more, then I recommend this one as a great starting place.