By the time Aretha released "Young Gifted and Black" in 1972, she had proved that she could bounce back from something of a commercial slump, with her triumphant live concerts in San Francisco (Feb 1971), which resulted in a hugely succesful live album. Some of the songs here had been recorded well before those live dates, with Aretha going back into the studio shortly afterwards to complete the album. Looking back over her career, this period can be seen as possibly Aretha's most creative - she is clearly at her peak, both interpreting other's material and writing her own songs.
Aretha had produced an anthem for Black pride with "Respect", and she revisited that theme with the title track, a gospel infused rendition of Nina Simone's composition, and there is a similar feel on her interpretations of both "Long and Winding Road" and "Border Song". The latter surprised many, but surely can be viewed as a plea for equality and tolerance, in keeping with the title track. That said, it is the deeply personal songs which define this set, giving a portrait of the artist that had been only glimpsed previously.
Of these, "All the Kings Horses", a bleak tribute to her failed marriage to Ted White, and "A Brand New Me" a celebration of her new found optimism stand out. Similarly "Day Dreaming" is clearly a reference to her new love, as is "First Snow in Kokomo". From the same sessions, "Bridge Over Troubled Water" became a smash single (only appearing on a Greatest Hits album) and "With Pen in Hand" was held over to her 1974 album "Let Me n Your Life", probably because it was TOO personal for the 1972 release.
Throughout the album, there is impressive support on backing vocals, from her sisters, Erma and Caroline, and The Sweet Inspirations. In fact, the contributing musicians on this album read like a "who's who" of 70's Soul - Donny Hathaway, Billy Preston, Al Jackson Jr, Bernard Purdie, Hubert Laws, Dr John, the list goes on - all in the hands of producers Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin.
You could view this album as just another Aretha classic - as it is - but it is also a testament to her resiliance, as well as her talent. It also illustrates the link between an artists personal life and their art. Buy it and immerse yourself in Soul.