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Soul Express CD Review


(US Arista, 2003)
The Only Thing Missin’ – Wonderful – Holdin’ On – No Matter What – Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool – So Damn Happy – You Are My Joy – Falling Out Of Love – Ain’t No Way – Good News – You Are My Joy (Reprise)

After a five-year hiatus, the Queen returns with what I suspect may be her best selling album for years. With Arista firmly under the guiding eye of ex-Deele member Antonio LA Reid, the onus on this CD is contemporary, yet quality R&B. It is definitely a CD of two halves. The first portion, up to track 5 is modern, slick, hip and very in the new – yet tasteful - R&B bag and the latter half is CLASSIC, top-drawer drop-dead gorgeous songs which you Quality Timers out there will die for!

As I say, some material on here is definitely appealing to the younger ears, but Aretha wipes the floor with the upstarts and thus elevates the production, the song and the direction of the more youthful sounds on this CD into more our direction. You’ll remember, of course, she did this with much success on her last set working with younger producers with great aplomb and success. For the younger audience there is input from Troy Taylor, Mary J. Blige (who epitomises all that is bad in current R&B for me) and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis.

Burt Bacharach, Barry J. Eastmond and Aretha Franklin herself throw themselves into the mix for us more mature, more fickle ears and so we have a well-balanced CD that is VERY enjoyable indeed. I love the flow of the album, but I must also point out to you that the album as a whole did not hit me on first, or even second hearing. So – be warned but NOT put off if this happens to you! I had this CD on for what must have been the third time, and sat with a coffee one afternoon and it suddenly dawned on me how excellent the album was, especially the latter half. The result is that I must have worn out the poor disc! I will not describe every track, as it would be too much but please, please don’t let this CD slip into your collection unplayed if it does not immediately hit you on a few plays.

For my money Aretha knows what she can do and her work with Burt Bacharach, Barry J. Eastmond and her good self is the best of the best. "Falling Out Of Love" epitomises the sheer genius of Bacharach and the divinity of Aretha’s voice which sounds as brilliant today as it did back in the 1960s. The Harmonica solo starts up, followed by a dearth of real instruments and (synthesised!) strings and beautiful lyrics. What a wonderful song, only delivered how these two legends can deliver.

Aretha’s "So Damn Happy" smacks to me of latter Philadelphia International sounds, and I hark back to the works of Lou Rawls on his Epic albums from the early 1980s. Simply beautiful. If you want spine-tingling music then "You Are My Joy" will do that from word go – I love the backing singers as they sound so great – not the crass monotonous soundalikes that cannot be distinguished on tracks such as "Holdin’ On". As far as THAT song goes I do love it, but this is supposed to feature Mary J. Bilge (yes, I know I mis-spelt her name! Quite intentional, I assure you) but she cannot be distinguished from the synthetic backing singers – and to be blunt this suits me fine. I find it insulting that Aretha needs to stoop to work with such tat. She has more talent in one strand of hair than Mary and all her cronies have in their combined bodies! Don’t let my poisoned ranting put you off this song, though, as it is still really good.

"Ain’t No Way" is sheer quality and I cannot stop hitting repeat on this song. Many younger artists who are dictated to by so-called hip producers ought to listen to this and listen to how intricate and simple melodies and tunes actually work without a heavy programmed beat or repetitive sample. These songs are textured and multicoloured, aurally, and are consequently superb. Take "Good News" for example – a beautiful melody, haunting in all aspects, and Aretha’s distinctive and raw "Extra Extra" clarion call at the offset slips into a fully fledged, powerful tour de force of strong singing straight from the Church into your ear holes. What a giant she is, Aretha, and a blessing to have artists like this still making music to show who is boss. She isn’t called the ‘Queen of Soul’ for nothing. How do I feel about this CD? So damn happy, that’s how!
- Barry Towler

Albums of the Month in 2003
Albums of the Month in 2002
Albums of the Month in 2001
Albums of the Month in 2000
Albums of the Month in 1999
Albums of the Month in 1998
Albums of the Month in 1997

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