Aretha reviewed in the New York Times

NOT BAD! We’ll take it!

By Aaron Cohen.
Continuum, paper, $12.95.

As with all the books in Continuum’s 33· series, this one looks at a single album — in this case, Aretha Franklin’s 1972 live gospel set, “Amazing Grace,” which Cohen (an associate editor at DownBeat) argues is her “artistic peak.” That’s no small claim, and to back it up Cohen uses one of the more dogged, simple and effective approaches in the series: sit down, cue up the music and expound on an album’s merits, cut by cut, while bringing in choice factoids, testimonies and eyewitness accounts. Of course, Cohen’s palpable wonder regarding Franklin’s legendary foray into gospel music helps the cause, but his enthusiasm never undercuts his judicious accounts of how a given track functions, and what made Franklin’s methodology so different from that of any other soul singer turned church musician (or, in Franklin’s case, church musician turned soul singer turned church musician). The detective work is formidable as well, and invaluable, given that “Amazing Grace” owed almost as much of its success to its behind-the-scenes players as it did to Franklin. Cohen calls the recording team “as unique as the situation,” and there’s an impressive breakdown of what went on in postproduction, which sometimes reads like a mash-up of biblical citations and digital patois: “The sermonette is cut and pasted together so that the New Testament tale is sandwiched between the Exodus parts.” Aretha completists and neophytes alike will have reason to take to bended knee in gratitude for Cohen’s delineation of the differences between the original album and the bells-and-whistles reissue.

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