These days she's known as the Queen of Soul, and indeed has been since she came to the fore belting out such well known hits as 'Respect', 'Chain Of Fools' and 'Say A Little Prayer' in the late '60s, scoring no less than ten Top 10 hits over an 18-month period from 1967-68. The rarely heard but strikingly effective recordings on 'The Early Years' come from a period when Franklin was signed to Columbia Records and offer a unique insight into the development of this amazing artist. Unlike SPV's companion piece, 'Aretha Sings The Blues', which as the title implies concentrates on a selection of blues-based recordings, 'The Early Years' is notable for the range of styles, from pop, blues, jazz, gospel and soul, that the young Franklin was able to instil into her music with the air of a seasoned veteran.
The Genius Sings the Blues began as a simple compilation. Comprised of a dozen songs Ray Charles made between 1952 and 1960, the collection was released in 1961 by Atlantic Records to counter the singer’s migration to rival ABC Paramount. What Atlantic originally underestimated is that the album contained many of Charles’ greatest works, all unified by their bluesy emotions and stirring arrangements. A classic of the soul and R&B canon, The Genius Sings the Blues is a snapshot of the evolution of timeless American music captured by the pianist’s indelible rhythmic pace, gospel roots, jazz backgrounds, and Southern-styled accents…
Juanita Hall is best-known for being a stage actress, playing Bloody Mary in South Pacific. However on this 1958 set for Counterpoint, she shows that she could effectively sing blues. Mostly sticking to songs from the Bessie Smith songbook (including "You've Been a Good Old Wagon," "Gimme a Pigfoot" and "Nobody Wants You When You're Down and Out"), Hall's extroverted and shouting style fit the music quite well. Pianist Claude Hopkins arranged for the sextet and gathered quite an all-star backup group that includes tenor-saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, clarinetist Buster Bailey and trumpeter Doc Cheatham. Well worth getting.
Tony Bennett's latter-day albums tend to have themes, and this one has two, as indicated by its double-barreled title: It is both a duets album and a blues album. The duet partners include ten singers who range from his recent touring partners Diana Krall and k.d. lang to fellow veterans Ray Charles, B.B. King, and Kay Starr, and younger, but still mature pop stars Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, and Billy Joel. All sound happy to be sharing a mic with Bennett. Not surprisingly, the singer's conception of the blues does not extend to the Mississippi Delta or the South Side of Chicago; rather, he is interested in the blues as filtered through the sound of the Swing Era, particularly from around Kansas City, and as interpreted by Tin Pan Alley and show tunes…
John Lee Hooker developed a “talking blues” style that became his trademark. Though similar to the early Delta tradition, his metrically free approach and unique sound would make him a staple of Detroit blues. Often called the “King of the Boogie,” Hooker's driving, rhythmic approach to guitar playing has become an integral part of the blues. This quintessential release includes two albums from the beginning of his career: Sings the Blues (Crown 1961) and Sings Blues (King 1960). Although the two records share nearly identical titles, each contains a different and excellent track list. The former LP features great electric numbers such as “Hug and Squeeze (You),” “Good Rockin' Mama,” and “The Syndicate,” while the latter contains Hooker's solo recordings originally issued on the Modern label. Both albums have been remastered and packaged together in this very special collector's edition, which also includes 5 bonus tracks from the same period.
John Lee Hooker developed a “talking blues” style that became his trademark. Though similar to the early Delta tradition, his metrically free approach and unique sound would make him a staple of the Detroit blues tradition. Often called the “King of the Boogie,” Hooker's driving, rhythmic approach to guitar playing has become an integral part of the blues. His thunderous electric guitar sounded raw, while his basic technique was riveting.
Nina Simone Sings the Blues, issued in 1967, was her RCA label debut, and was a brave departure from the material she had been recording for Phillips. Indeed, her final album for that label, High Priestess of Soul, featured the singer, pianist, and songwriter fronting a virtual orchestra. Here, Simone is backed by a pair of guitarists (Eric Gale and Rudy Stevenson), bassist (Bob Bushnell), drummer (Bernard "Pretty" Purdie), organist (Ernie Hayes), and harmonica player who doubled on saxophone (Buddy Lucas). Simone handled the piano chores. The song selection is key here. Because for all intents and purposes this is perhaps the rawest record Simone ever cut. It opens with the sultry, nocturnal, slow-burning original "Do I Move You," which doesn't beg the question but demands an answer: "Do I move you?/Are you willin'?/Do I groove you?/Is it thrillin'?/Do I soothe you?/Tell the truth now?/Do I move you?/Are you loose now?/The answer better be yeah…It pleases me…." As the guitarists slip and slide around her husky vocal, a harmonica wails in the space between, and Simone's piano is the authority, hard and purposely slow.