Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Too Much Soul?

Two CDs of Aretha outtakes prove excessive but deliver in spots

***

ARETHA FRANKLIN
Rare & Unreleased Recordings From the Golden Reign of the Queen of Soul
Rhino/Atlantic

Scattered across these two discs of detritus from the first seven of Aretha Franklin's thirteen Atlantic years is a fine grab bag of a forty-five-minute album. It's dominated by songs you know, several by the Queen herself. Relaxed demo of "I Never Loved a Man"? Organ-soaked alternate mix of "Rock Steady"? Why not? Aretha doing "Suzanne," "You Keep Me Hangin' On" and "My Way" her way? Absolutely. There are a few less familiar winners -- a Ray Charles duet, the gospel-style B side of "Spanish Harlem," two Young, Gifted and Black rejects and some marginalia that's worth hearing even if it doesn't make our cut. But most of these tracks were outtakes because the Atlantic sachems counted them wanting as songs, and though surviving sachem Jerry Wexler makes a typically persuasive case for them -- the man could sell records -- he was right the first time. Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky) underwhelmed in 1973. There are eight more tracks from it here.

Rolling Stone, Nov. 1, 2007