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Hi Eric; "The Very Best of Aretha Franklin" Vols. 1 and 2 on Rhino, and also "Aretha Franklin's 30 GH" on Atlantic (2 CD set), as well as "I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You" also on Atlantic. You're right, these are a few years old now, but they have Aretha's best music, IMO, and the recordings are pretty decent. Good Luck. Craig.
Unfortunately, I haven't heard any Aretha recording which I consider to be well recorded, far less an audiophile recording. This is a pity, since she is, the greatest vocal talent to come along in the last forty years. As far as any new gospel recordings contemplated, I am not aware. You are of course familiar with "Amazing Grace", her live gospel album recorded in church with the Reverend James Cleveland and the Southern California Gospel Choir. It has been re-mastered once or twice, with only fair sonic results. This CD captures the energy of the service, even if it is not even really good audiophile quality. Other than that, there is a 4 CD box set called "Queen of Soul" where with one purchase, you can get all her important recordings (106 songs). Since I am particularly fond of Aretha as a ballad and blues singer, I like the first CD tracks 13 through 18, where she sings lesser known songs such as "You Are My Sunshine", "Going Down Slow", "Never Let Me Go", "I Wonder" and "Prove It". A lot of these songs were on the album "Aretha Arrives", which again has great songs with bad recording quality. The last song on the 1st CD of "Queen of Soul" is "Ain't No Way", written by her sister Carolyn, and, along with the others mentioned, comprise her best work. Most of this music is from circa 1967, and sonically is only average to below average even for that time, but it is still extremely early in her career and her voice is strong, powerful and capable of whatever she wanted to do with it. She could sing rings around what she can do today. Unfortunately, smoking and her extreme overweight have taken some bloom off the rose. Also check out the last song on the last CD called "Something He Can Feel". This was done by En Vogue a while back. This has a modernly recorded sound and is a decent recording. It certainly blows away the En Vogue version. If anyone can come up with some well-recorded Aretha, I would certainly like to know.
I just picked up the 4 Men with Beards reissue of Atlantic's "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You on LP. It is by far the best recording I have heard of this album. I also own the orginal LP and the remastered cd. The vinyl is dead quiet and the dynamics are breath taking. I have never heard Aretha sound as good on lp or cd.
I take it back. Your thread caused me to listen to my copy of an Atlantic reissue of "Amazing Grace". It is not audiophile quality, but it is quite musically satisfying. They certainly were able to spread out the choir across the soundstage, there is a solid and clean bass, and the roughness (distortion) on her voice as it existed on the original LP is gone. This CD can really put you back in church if you haven't been there for a while. Thanks Eric for causing me to visit my own archives!
Great responses, thanks guys and gals. Keep them coming if there are more out there.
I remember seeing the Blues Brothers movie back when it first came out in the seventies and Aretha played a waitress in a luncheonette. I had no idea who she was. She ripped into "Think", and when it was done (I admit I had never heard the song before!) I said "Oh lord, who was that!?". The credits enlightened me. Been listening ever since.
As my system improved I hoped to hear a better Aretha. Not to diminish her power or her talent, the recordings seemed harsh and brittle. Speaking to an audio guru about this topic, he claimed that the mikes at the time couldn’t handle the power of her voice. I still get a thrill out of I Say A Little Prayer and Ain’t No Way. I hope there is a way to remaster so that her higher ends don’t seem as harsh.
I just picked up the mobile fidelity version of aretha’s gold. I usually shy away from greatest hits albums, but I made an exception for this one. Excellent track list. I didn’t listen super critically, but my take away was that the vinyl and remastering are of good quality, perhaps the actual recordings are more about average.
Jerry Wexler produced Aretha's best-known Atlantic albums, and Tom Dowd engineered them. Tom was an old-school WWII generation engineer, not an one with "audiophile" concerns. He recorded pretty "hot" (pushing the meters into the red), sometimes too much so.
But whatever the sound, the songs, her singing, and the musical accompaniment (provided by the best studio band in the world, The Swampers) are just magnificent. If you are listening to her singing those songs while that band is playing behind her, and you're thinking about the sound quality of the recording, best check your pulse. ;-)