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First Lady Comes Second

(On Saturday I went to see Aretha Franklin play the S.B. Bowl. Here’s my review from the News-Press.)

If the history of Aretha Franklin’s career
is that of a frustrated talent held down under her early Capitol Records deal, and then being allowed to flower under Jerry Wexler’s production at Atlantic Records, then her struggle since the early 1970s has been a story of trying to find another worthy partner and living up to early promise.
There have been plenty of producers since, some very big names, from Curtis Mayfield to Narada Michael Walden and Babyface, but they’ve been either terribly mismatched or have resulted in some stultifyingly dull albums, glomming on to trends from disco to ’80s drum machines and syrupy balladeering.
For the Queen of Soul, there’s been much laurel-resting and Saturday night’s appearance at the Santa Barbara County Bowl suggests she’s content to do just that.
But for fans, it must be frustrating. Franklin tours with a huge band, which opened up the show with that most depressing of Las Vegas-style maneuvers, the “medley of hits,” while the singer prepared offstage.
A medley is, on the whole, an admission that no surprises are to come either tonight or in the years to come, a living museum piece.
But perhaps Franklin’s appearance made up for it. She’s 63 now, and overweight, but still looking lovely in a dazzling white evening dress and purple chiffon scarf.
The singer launched directly into “Respect,” but there was something lifeless about it. And then the dancers came on.

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