When Aretha Franklin was signed to Columbia Records in 1960, she was positioned as Ella Fitzgerald's successor, the new queen of pop. In fact, she was quite different—earthier, girlish and of her times. Not until Franklin was signed to Atlantic in 1967 was she fully maximized as soul's leading voice and the extension of Ray Charles's naturalism. This transition from Tin Pan Alley to Black Church is fully explored on Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul (Atlantic). This hits are all here (Respect, Chain of Fools, Day Dreaming, Spanish Harlem, I Say A Little Prayer and others) but so are the forgotten sleepers like Don't Let Me Lose the Dream; Baby, Baby, Baby; Ain't No Way; and The House That Jack Built. There are 87 remastered tracks on four dics, and the results sound vivid.
A companion set to the Franklin box is Otis Redding: The King of Soul (Atlantic). Redding was grittier than Franklin and more of a snarling stylist-interpreter. For example, his My Girl is easily on par with the Temptations' version, Day Tripper is searing, Knock on Wood with Carla Thomas rocks and his own Respect, which Franklin recorded, has the kick of a mule. This box, like the Franklin set, is meant to be heard from start to finish, providing a clear sense of what made Redding special at the dawn of the soul revolution. Four CDs and 67 remastered tracks.
If you're a fan of The Mamas & the Papas (I certainly am), you'll love the re-issue of A Gathering of Plowers: The Anthology of the Mamas & the Papas (Real Gone Music). The double-LP album originally was assembled by Dunhill after the group broke up in 1970. This CD is worthwhile for two reasons: First, the 20-song CD features all of their best work remastered, letting you hear just how terrific their vocal harmonies were. Second, each song was preceded by interview material with the principals, making this album an audio documentary. You'd think that hearing it once would be enough, but the interviews actually give the material character and remind you that the group delivered an unmistakable generational sound during the late '60s, rivaled only perhaps by the Fifth Dimension.
Between his album Woman in 1979 and the film Arthur in 1981, Burt Bacharach wrote the score to Together? (Real Gone Music). The vocal tracks were co-written with Paul Anka. The movie—starring Jacqueline Bisset and Maximilian Schell—was a Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf for the post-disco era, as Bisset tries to right her sinking life and spends much of the film with Shell snapping at each other. If you're a Bacharach fan, then you know this album has been out of print for some time. High points include Jackie DeShannon singing I Don't Need You Anymore and Find Love, Michael McDonald on I've Got My Mind Made Up, and the Bacharach instrumentals. Though the music is more mid-life crisis with tennis sweater over the shoulders than Dionne Warwick, the music remains worthy for fans of Bacharach and lost scores.
Robert Prester's Dogtown (Commonwealth Ave.) has a breezy Latin-fusion feel that engages immediately. Songs like Vincenzo's Blues, Toy Soldiers and The Prophecy are exciting pieces that are tough to take off. All of the music except Giant Steps was composed by pianist Prester. As for Giant Steps, it's given a strong Latin piano treatment and Prester doesn't falter, coming straight at you with a skippy beat and line after joyful line.
Saxophonist Lenny Sendersky is from Russia and guitarist Tony Romano is from New York. Together, they make rollicking music on Desert Flower (LeTo). Sendersky has a tone akin to Bud Shank's while Romano brings a Brazilian acoustic flavor. To sweeten the pot, they're joined by trumpeter Randy Brecker, vibraphonist Joe Locke and vocalist Cleve Douglass on different tracks. This is mostly a gentle bossa-jazz recording that sways and grooves all the way through.