EXCLUSIVE: In the year of the surprise album (Beyonce, U2) comes the nicest one of all: Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul, will drop her first new album in many years on September 30th courtesy of Clive Davis. Seems impossible but even as we speak Aretha has finished her vocals, Babyface and a few others are working with Clive to finish the mixes, the album art is done and pr whiz Theola Borden at RCA-Arista is revving up the media.
Aretha make a historic appearance on David Letterman on September 29th to announce the album. And she will sing the lead single, which will blow your minds. I heard it today. Aretha has recorded her own spectacular version of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” Yes, that “Rolling in the Deep.” And with all respect to Adele, which Aretha gives, this version of the song is jaw dropping. It swings and rocks.
Adele, mind you, is learning about this right here. None of the writers or singers whom Aretha has covered got advance word.
They will know it when Aretha hits the Today show October 3rd. In between, on October 1st, she and Clive appear in a Q&A at the 92nd St. Y that is going to be jammed with media. It’s already sold out.
The album is called, tentatively, “Aretha Franklin Sings Songs of the Great Divas.” It’s a tribute to ten different women, with Aretha re-interpreting their songs. Babyface and Andre 3000 are among the producers. Clive is executive producers. They all came up with the songs together.
The tracks are completely brilliant, and a breath of fresh freaking air. If you thought Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, Annie Lennox, and Barbra Streisand were going to be Grammy favorites, add Aretha to that mix, and stand back.
Right now, Clive and the team are speeding toward a 9/30 release to make the Grammy deadline. If nothing else, it will go digital that day. Physical CDs will follow immediately.
So many things to say here: the long fruitful collaboration between Aretha and Clive is summed up in this stunning collection. Plus, the Queen of Soul has never sounded better. Her unique and imaginative phrasing breathes new life into songs she always wanted to record, and has sometimes sung in concert. Davis’s passion for the music, and for Aretha’s career, is not only unabated, it’s more fervent than ever.
The song choices, curated by Clive, Aretha and Babyface, include “Teach Me Tonight,” which Phoebe Snow re-popularized in the 70s, Gladys Knight’s “Midnight Train to Georgia,” Alicia Keys’s “No One,” Barbra Streisand’s classic “People,” Whitney Houston’s (and Chaka Khan’s) “I’m Every Woman, as well as a cover of a Supremes hit, Etta James’s “At Last,” Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” and Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.”
The songs have been recharted and rearranged, re-orchestrated in some really cool ways. This isn’t just a “covers album.” It’s our premiere singer recording songs she’s loved and hasn’t had a chance to do. It’s important for that and so many reasons. Plus, we get to hear a lot of Aretha playing the piano, which is always a treat.
I am floored. I was invited up to Sony today by Clive, who said: “I want to play you some of Aretha Franklin’s new tracks.” I thought they were for an album in the future, like February. He’s 82, and is playing the music so loud you can hear it down 35 floors and across the street at the Hickey Freeman store. He’s also playing Jennifer Hudson’s new album, and showing me videos for the Whitney Houston live DVD coming November 11th. I’m asking to turn the volume down! This is what the music biz used to be like. You say Amazing, but you have no idea.
My bet: radio will be blaring the new “Rolling in the Deep” the minute it breaks as if it were a new song. Very, very clever.