Jewels in the Crown: All-Star Duets With the Queen
Aretha Franklin “could sing the assembly instructions for an IKEA desk and it’d sound good,” said Clark Collis in Entertainment Weekly. That’s why it’s surprising that Jewels in the Crown, a collection of duets that pairs the Queen with everyone from Whitney Houston to Keith Richards, falls flat. The album brings together live performances and studio tracks culled from her own albums and from guest performances with Frank Sinatra and the Eurythmics. It also concludes her contract with Arista, which began in the 1980s—a time when Franklin’s recordings lacked the spirit and emotional depth she so effortlessly embodies. The Queen of Soul, whose voice requires no technical padding, never seemed comfortable with her “ill-fitting, synth-heavy pop hits” of the ’80s, said Allison Stewart in The Washington Post. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves” are plenty fun, but not material worthy of music royalty. Still, at 65, Franklin is not ready to give up her throne, said Solvej Schou in the Associated Press. And none of her duet partners comes close to knocking her off it. The newly recorded tracks do, in fact, prove Franklin’s lasting influence. John Legend complements her “gritty soul chops” on “What Y’all Came to Do.” Mary J. Blige’s older contributions—particularly “Never Gonna Break My Faith,” on which the women are backed by the Harlem Boys Choir—are also highlights. They all try to match her, but it’s still Franklin’s show.