Aretha Franklin with the Ray Bryant Combo – Aretha (1961)

My fella and I own 18 Aretha Franklin records, so I feel like I’ve formed enough of an opinion listening to them to proclaim that her first full-length album, Aretha, released in 1961 and recorded with the Ray Bryan Combo, is easily one of her best.

You don’t have to take my word for it, though you probably should. Check out Aretha performing the opening track live on the Steve Allen show in 1964.

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Aretha’s versions of Respect of Chain of Fools are unavoidable. They’re great songs, of course, but they tend to be the songs of hers you hear over and over. On TV. Grocery shopping. Everywhere. And it’s kind of a shame others get overshadowed, especially my personal favorite on this album, the one Aretha song that gets stuck in my head more than any other.

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Perhaps more jazz singer than soul singer in these early days, I love the sweetness of Aretha’s young voice. And though I absolutely love her later recordings, where she goes deeper and really finds herself, these gently upbeat numbers seem just right for the season. Cheerful and warming. Perfect for waking up in the morning with a cup of tea. Perfect for winding down in the evening with a nightcap. Either way, just perfect.

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Dacia lives in Austin, Texas, where she writes, drinks & listens to records.

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