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Concert Reviews:
Aretha Fraklin goes deep at Fox Theatre homecoming

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Saturday, June 23, 2012

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DETROIT -- Five decades into her reign as the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin has earned the right to do whatever she wants when she takes the stage -- even moreso when she's at home in the Motor City.

So while her performance on Friday night, June 22, at the Fox Theatre featured some hits, they weren't necessarily her biggest -- though "Respect," the one song she can't get away without playing, did close the night, with Franklin sporting a Detroit Tigers cap. Mostly, the dozen songs Franklin spread across an hour and 45 minutes touched on all phases of her career and explored her roots beyond R&B, with stops in jazz, blues and gospel. It didn't necessarily have the crowd-pleasing energy of last summer's show at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, but the non-sellout crowd at the Fox could leave feeling like it had a passionate audience with the Queen.

Entering in a long, bright orange gown and declaring "We're home!," Franklin and her small orchestra vamped through her 1983 Luther Vandross co-written hit "Get It Right" before she went "back to the beginning" with Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael's jazzy "Skylark," which Franklin preceded with a story about how she was slated to perform the song on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1963 but was bumped because the program was overbooked. "I knew they'd call me before I'd call them," Franklin recalled to an exuberant ovation.

Franklin brought the tempo up again with her 60s singles "The House That Jazz Built" and "Baby I Love You," but the show found its real focus in blues and then gospel. The former got its airing in a slinky version of Curtis Mayfield's "Something He Can Feel" (from the 1976 "Sparkle" film soundtrack), a robust "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)" and a particularly fierce romp through B.B. King's "Sweet Sixteen."

Then Franklin moved to piano, paying tribute to Whitney Houston with "I Will Always Love You" before taking the night deep into church mode. Her gospelized rendition of Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" meandered too much on this particular night, but after bringing the St. James Baptist Choir on stage Franklin was more focused, though equally expansive, on lengthy treatments of Clara Ward's "How Can I Get Over" and Beverly Crawford's "It's About Time For Miracle," the latter of which built into a hand-clapping, tambourine-shaking crescendo that merited r-e-s-p-e-c-t even from any heathens who might have been in the crowd.

Franklin noted that "there's nothing like singing at home for friends and family," and those at the Fox surely felt the same way. Detroit, after all, is the one place where people know the biggest jewels in the Queen's crown aren't necessarily her brightest.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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