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Concert Reviews:
Aretha Franklin takes back her Queen of Soul crown with SoundBoard comeback show

21st Century Media/Digital First Media, @GraffonMu

Posted: Saturday, December 21, 2013

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DETROIT -- "Well, I'm here!" Aretha Franklin proclaimed to fans at the Motor City Casino Hotel's SoundBoard on Saturday night, Dec. 21.

And they all knew that was not exactly a light-hearted remark.

Fraknlin came home after canceling two scheduled summer shows for the DTE Energy Music Theatre and in other cities in order to undergo mysterious medical "treatments," part of a health issue that dates back a few years. She wasn't fessing up to specifics at SoundBoard, either, but the Queen of Soul did make sure the crowd knew that she was back and ready to re-take the throne with a solid, adventurous and frequently uplifting performance.

Franklin also looked better than ever, too, sporting a form-fitting off-white gown that showed up some healthy habits -- she even cracked that, 'Y'all haven't seen me in anything this slim in about 40 years, right?" And her voice was in fine form, too, occasionally hitting soulful, gospel-flecked wails during the hour and 35-minute show that belied her 71 years .

Following an overture by the 22-piece Aretha Franklin Orchestra -- stocked with ringers such as Cyrus Chestnut on keyboards, the Motor City Horns' Keith Kaminski on saxophone and master percussionist Larry Fratangelo -- Franklin spent much of the show celebrating and paying tribute to late collaborators and other favorites. She opened with fellow Detroit icon Jackie Wilson's "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher," then dipped into the Luther Vandross written and produced track "(It's Just) Your Love" and the Curtis Mayfield-helmed "Sparkle" -- though the large, rear-stage screen sported a photo of Vandross during the latter.

Franklin also reached into the deeper portion of her catalog for "Day Dreaming" (featuring dancers from the Detroit-Windsor Ballet), the smoky "Call Me" and "It Hurts Like Hell" from the "Waiting to Exhale" soundtrack before yielding the stage to the Saint James Choir for a medley of "Silent Night," "I Really Love the Lord" and "Give Thanks to the Lord" -- which, in turn, made a jarring transition to Franklin's dancers twerking to Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" and gave "Chain of Fools," Franklin's first song back, the veneer of unintended commentary.

She slayed a bluesy treatment of "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)" and took the piano for Sam Cooke's "You Send Me," with the choir returning for a version of "I Will Always Love" you dedicated to Whitney Houston.

Franklin finished the main set with an aching, open-ended "Amazing Grace" and a powerful romp through Beverly Crawford's "It's About Time For a Miracle," reprising the latter to start the encore before ending the night with -- what else -- "Respect."

Franklin has fresh music coming in the new year -- a set of songs made famous by other iconic female singers that she plans to begin recording on New York's Day. But on Saturday, Franklin certainly earned her due r-e-s-p-e-c-t for the work she's already done, and even more for a successful comeback from whatever was ailing her.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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