ARETHA FRANKLIN: ALMIGHTY FIRE (1978)
1) Almighty Fire (Woman Of The Future); 2) Lady, Lady; 3) More Than Just A Joy; 4) Keep On Loving You; 5) I Needed You Baby; 6) Close To You; 7) No Matter Who You Love; 8) This You Can Believe; 9) I'm Your Speed.
For Almighty Fire, Aretha once again turned to Curtis Mayfield for guidance. And once again, things got off to a good start — the title track here is a classic, burning-up funk groove on which Curtis and Aretha succeed in pointing the clavinet, horns, and strings in the rightfully «disturbing» direction, and once they do, Ms. Franklin belts the lyrics out as if she were on fire herself: there is some absolutely head-spinning vocalizing here, even if the melody per se leaves something to be desired.
Unfortunately, Mayfield never gave the rest of the songs the same attention, and the next seven songs never ever amount above pleasant background muzak. Danceable and professional as always, they do not offer anything special. Like with Sweet Passion, there have been complaints that the whole thing was too heavily disco-fied, but such opinions are misguided: 'Keep On Loving You' and 'I Needed You Baby' are the only fast dance numbers on the record, and even those two are not straightforward disco in the rhythmic sense. Not that they're special or anything, but at least they kick one inch more ass than everything else.
As if to give final proof that, for the most part, Mayfield's waning talents were all but wasted on the LP, Aretha finishes the dusky proceedings with her own piano solo ballad, 'I'm Your Speed', which feels more heartfelt and meaningful than all of those seven preceding tunes put together. Everything gets its proper taste in context, of course: on a record like Young, Gifted And Black such a song would come across as a cute throwaway or minor highlight to be enjoyed after everything else, but in the environment of Almighty Fire listening to it is like witnessing your loved one come back to senses after a period of heavy sedation.
Which is why 'I'm Your Speed', with all its surprising soulfulness, would not do good on a best-of compilation or retrospective, for which, in the proper way, only the title track could be salvageable. A big thumbs down — mostly to Mayfield, who had all but betrayed the Queen's faith in him, so much so that the two would never work together again.