Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Broken Instruments

Watching Aretha Franklin sing "Respect" and "Chain of Fools" on Dancing With The Stars I've come to the cold realization, which has been brewing for years, that her voice is shot. Watching George Jones on a recent Grand Ole Opry show, I've reached the same conclusion. This is similar to what I felt when watching Frank Sinatra in his later years. All 3 have something in common, too. They were the best in their genres. Aretha the best Soul singer. Jones the best Country one. And Sinatra the best Pop singer. To all 3 their voice is their enduring legacy, an instrument on a par with anything anyone is playing behind them. It's hard to say just where Aretha's problems begin. It could be her weight gain, but when she goes high the notes aren't there. Jones has the same problem. Both do alright on their lower register, and Aretha tries to compensate for missing notes by talking and growling. You might notice some of this on their studio recordings, but the studio can mask many things.
But how important is all this to those of us who love these singers? The overweight Elvis was a travesty on stage, but fans forgave him because he was Elvis. Sinatra fans must have done the same. While both Aretha and George's performances made me cringe, the moment they started their signature songs my ears perked up. It was only for a moment, but the nostalgia can carry many performers over the finish line.
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