Aretha Franklin 

This Christmas Aretha

After listening to Aretha Franklin's This Christmas Aretha, one thing becomes crystal: When Rolling Stone recently named Franklin the "Best Singer of the Rock Era," it was intended as a legacy award honoring the voice of ReRe past. Today's Aretha of guttural squalls only inspires one to perform the Heimlich maneuver on the Queen of Soul, not offer salutations. If you believed in the Christmas miracle that Franklin's golden pipes were magically restored because she quit smoking, listening to "Ave Maria" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" will just about cancel your X-mas. Franklin, who didn't have time to "chitchat and smile" on "Dr. Feelgood," is positively Chatty Cathy on her interludes, undermining the blessing of Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas." The project's song choices, smooth soul backgrounds and pristine, if safe, production are consistent with the usual R&B holiday fare, but it isn't enough to ward off your bah humbugs. One star.

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