Aretha Franklin: Sweet, Bitter Blues With the passion and fury of a woman scorned, Franklin sings as a victim of love in "Sweet Sixteen."
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'Sweet Sixteen' by Aretha Franklin

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Aretha Franklin: Sweet, Bitter Blues

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Aretha Franklin: Sweet, Bitter Blues

'Sweet Sixteen' by Aretha Franklin

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With the passion and fury of a woman scorned, Aretha Franklin sings as a victim of love in "Sweet Sixteen." Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Courtesy of the artist

With the passion and fury of a woman scorned, Aretha Franklin sings as a victim of love in "Sweet Sixteen."

Courtesy of the artist

Friday's Pick

Song: "Sweet Sixteen"

Artist: Aretha Franklin

CD: Aretha: A Woman Falling out of Love

Genre: Soul

You'd be forgiven if you thought Aretha Franklin's cover of B.B. King's "Sweet Sixteen" came from her bluesiest album ever, 1970's Spirit in the Dark. From the minute her fingers strike the keys for a melancholy intro, the song conjures the bittersweet sound of that long-ago record, which includes a heartbreaking yet triumphant take on King's "The Thrill Is Gone." But "Sweet Sixteen" is of 2011 vintage, featured on the new Aretha: A Woman Falling out of Love.

Time has taken its toll on the grand Franklin instrument. Her 69-year-old voice is frayed in its upper register, and she uses a harsh falsetto when reaching for high notes. Fortunately, she sticks to her vital contralto for most of "Sweet Sixteen." With the passion and fury of a woman scorned, she bites into the lyric about a onetime lover who "wouldn't do nothing I asked you to" and adds beautiful bluesy runs — "ay yi yi," "mmm mmm mmm" — that turn pain into musical pleasure. And even though she sings as a victim of love, she sings with the strength of a survivor, supported (but not overwhelmed) by the stinging guitar of her son Teddy Richards and a brassy horn section.

"I wonder, yeah, yeah, yeah, what in the world is going to happen to me," Franklin concludes — an existential question followed by a cascade of heartfelt "oh yeahs." That urge to testify is rooted in her gospel heritage, but "Sweet Sixteen" provides a reminder that, in the words of the late Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun, "She is blessed with an extraordinary combination of remarkable urban sophistication and of the deep blues feeling that comes from the Delta." All those years after her Atlantic heyday, the Queen still reigns in the world of soul.