The best thing about being the Queen of Soul is that you can call on the most artistically endowed music makers on earth to help put your project together, as Franklin did on this, her 12th Arista album. The flip side to that is these heavyweights — producers, singers and songwriters — are under the gun to yield a record worthy of Franklin’s legacy, one that includes a song styled in nearly every pop radio format.
Happy producers include former Bad Boy Records beatmaker Ron “Amen Ra” Lawrence, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and primo pop songsmith Burt Bacharach. Mary J. Blige contributes vocals and song arrangement on “Holdin’ On” and “No Matter What.” Since Arista spent boatloads of dough on this project the suits will be pleased that the results will likely land gold and platinum sales. Not bad for an icon who doesn’t need to make incredible records to be respected.
Happy follows the same template that made her last record, A Rose Is Still A Rose, successful; a contemporary package of recycled themes and archetypal lyrics, though it’s Franklin’s voice that, in its time-tested maturity, ultimately gives these tired topics spunk and energy.
While most vocalists tend to sing to music, music seems to inversely play to Franklin as she tackles various styles. This works to mixed results on Happy, as she belts out a cool swing vibe on the album’s title track, but oversings “Holdin’ On,” as if it wasn’t the most comfortable song for her. She also includes a trademark gospel tune, singing on “Good News,” Even if you don’t like the preacher/ There’s bound to be a thing or two he can teach you.
In all, So Damn Happy is great Sunday cookin’ music. At this stage of her career, the Queen has few new listeners. Thus, loyal subjects will be pleased by her consistency, and appreciative that she doesn’t overdo her attempts to keep up with the times.
E-mail Khary Kimani Turner at [email protected].