ARETHA FRANKLIN "A Rose Is a Rose" Arista * * 1/2

Aretha Franklin is back after a six-year recording hiatus, and that's the good news. The bad news is that she comes across as tentative as Michelle Kwan was in Nagano. When a leader in her field doesn't fully go for it, it's hard not to be disappointed.

Much of this album was produced by current hotshots young enough to be Franklin's kids. None really has a feel for what makes her distinctive and great--except Lauryn Hill of the Fugees, an extraordinary talent in her own right. She is the only one who nails it perfectly.

Hill wrote and produced the mesmerizing title track. Its scat embellishments and Franklin's stance as a love mentor dispensing sympathy and wisdom make it the soul icon's best work in ages.

Dallas Austin's "I'll Dip" has lots of sass, and Daryl Simmons' "In Case You Forgot" is achingly moving. Three memorable tracks may not be enough to sustain an entire project, but when one of them has the heart and passion of Hill's contribution, it can definitely tip the scale.


Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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