Embarking on a career in soul music can’t have been easy for anyone whose sister is Aretha Franklin. Happily her middle sister Erma could boast a career song, in Piece Of My Heart, that is easily the equal of anything big sis has ever made in her 45-years-and-counting recording career. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for their baby sister Carolyn, who – despite writing several of Aretha’s biggest and best hits of the 60s and 70s – plugged away at her own solo career for the best part of 12 years, without any more than a handful of small R&B hits of her own to show for her pains.
Sadly, both Erma and Carolyn both died young. Erma was anthologised on CD a few years ago, when Piece Of My Heart was a deserved – if belated – UK hit in the 90s in the wake of its association with a jeans commercial. But Carolyn’s recordings for RCA Victor – the label she was affiliated to from 1969 through 1976 – have never been comprehensively reissued in any format since her four original vinyl albums were deleted in the 1970s. Happily Kent proudly presents 22 tracks and nearly 78 minutes’ worth of the younger Ms Franklin’s best recorded work, under the wholly appropriate title of SISTER SOUL.
Although she stood in some pretty big shadows from a musical standpoint, Carolyn was very much her own woman as a vocalist, and this is apparent on each of the tracks we have selected from her four albums and 45s. Like Erma she was never in any danger of being seen as a younger clone of her sister. She always strove to assert her musical independence by working with a string of top flight arrangers and producers who had not worked with other members of her family. In Carolyn’s case, this meant collaborating with – among others - such soul arranger-producer heavyweights as Philadelphia’s Bobby Martin and the New York giants Buddy Scott and Jimmy Radcliffe. These redoubtable gentlemen poured their own magic on Carolyn’s fiery vocals and great songwriting to produce some thoroughly spellbinding recordings. We’ve included as many as will fit within the playing constraints of a single CD.
As befits a singer of this level of passion and commitment, the CD focuses heavily on ballads. It takes a lot of nerve to try to beat the late Linda Jones at her own game, but Carolyn’s version of Not On The Outside has and is all that and more. Her church background is evident everywhere on this set, perhaps never more so than on the single only soulshredder All I Want to Be Is Your Woman. And her southern roots are beautifully displayed on her revival of the Masqueraders’ I Ain’t Got To Love Nobody Else – just a few of the highlights on offer in the department marked ‘slowies’.
Carolyn Franklin could also get to grips with something faster, as shown by her long-time Northern Soul floor fillers Reality and Boxer – both of which still sound as fresh and exciting now as they did when we first stomped to them, three and a half decades ago. In fact, there was really very little that Carolyn Franklin could not do well. It’s just a shame that not enough people were ready to acknowledge that fact back in the day, nor to afford her a solo star status that – once you hear these great recordings – you will agree was fully deserved.
We hope we’ve done Carolyn Franklin proud with SISTER SOUL and we hope, too, that it will bring her somewhat neglected talent to the kind of mass audience that should have been Carolyn’s from minute one.
by Tony Rounce