Aretha Franklin: Jump to It

For the first time since her early days on Atlantic, Aretha Franklin has made an album on which she sounds completely at home. Where Franklin's recent records have cast her as a maturing pop-soul diva looking back on the past with a detached sense of history, Jump to It is an LP totally in and of the moment. In the red-hot title tune, Franklin scats freely in a jazzy soul style and gossips deliciously with her friend Kitty, "giving each other the 411 on who drop-kicked who last week." In another song, "If She Don't Want Your Lovin'," Franklin suggests, "Tell her, come see Sugar Ray Aretha." The album's pure ballad singing has the same delightful spontaneity as this off-the-cuff banter. "(It's Just) Your Love" and "This Is for Real" find Franklin crooning in an alto register that's darker and lower than usual, without a hint of haughty proclamation. The latter song is one long sigh of confessional pillow talk that keeps you hanging on every syllable. Franklin's stop-start phrasing and her dizzying way of teasing and twirling a note convey an emotional involvement that is quite literally beyond words. Even the midtempo tunes, like "Love Me Right," are done in a muted conversational style that enriches their emotional crosscurrents. And while mismatched star duets may be one of the bigger annoyances in contemporary pop (the perfunctory lovey-dovey of Franklin and George Benson's "Love All the Hurt Away" on her last album is a typical example), here the Queen of Soul clicks with the Four Tops' leonine lead belter, Levi Stubbs, on the smoldering call-and-response, "I Wanna Make It Up to You." This is real sex, not coy cooing.

The key to Jump to It's success is Franklin's extraordinary chemistry with Luther Vandross, her producer, chief backup singer and the cowriter of four of the ten cuts. Although his luxuriant approach at times recalls the glossier side of Chic, as well as Thom Bell, the arrangements always remain secondary to the singer. Instead of fitting Franklin's voice into a predesigned signature sound, Vandross parades her miraculous talent in front of relaxed, elegant backdrops; floating strings and elegant piano obbligatos by Nat Adderley Jr. embellish clean, high-stepping rhythm tracks. And Franklin responds to the most loving treatment she has ever received from a producer by exploding with life. Humor, passion and longing sizzle off the grooves. If Jump to It were a hot new movie, the ads might read, "Aretha's Back and Luther's Got Her!"