Nick Patrick and Don Reedman can’t lie. Part of the allure of producing A Brand New Me: Aretha Franklin With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra — whose version of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” is premiering exclusively below — was a chance to play with the Queen of Soul’s original vocal recordings from the 1960s.
The 14-song set (12 on LP), due out Nov. 10, pairs those vintage vocals with new orchestrations the British duo put together with the Royal Philharmonic at Abbey Road Studios, along with new backing vocals by Patti Austin. “That was really why we went for it, ’cause of her amazing voice, her position in the world of music and the wonderful catalog of songs that she’s recorded that we can choose from,” Patrick tells Billboard. Reedman adds that, “There are very few artists of her magnitude that this kind of idea really works with, with real integrity. The opportunity to access the really golden period of those Atlantic records was something we were incredibly excited about and really felt that we could preserve every bit of her artistic integrity and enhance it sonically and hopefully enhance the emotional impact as well.”
Patrick and Reedman also worked on the upcoming Elvis Christmas album with the Royal Philharmonic, coming Nov. 24, and liked the idea of working with both the King and the Queen in one fell swoop. “I have to say that with Aretha it presented us with some challenges in as much as we were only able to access the stereo master recordings — in other words the actual records,” says Patrick, noting that many of Franklin’s studio masters were lost in a warehouse fire during the ’70s. “So it was quite a process to be able to make this record sound as if it was recorded today as well as retaining all the nuances and earthiness of the recordings.”
“A Natural Woman” was among those tracks that the producers built from the recording master, although there was also a quadrophonic mix that they examined but ultimately set aside in favor of the stereo mix. “We started by cutting the new rhythm track and then went through the process of really microscopic editing,” Patrick explains. “You can push up the original record, then push up the (new) track to add glow or gloss to it. It gives you the definition one comes to expect of a modern record. And then we created an orchestrated introduction to that, so it starts orchestrally, then the track comes in and the added background vocals to give more definition so it sounds lush and warm.” Reedman adds that, “We wanted to keep the spirit of the original right there and not rip out the soul feeling Aretha put into the original recording. The soul of Aretha is in this record; We just added to it.”
And while the absence of the actual singer in the session may seem odd, the producers do not feel it hampered the process. “In many ways it’s the purest communication you can have with an artist,” Patrick contents, “because you’re reaction to the emotional impact of the vocal performances. It’s not getting diluted through words. When you’re reacting emotionally to something, you’re directly connecting with it, not interpreting it. We were able to react very, very directly to what Aretha’s vocals were making us feel. That’s an amazing thing. You get closest, I think, to what she was feeling on the studio floor. It’s just so emotional and full of the truth you can’t just respond to it, and we hope we’ve responded to it in a truly respectful way.”
The producers know that Franklin, who has been talking about retiring from performing but not music in general, is aware of A Brand New Me and has even heard it, but they have yet to hear how she likes the album. The duo, meanwhile, is gearing up for a Roy Orbison project that’s being done in conjunction with his sons, who will also appear on the album.